The co-action effect occurs when a higher level of performance is present when surrounded by other individuals performing the same task. It can be applied to a variety of tasks competitive and non-competitive e.g. Sports, multiplications, spelling etc.
It is also perceived that an individual’s work rate can alter by merely watching the individual carry out a specified task. This is known as the audience effect. This theory however has positive and negative effects based on the degree of competence with the task given to the subject. If they are skilled in the task, their level of performance will heighten. However, the opposite will occur if the subject is not very capable with the task. These two theories are categorised under Social facilitation.
Q2. Describe two psychology studies on this area of human behaviour stating their findings and conclusions.
The co-action effect was first perceived in 1898 when a test was carried out by Norman Triplett. His theory was on cyclists and the speeds they reached when firstly, racing against each other and then racing individually against a stopwatch. He noticed that racing against each other rather than against the clock alone increased the cyclists’ speeds. He then tested his thesis in a controlled lab experiment where he gave children simple tasks to perform on their own and then with a partner. He again found that co-action resulted in improved results in the children. He concluded that the “bodily presence of another contestant participating simultaneously in the race serves to liberate latent energy not ordinarily available” (Triplett, 1898).
An example of the audience effect was noted when psychologist J.Michaels 1982 carried out an investigation on pool players. First he assessed their ability and rated them either above or below average. He then stood by them to see if his presence had any effect on the way they played. The conclusions of the investigation showed that the more abled players performed to a higher calibre and the less abled decreased in ability proving that in fact even though the audience effect can have positive results, they can also facilitate negative ones too. The presence of an “audience” arouses humans and affects our ability to perform a task. This arousal stimulates us, so that if we are doing something we are good at, we do it better. However, we are already aroused when performing tasks in general. An audience overseeing the task can sometimes act as an over stimulant to certain individuals and interfere with the task at hand.
Q3. Evaluate theories and research into the basis of social power including obedience and conformity.
Power was found to be one of the most effective reasons as to why an individual feels the need to follow through with what another says to them. Psychologists have undertaken many years of experiments to try to figure out what types of powers are in our society and how they shape and influence the way we live today. There are two main points in social power that can alter an individual’s thought process. Obedience and Conformity. Throughout this essay you will read how Psychologists have discovered the roles in which these two influences affect the society we live in.
Conformity is described as the type of social influence involving a change in belief or behaviour in order to fit in with a group. This form of influence can occur in two separate ways. A majority influence whereby the feelings and behaviours of a collective set of individuals within a group can alter or change the opinion of the minority, and the minority influence whereby an individual will change the opinions of the masses in a group.
One way in which a majority may influence is known as public compliance. Solomon Asch (1956) set out to encompass what this type of conformity was by using a simple exercise. The aim of the experiment was to see how subjects reacted when faced with an “unambiguous” task. Would they be influenced by a group’s behaviour or would they stick to their own belief that they knew to be true.
Asch’s test was carried out on 123 participants and all were American males. The subjects were asked to distinguish between three lines and pick a line that was of the same size as a fourth individual line. The procedure was carried out with the individual subject sat around a table of confederates all instructed to give incorrect answers with the subject having to answer last. The procedure was conducted 18 times and out of the 18 guesses, the confederates were told to guess incorrectly 12 times as to add a sense of validity to the experiment. The results showed that 75% of the participants gave incorrect answers at least once suggesting that they had conformed to the group ideology of thinking. Asch then repeated the test and altered a control of no confederates giving wrong answers. Asch found that there were mistakes made about 1% of the time.
The conclusion of the experiment shows that there was a high amount of conformity when faced with pressures from a collective group. Questions must be asked however on the actual validity of the experiment itself when looking at real life and moreover the demographic used in the experiment. The participants were asked a simple question, yet if faced with a question that holds more substance, would the participant still conform to such a degree? The experiment has been repeated on many occasions by changing the type of sample used to English scientists (Perrin and Spencer 1980) and youths on probation (Perrin and Spencer 1990). Some more recent research suggests that Asch’s experiment is merely an “unpredictable phenomenon” (Lalancette and Standing 1990).
The ethics involved are quite negligible when considering other experiments that will be discussed later in the essay. Participants must have felt tricked once they found out the other “participants” were actually confederates, and perhaps the subjects may have felt distressed when being put in a difficult situation.
We can go back further in the 1900’s and see other forms of experiments used to analyse the use of majority conformity. Muzafer Sherif (1935) investigated responses to ambiguous statements by using the auto kinetic affect. This is when very small movements of the eye make a spot of light in a darkened room appear to move because the eyes lack a stable frame of reference. Sherif’s participants were tested individually, being asked to say how far the light moved and in what direction. Their answers varied considerably. However, Sherif then requested the participants work collectively to estimate the movements. Their answers started to become quite similar demonstrating the influence of a group’s ideology on an individual. The results of this study can also be questioned too. As the answers were ambiguous and there wasn’t an obvious answer it could be argued that participants are more likely to conform as they are never completely certain of their answer. This methodology therefore affects Sherif’s interpretation of conformity as it is not very reliable. The same ethical questions can be asked when looking at this experiment. The participants were deceived and additionally put under pressure to conform to a group’s way of thinking which can cause stress.
We can also analyse conformity through the use of a minority influence. Although conformity is generally led by the influence of groups, individuals are occasionally able to reverse this tendency and change the opinions of people around them. This is known as the minority influence. If an individual makes a strong, convincing case it can increase the probability of changing the majority’s beliefs and behaviours. One iconic example of this occurring was the suffragette movement at the start of the 20th Century. The faction started out with a very limited amount of members with strong opinions that women should have the equal rights. Initially their opinions were unpopular but as time went by, the minority influenced the majority with their concise and logical arguments and eventually it led to the majority conforming to the same beliefs.
