Evaluating the Effect of Group Pressure on Conformity in Male and Female University Students

Evaluating the Effect of Group Pressure on Conformity in Male and Female University Students: A Replication of Asch Conformity Experiment
Kashmaheen Khan
University of Karachi
Behavior is defined as an individuals’ external—physical, emotional and social responses to its environment (Dugatkin, 2012). There are several kinds of behavior. Social behavior is said to be something that focusses on how an individual reacts to a particular situation and how these individuals are influenced by others. The effect others have on individual and group attitudes, feelings, behavior and beliefs, is referred to as, social influence (Berkman, 2000). Social influence comprises of implicit impacts, for instance, understanding and following unspoken and unwritten rules of the group, and explicit impacts, for instance, abiding by the formally and coherently stated rules of the group. There are three forms of social influence:
Compliance—to publicly comply and change the behavior in order to match other people but privately rejecting their opinions. It is an active form of social influence that is initiated by the individuals themselves in response to an explicit or implicit demand made by other people. 
Obedience—a change in one’s behavior and habits by obeying commands of a person holding a higher status. It is an active form of social influence that is typically directly commenced by an authority figure and it focuses on the external behaviors generated from the command of that person.

Conformity— brings a change in ones’ thoughts, feelings, and behavior in order to conform or fit in with a group. Conformity can also be referred to as yielding to group pressures (Crutchfield, 1955). It is the passive form of social influence in which the group members do not participate actively make an effort to influence other individuals. Conformity can occur in small groups or the entire society, as a consequence of peer in?uence or group pressure. It can have either good or bad outcome varying on the situation. Sometimes people can really go to any length in order to be accepted, in their occupational and personal lives. Conformity can be effected by various factors, such as, status, group pressure and peer in?uence (Latane ; Darley, 1968).

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It is the process of socialization that determines the extent to which one might be able to handle the heavy influence of peer pressure or group pressure that requires people to change their values, behaviors and attitudes to fit in the societal norms (Vance, 2011). The impact of peer pressure can be positive, as well as, negative. It entirely depends on the impact it has on the individual that distinguishes one from the other.

Kelman (1958), differentiated between three types of conformity. According to him, when an individual goes along with the explicit requests made by others in order to gain approval or reward and avoid disapproval or punishment, then it is called ‘compliance’. When an individual realizes that the reward achieved would be intrinsic because it is consistent with his own morals, this is called ‘internalization’. Lastly, when an individual wants to create and retain his relationship with others, it is known as ‘identification’.

Deutsch and Gerrard (1955), gave two reasons to answer why people conform. One is normative conformity, in which individuals want to fit in with the group, to be accepted and liked by the members of that group. This type of conformity is composed of compliance. And the other is, informative conformity, also known as social proof. In informative conformity, the individuals looks up to the group for guidance when they lack in knowledge, experience or when they find themselves in a situation which they don’t understand and tries to compare their behavior with the group. It occurs due to the desire to be correct as individuals believe that it gives them the information they previously lacked. This type of conformity is composed of internalization.
Conformity was first studied by Jenness (1932), in which he presented his participants with an ambiguous situation and inquired individually, about the amount of beans the glass bottle contained and noted their responses. In the second phase, the individuals were put in groups and were then asked to give a collective estimate, in order to see whether they would change their initial estimates on the basis of majority influence, or not. The findings concluded that almost all the participants altered their initial estimates in order to be closer to the group estimates.

This study have influenced many researchers to conduct their own experiments and see whether their findings are similar to it or not. Sherif (1935), result findings show that people have a tendency to conform to the group when they are put in unusual or new situations. He made use of the autokinetic effect, that is, the movement of a small spot of light projected on a screen would be experienced, despite the fact, it is stationary (visual illusion). It was seen that the range of estimates of all the participants, when asked individually, varied greatly, whereas, when they were put in the groups of three (two participants whose estimates were similar and one whose estimate was completely different from the other two) and asked about the extent to which the light moved over a number of trials, the estimates of all the participants came to a consensus, i.e., the participant who held a different estimate had conformed to the group norm.
In Reingen (1982) study, it was found that there was an increment in the number of people donating when they were showed a list of (fictional) donors and their donations.
Nevertheless, the most widely used and replicated experiment on conformity was conducted by Soloman Asch (1951). Asch took a sample of 123 male students who were divided in groups of 7-9 participants. In each group, all the participants (confederates) except one, were informed about the nature and requirements of the experiment. The real participant was seated on the second last seat so that he could hear the response of other participants before giving his own. Two cards, one with a standard line and the other with three comparison lines (line A , line B and line C) were presented to the participants, and they had to tell which one of the comparison lines, was similar to the standard line in terms of length. In 12 out of 18 trials, called the critical trials, the confederates had to intentionally give the wrong answer and the effect of that group conformity was to be seen in the response of the naive participant. The results indicated that 32% of the participants conformed and gave the wrong answer in order to match the responses of the group, even when they clearly knew that the answer was wrong.

