Conformity Psychology Essay Rubric

Spacing practice in the classroom - teaching your students the benefits of spaced practice

Speed reviewing - Ziv Bell shared a technique he uses in his courses to help students review material that is based on the concept of speed dating.  Sometimes he gives them a time limit for each pairing, and sometimes he does not.  He says it works both ways.

Ziv says, "What I do find helps (and you can feel free to re-word this as you see fit) is (1) for the instructor to participate as well, (2) to make sure that students have a list of terms/concepts they can review, which could come from a study guide, the glossary/summary of the book chapter, etc., (3) to have students move to a part of the classroom they can easily move around, which could be the front or sides of a traditional lecture hall, for example, and (4) for the instructor to model introducing themselves to another student, asking "Can you tell me about ..." and saying thank you before parting ways and introducing themselves to another student. I find in a class of about 60 students this activity works well for between 5-10 minutes."

Using pre-questions - This study found that the simple use of pre-questions before students watch a short video significantly increased their memory for information in the video, even information unrelated to the pre-questions.

Is psychology the study of the obvious? - The first link is to an interactive exercise students can participate in online.  This link is to a page on the Resources for Teaching Social Psychology website which includes an activity I shared a while back on this same topic.  It still works very well for me on the first day of class.

A variety of activities -from Schacter et al. intro text

An updated Jigsaw Classroom - Scott Plous received an APS teaching grant to update and improve the Jigsaw Classroom website, which describes and provides resources around this collaborative learning technique developed by Elliot Aronson.

Applying social psych to real-life scenarios

Teaching a course on the psychology of social media - [added 1/20/15]

The social brain - As part of one activity I use in class I ask a student how many really good friends he/she has at school. I have done this many times, and I was surprised to find that students answered 4, 5, or 4-5 95% of the time. It was always the same! After reading this article, I now know why. [added 1/20/15]

"Can brief psychological interventions really work?" - Once again, subscriber David Myers and C. Nathan DeWall provide an excellent review of a recent Current Directions article with some accompanying activities. In this case, the activities are simulations created by the article's author, Gregory Walton, of some of interventions described within. See the links at the end of the article for the exercises. Here is a link to the original article by Walton. Here is a description of a new test of an intervention for first-generation college students. It is remarkable that these brief interventions can have such significant effects.[added 1/20/15]

Variety of activities/demos for social influence - a large collection of annotated references to classroom activities including group influence exercises[added 1/2/14]

How evolution shapes social behavior - Joy Drinnon offers this interesting activity: "This activity is designed to help students see the role that evolution likely played in shaping many social behaviors. I distribute equally 1 of the 4 different pages in the attached handout to each student in the class. Students are told to read their handout and to be on the lookout for examples while watching Episode 6 from Going Tribal. As a class we watch some or all of the episode. The episode is broken into 6 parts on Youtube so it is easy to show some or all and there are no commercials. You can find it by searching 'Suri People Dangerous Game.' The episode illustrates easily how survival pressures may have shaped social behaviors, such as bonding rituals, mate selection, and responses to conflict. It also provides opportunities for discussing cultural differences in how groups respond to the same pressures for food and survival. There is a documentary called 'Tribal Wives' too which can be used to continue the discussion about gender differences." The link takes you to the four handouts Joy describes above.[added 1/2/14]

Using Current Directions in Psychological Science - two more excellent sets of ideas from subscriber Dave Myers and Nathan DeWall for using a couple recent Current Directions articles in class[added 1/2/14]

"Encouraging students' ethical behavior" - some good tips in this essay[added 7/30/13]

Teaching Current Directions in Psychological Science - An exciting addition to the APS Observer is a new column by Dave Myers and Nathan DeWall which will be "aimed at integrating cutting-edge psychological science into the classroom. Each column will offer advice and how-to guidance about teaching a particular area of research or topic in psychological science that has been the focus of an article in the APS journal Current Directions in Psychological Science." See the first entries at the link above. Thanks, Dave and Nathan. [4/1/13]

Social Knowledge: The Game - "This smartphone app (Android or iPhone) offers a statement on social psychological research every day, with elaborate explanations (and the references!) the day after and feedback on whether the person was correct or not. This game could be a weekly icebreaker, source of fun/friendly competition, and/or way for Social Psychology students to stay connected to course material outside of class."[added 12/08/12]

Internet search and discover activity - This comes from Chuck Schallhorn through the excellent Teaching High School Psychology blog. [added 12/29/11]

