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Factors that influence obedience and conformity

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] You might be wondering whether there are any factors that might make someone more or less likely to conform or the likelihood that they will adjust their behaviors or thinking to go along with the group. And there certainly are. And while I won't go over all of them in this video, I do want to give you a pretty wide or diverse variety so you can see just how much of this behavior can be dependent upon external factors that otherwise might have nothing to do with the person themselves. And the first factor I want to talk about is group size. Specifically, people seem to be more likely to conform when they're in groups of three to five. We are also more likely to conform when the opinion of the group is unanimous or when everyone in the group agrees upon a certain opinion. As an example of this, in one variant of the Asch line study the researchers changed the experiment such that the participant had a supporter, someone who gave the correct answer before it was the participant's turn to answer. And what they found was that even one defector can influence how likely an individual is to comply. So while in the original Asch study, 37% of participants fully complied or complied on every trial, total compliance dropped to only 5% when there was a supporter in the group. When they asked the participants whether or not the presence of that defector in any way influenced their responses, they claimed that they didn't. So while the research does show that the presence of a defector influences how likely we are to conform, it appears that we're not aware of the effect that they can have. If we admire a group status or some other characteristic, we are also more likely to go along with them. And while this can be used to explain why children might be more likely to go along with a popular group, because they admire them or want to be like them, it also explains why we're more likely to trust the opinion of four doctors than four gardeners when it comes to our health decisions. Group cohesion can also have a strong influence on our likelihood to conform. If we have no connection or feel no connection with the group, we feel less of a need to go along with that group. Another factor is whether or not we believe that our behavior is being observed. In a different variant of the Asch line study, the participant was told that because he came in late, he would record his answers on a sheet of paper instead of saying them out loud. And because of this, they're responses were not shared with the group, and when these participants were confident that their answers wouldn't be judged by the others in the room, they were much less likely to conform. Relatedly, how people believe that the public will respond, also can have a large effect. If we think that we'll be met with the public's acceptance, we're happy not to conform, but when we think that we'll be met with shunning, we are much more likely to go along with the group. There are also a number of internal factors that can influence how likely we are to conform. One of those is prior commitments. If we state something upfront, then we're less likely to go against it later on. So a prior commitment to the group's message or direction, can serve to increase conformity, but at the same time, a prior commitment against it will decrease conformity. We're also more likely to conform when we feel or are made to feel insecure. It makes us feel less comfortable about our own knowledge, which increases the likelihood that we're going to follow the judgments of others. There are also a number of factors that can influence obedience. And to review, while conformity can involve us changing how we think, obedience is the act of following directions or instructions or orders without question and without protesting them. And it's usually done in order to avoid negative consequences associated with disobeying. And because of this, a lot of the factors that dictate whether or not we will obey depend on the type of authority that is giving those orders. How close we are to the authority can have a strong influence. We are more likely to accept orders from someone we know and respect than someone who we don't. Interestingly enough, actual physical closeness or physical proximity can also influence it. Participants in the Milgram study were much more likely to obey the commands of the experimenter when they were standing right behind them, as compared to when they were standing in the back of a room or standing in a different room. The legitimacy of the authority also matters. People were more likely to obey commands in the Milgram study when the experimenter was wearing a lab coat and carrying a clipboard, as compared to when they did not. Institutional authority also matters. Milgram's study took place at a well-respected university. And you really don't expect such places to give you harmful commands. And while this institutional authority can be physical, it can also be symbolic. So the institution of the police or the government also tends to bring about a certain authority. Victim distance can also have an effect. In the original Milgram study, participants were in a different room than the learner or the victim. So they couldn't see him. When the study was repeated such that the participant had to physically pick up the learner's hand and place it on the board that would electrocute them, it tended to reduce the likelihood that the participant would obey the commands of the experimenter. But note that this didn't stop everyone. 30% of the participants still gave all of the shocks. This relates to the idea of depersonalization, when the learner or victim is made to seem less human, possibly through stereotypes or prejudices, people are less likely to object to acting against them. And similar to conformity, obedience is also more likely to happen when there are no models of defiance. We're more likely to disobey orders when we see others doing the same. And one thing that you might be wondering after hearing all of this is whether or not there is a certain type of person who is more likely to conform or more likely to obey. And the answer seems to be no. There is no one personality that leads people to be more susceptible to groups or to authority. That said, we do know that people's moods can have a strong effect. People who are having a rough day are less likely to conform than those who are having a good day. We also know that status and culture can play a role. People of a lower social or economic status, so those who don't have a lot of power socially or economically and politically, or those who lack power in general, are more likely to conform. We also know that people in individualistic cultures like the U.S. or western Europe that emphasize personal achievement over group achievement, are less likely to conform than people in collectivist cultures, or cultures that emphasize the family or the group over the individual like China or Korea. But even so, you need to keep in mind, that people in individualistic cultures still conform all the time by doing things like going to school and eating cereal for breakfast. And taken together, all of this helps to describe why perfectly ordinary people can sometimes do very terrible things, but by being aware of these factors, we can also help to reduce them. I remember being really strongly affected by the idea that the presence of just one nonconformer in a group could cause others to not conform as well. It made me consider the fact that by not conforming or not obeying myself, I could have a strong influence on others. And I find a lot of comfort and strength in that idea. I can also take the time to think about why I'm conforming to a group or why I'm obeying an instruction. Knowing the ways in which people can be influenced can give us more insight and possibly more control over these situations.