The present study is a replication of Asch’s experiment, aiming to study the effect of group/peer pressure on the conformity of an individual, in a laboratory setting, and also on the basis of group pressure, popularity and conformity as traits. Dependent variable of the research is, the conformity of an individual, whereas, group pressure is the independent variable the individual is presented with. The control variables are the age of the participants, the premises of university, type of task and its difficulty level, laboratory setting,
Hence, the hypotheses statements under observation, are:
a) The individuals would score less on conformity when compared with the scores of non-conformists, under condition of group pressure.

b) There would be a significant difference among the trait scores of group pressure, popularity and conformity of those people who conformed and those who did not conform to peer pressure.
The participants were taken from various departments of the University of Karachi using convenience sampling technique. Participants, N = 91, belonged to the age group of 18 to 25 years.
Inclusion criterion: The students within the age group of 18 to 25 from all the departments of University of Karachi would be considered as a sample population.

Exclusion criterion: The students below the age of 18 and above 25 would not be considered as a part of the study. Participants outside the premises of the University of Karachi would be excluded as well.

Research Design:
An experimental research design was opted to explore the causal relationship between group pressure and the resultant conformity of an individual.
The materials used for the experiment included, a response sheet, a perceptual test for line judgement—a placard consisting of printed set of lines (one standard line and three comparison lines) differing in length, namely A, B, and C. Line A and line C were the most dissimilar with the standard line, whereas, line B was the perfect match for it.
Trait Conformity Scale was also administered, devised by, Santor, Messervey and Kusumakar (2000), consisting of 21 statements. It was a three factor scale in which Group pressure, Popularity and Conformity are measured as traits, consists of six items, eleven items and four items, respectively.
Scoring: The scoring of items was done on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree. Those who score low/less on these factor traits represents the non-conformists and those who scored high on these factor traits represents the conformists.

In order to start the experiment, several conditions were taken into consideration. Firstly, whenever participants would arrive, they were to be taken to a different and distant room from the experimental room, so that the participant’s interaction with the individual in the experimental condition remains minimal to none. Next, it was made sure that after the departure of one participant, only then, the second participant would be brought towards the experimental room. Thirdly, restricted for the confederates was, to bring only those participants whom they have never met before. Fourthly, all the confederates had to practice giving the same wrong answer under experimental conditions. After ensuring that all the required conditions are fulfilled, the experiment begun.

The experiment demanded the presence of one experimenter and seven participants, out of which only one was the naïve, genuine participant and the rest were confederates who knew the experimenter and have settled their wrong answers prior to the experiment, but pretended that they were also the participants and have never met before. All the participants sat in a row and the true participant was in the first seat. The experiment begins with the instructions given by the experimenter.

“I am going to present you a set of lines on the placard in front of you. On the placard the single line will be considered as the standard line and the other set of three lines will be comparison lines. You are supposed to observe the standard line carefully and choose one line from the comparison line which you think is the most equal to standard line in terms of its length.”
The experimenter allowed all the participants to see the placard from a distance, painstakingly and then inquired about their answers. All the participants except one — genuine participant, answered wrong, i.e., line A. The responses were noted down in the response sheet and then the experimenter questioned the true participant that whether s/he would like to change their answer from line B to line A as the majority of the participants have given line A as their answer. The response of the true participant was noted down.
After the experiment, all participants were provided with the Trait Conformity Scale but only the true participant filled it. Upon completion of the scale, the introspective report was taken and debriefing about the experiment was done.

Table 1
Percentages of the People Who Conformed and People Who Did Not Conform to the Group Pressure
Variables N %
Conformity 9 9.89
Non-Conformity 82 90.10
Note: N = 91 Table 2
Mean Scores and t-Test Result of of People Who Conformed and People Who Did Not Conform on Trait Conformity Scale
Variables Group Pressure Popularity Conformity t
M M M Conformity 22.875 40.8125 21.436 -0.1309
Non-Conformity 26.1 40.921 21.465 Note. = 0.05 Hypothesis 1: The individuals would score less on conformity when compared with the scores of non-conformists, under condition of group pressure.

In accordance with the percentages of all the participants, i.e. N = 91, I table 1, it can be concluded that people with conformity have scored less (N = 9, % = 9.89) than people who did not conform (N = 82, % = 90.10). Hence, our hypothesis is approved.