To test this theory a Psychologist known as Moscovici (1969), conducted an experiment similar to that of Asch. 32 groups of 6 were chosen with 2 confederates in each group. The groups were shown a slide of varied shades of blue and asked to convey what colour was perceived. Moscovici et al proposed that if the confederates had that of a different opinion to the group and stuck to that opinion consistently, they could alter the group’s views. The confederates consistently said the slides were green. The findings of the experiment showed that 32% gave the same answer as the minority at least once. This suggests that although it is a minute amount of impact on the results, there is some kind of conformity to the minority’s way of thinking.
This experiment unusually doesn’t hold many ethical problems. Although participants were deceived initially, the deception was moderately low and the tasks given were of a low level of stress. We could go as far as to say that this study was ethically acceptable. However, there are a few criticisms of study. The participants were females, Eagly and Carli (1981) study suggests that females are more likely to conform to ideologies of a group than that of men and so this questions how reliable the study actually is.
And so we understand that conformity doesn’t necessarily have a boundary that requires a person to act in a certain way. Obedience can be considered entirely different. Conformity does not require us to react in a specified manner whereas with obedience we are instructed or ordered to do something and these orders stem from a higher authority. We can relate this to history when we look at the atrocities that shaped Nazi Germany in World War I and II. Millions of defenceless Jewish people (and many other ethnicities) were slaughtered by Nazi soldiers under the influence of the government ran by Hitler. The heinous crimes committed had many questions to be answered but mainly how were the crimes committed and why?! During the Nuremberg trials, many of the high ranking officials were put to trial over what they had done with the only claim to their innocence being that they were simply, “obeying orders.” These claims were blatantly thrown out of court and a stereotype was claimed stating that a German’s DNA was simply “different” to that of every other human. Yet a man named Stanley Milgram wanted to understand if there were any truth to these claims. In 1963 he set up a psychology experiment to test if any human, not just German, could be put under such strict obedience pressures, that they could commit these horrific crimes against humanity.
His participants were American men aged 20-50 and were from various occupation backgrounds. The study was carried out at Yale University, where they were taken to a lab and introduced to an experimenter dressed in a lab coat (confederate). They were then introduced to what the participant thought was a fellow experimenter however he would be the accomplice in the experiment. These gentlemen had fabricated that he had a heart problem to add to the validity of the study. Participants were then given a summary of the experiment. The mock investigation was to distinguish the roles between teacher and learner. A fake ballot would decide what role would be decided for the two subjects with the actual participant always allocated the teacher role. The procedure of the experiment consisted of a simulated electrode machine in the room the “teacher” was placed in that would be used to administer an electric volt to the “student” in another room. The isolation from the two subjects was to add to the already dissociation created. Every time the student answered a question incorrectly from a sheet the “teacher,” (participant) was given. The participant would control the shock machine and the teacher would purposely answer the questions incorrectly. The experimenter would push the participant and provoke them to administer the shocks even if they insisted on stopping. Surprisingly, some 65% of the teachers gave what they thought was the maximum amount of punishment (450 volts of electric shock). Based on these results, Milgram suggested a theory known as the Agency Theory. He states that when faced with a stressing situation, humans attribute their responsibilities to an authority figure.
This experiment completely changed the impact on social policy, but came with many ethical and situational complications. The ecological validity of the experiment should be questioned as the experiment was conducted within a laboratory and it could also be argued that the participants used were more suggestible as they volunteered for the experiment. Although participants were debriefed to a satisfactory manner (84% felt glad to have participated), the stress endured within the experiment could have possibly had long-term affects to the subjects. Milgram himself states,
“The degree of tension reached extremes rarely seen in experimentsâ€¦Subjects were sweating, tremblingâ€¦on one occasion we observed a fit so violent that it was necessary to call a halt to the experiment.”
Deterred by the ethical background of the experiment mentioned a man known as Zimbardo wanted to carry out an experiment to back up Milgram’s study to add validity through using a less controlled environment. Male students applied for a study about prison life. 21 participants were chosen to be guards and prisoners (10 prisoners, 11 guards). The prisoners were arrested at home unexpectedly and blindfolded to disorientate them whilst taking them into their controlled prison cells (the basement of Yale University). Many symbolic items were used to associate the prisoners with their roles (ID numbers, nylon caps, orange jump suits). The guards also had many garments so they could associate themselves with their specified role (clubs, mirrored aviators, handcuffs).
Over the two week period, the subjects became more and more connected to their specified role. The guards became more autocratic and the prisoners became tolerant of being punished for the miniscule of issues. The study shows how the guards and prisoners conformed to their roles given especially the prisoners through the use of obedience. However, the ethical issues developed throughout the case were even more severe than that of Milgram’s. Five prisoners had to be released early due to depression and the whole experiment had to be cancelled only 6 days into the study out of an initial two weeks.
So here we have seen how obedience and conformity influence humans and the test we have created to observe how these characteristics can be measured and implemented in real life. On the way we have seen many ethical questions arise as well as the validity of the actual experiments. If we can understand anything from the theories present, we must understand that the experiments involve human beings, who are probably, the most unpredictable sources to all the theories. Thankfully, we now have Ethical guidelines as a result of these experiments; human beings are malleable objects and must be handled with care. Hopefully the results from these investigations on obedience and conformity are used to help human beings in the future and not control them.
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