Hypothesis 2: There would be a significant difference among the trait scores of group pressure, popularity and conformity of those people who conformed and those who did not conform to peer pressure.
There is not much significance among the mean scores of conformists and non-conformists as the mean score of conformists, in trait group pressure (M = 22.875), trait popularity (M = 40.8125) and trait conformity (M = 21.436) are closer to the mean scores of non-conformists, in trait group pressure (M = 26.1), trait popularity (M = 40.921) and trait conformity (M = 21.465). Also, the independent t-test value (t = -0.1309, ? = 0.05) does not support our hypothesis. Hence, our hypothesis is disapproved.
The aim of the study was to study the effect of group pressure on the conformity of an individual, in a laboratory setting, and also see the difference in scores of the conformists and non-conformists, on the basis of group pressure, popularity and conformity as traits. The result findings of both the hypotheses indicate that people do not conform to the group pressure, similar to Asch’s finding where only 32% of the sample conformed and the scores obtained on the Trait Conformity Scale, also indicate that there is no significance difference in the scores of conformists and non-conformists.

On the basis of thorough observation of the results it can be certainly said that that people have gained confidence and have become assertive to stand their ground and not get influenced by the societal pressures as one is expected to. Self-assertiveness is directly related to the self-regulation of emotions. A research was conducted on female high school students with the purpose of assessing the relationship between self-assertion and emotional self-regulation and it was found that both of the variables are significantly related to each other. There would be people who readily conforms to the group pressure exerted on them due to their need to be accepted by their group mates, but, with the change in society, exposure, media influence, culture and other standards, the rates of conformity are decreasing (Allahyari ; Jenaabadi, 2015). In contrast to this, there will always be people who readily conforms to the group pressure exerted on them due to their need to be accepted by their group mates, but, with the change in society, exposure, media influence, culture and other standards, the rates of conformity are decreasing.
It can be without a doubt, said that non-conformity is heavily influenced with the concept of “self”. Theories on self, put forward the idea that individuals have an inborn instinct to feel unique and independent of what others want us to be (Snyder and Fromkin 1980; Brewer 1991).Individualism is also a core principle for non-conformists. It enables a person to suggest their ideas, opinions and thoughts without being controlled by the communal pressures. It gives people a sense of being true to themselves, being independent and self-reliant and not losing their identity. With the increase in exposure and media influence, a great change in the eastern cultures regarding individualism can be observed. Culture of particular area directly influences the level of conformity attained. A meta-analysis of all the researches making use of Asch’s line judgment task was done in order to see whether conformity is related to cultures with collectivism-individualism. 133 studies conducted in 17 countries were taken, to measure the relation and it was found that cultures with individualistic approach practices less conformity, whereas, cultures with collectivistic approach practices more conformity (Bond & Smith, 1996).

Another factor that can be applied to the occurrence of non-conformity is the presence of being in an unfamiliar group. Research findings of an experiment conducted on Japanese students, show that people exhibit more conformity in groups they are familiar with; and less conformity in unfamiliar groups (P. Williams & Sogon, 1984).

In-depth analysis and comparisons of the mean scores of sub-factors (trait group pressure, trait popularity and trait conformity) of the Trait Conformity Scale suggest that there is no significant difference between conformists and non-conformists. However, the mean score of non-conformists in trait popularity is greater than the mean score of conformists indicating that there is a higher level of the need to stand out and the need to be popular in the people who do not conform. Trait popularity had items like, statement two: “I have neglected some friends because of what other people might think”, statement five: “It’s important that people think I’m popular”, statement six: “At times I have gone out with people just because they were popular”, etc., and the higher score on these statements predicts the need of popularity as trait.

Limitations and Suggestions:
Whenever a study is being conducted, it has its own limitations that later on becomes suggestions for further researches. Similarly, the limitations of this study were the low level of task difficulty as well as task complexity. Demand characteristics were identified by the participants—what was being expected out of them. The two comparison lines other than the correct estimated line, had a lot of difference when compared with the standard line and the correct answer was greatly noticeable. Language barrier and the effect of age and maturity was also seen in many participants. Furthermore, the number of trials restricted to one, the placement of the participant in the first seat of the row, and opting laboratory setting instead of real-life situations to study conformity were also the limitations of the study.
A recommendation to future researches will be to include two groups of people with different background and different ages for further evaluation of the study. Attempts to reduce language barrier will be appreciated. An increase in the number of trials and the arrangement of participants, as such, that the true participant sits between all the confederates. In this way the participant can listen to the answers of other participants (confederates) first and then formulate his/her response. Another suggestion is to study this phenomenon in real-life setting in order to generalize the findings to everyday life.

The study findings proves the hypothesis that people hold different opinions and don’t always conform to communal pressure. Conformity is based on situational and cultural factors that cannot be analyzed under experimental condition. Non-conformists have a higher need for popularity as compared to conformists.

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