Is social psychology the study of the obvious?
On the first day of my social psych course I talk about how some have considered social psych the study of the obvious. To illustrate how that is not quite accurate and to illustrate the hindsight bias, I tell my class that there is actually some research in the field that has produced some quite surprising findings. I proceed to tell them about three different studies one at a time. After each one I ask my students if they also think the results are surprising or if the results seem reasonable to them. I allow them to generate some explanations of why those results might actually seem plausible or understandable. Then, after the third study, I stop, look confused, and tell them that I mixed up the results. (I get to have fun here doing some "acting.") I tell them that somehow I mixed up the results. Actually, the findings are exactly the opposite of what I told them. I then tell them the real results. Most of them catch on that I was setting them up, and I go on to explain how they generated very plausible explanations after the fact for each of the study's "wrong" results. I was reminded of this by the study on how "males are more tolerant of same-sex peers." I think I will use that study next time as one of my three. However, instead I will tell my students that the study found that females were more tolerant. Isn't that surprising? [added 6/23/09]

Social Psychology Rocks - Brian Johnson passed along this interesting idea:

"I'm doing something this semester that I am hoping improves my students ability to retain and show me their learning on the exams. The easiest way to describe it is to call it "Social Psychology Rocks" (though I really doubt the idea is unique to me as it borrows more than a bit from Teaching of Psychology articles on the use of media in various class-Film Clips in Abnormal for example). I'm not limiting it to musical examples and I'll even try to expand it beyond rock music, but I'm using song lyrics to reinforce an important idea (or a clip from a movie or TV show) from lecture. Today, it was the idea of construals/constructing social reality. I had lyrics from the Peter Gabriel song "In Your Eyes" and from the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth" to demonstrate why we actively construct our understanding of events in our lives. I included some lyrics and bolded ideas that I could relate back to what I had been discussing the previous few minutes.
On the paper I had: (From Peter Gabriel's song)
In your eyes
The light the heat
In your eyes
I am complete
And I explained why I had those lines highlighted (related back to subjective interpretation of the world that interests social psychologists) and then asked the students to explain to me how one's interpretation of a professor as a good teacher (an idea a student had mentioned earlier in class with regard to a brief writing activity I had them do) impacts one's behavior toward the professor and may help make that professor a better teacher. Hopefully this helps make the abstract more concrete and memorable and helps the students make some of the deeper links that will help them take the topics of social psychology from the classroom to the rest of their academic and personal lives."[added 3/25/09]

Developing critical thinking skills in Social Psychology - My colleague Heather Coon and I embarked on a project to more systematically develop scientific thinking skills in our students. Click on the link to read about how we used brief research articles to develop a variety of thinking skills. You are welcome to use any of the materials. Feedback is always welcome.[added 9/20/08]

"Resources for the inclusion of social class in psychology curricula" - The American Psychological Association's Office on Socioeconomic Status has created an excellent set of materials that includes classroom activities, course syllabi, lists of relevant media, and more. Warning: This is a large (11.75 MB) file.[added 6/3/08]

Icebreakers - Sarah Estow from Guilford College shared some excellent "icebreakers" for illustrating social psychology principles at the SPSP Teaching Pre-conference. For example, she has begun the semester with

"Lying to your peers" - Students were to go around the room and tell two true and one untrue thing about themselves. Students tried to guess which were true and which were untrue. She was able to connect this exercise to self-concept, stereotyping and impression formation among other concepts.

"Professor profile" - At the beginning of the course, students completed questionnaires about their instructor (Sarah), identifying what they thought would be her hometown, favorite music, favorite movies, etc. They also rated how confident they were in these judgments. She then had them discuss how easily they formed these impressions, what data they used, confidence vs. accuracy, and more.

"24-hour sex change" - Students anonymously completed a questionnaire identifying their sex and whether or not, if given the chance, they would want to change sexes for 24 hours. She also asked them what they would do as that other sex for those 24 hours. You could do this as another ethnicity for a day. [added 7/6/07]

Reading questions - Nick DiFonzo assigns his students reading questions to accompany Susan Fiske's Social Beings (2004) text. These one-page assignments are then brought to class to serve as a basis for discussion. Although you may not use this text, the assignment serves as a good model of how to encourage reading and discussion in a course. [added 7/5/06]

Debates in the Classroom

Useful or not? Talk among yourselves. I occasionally use debates in class to promote student engagement and discussion of a topic. Sometimes I randomly assign them to a position (good way to illustrate the saying-is-believing effect) and sometimes I let them choose which side they will be on. Topics I have used include:

  • Do you believe your attitudes shape your behaviors more or do your behaviors shape your attitudes more?

  • Is there such a thing as a truly altruistic behavior?

  • Harry Wallace shared the following debate topic: "Regarding debate topics, I like to introduce the topic of stereotypes & prejudice in my introductory social psych courses with a debate on affirmative action as a university admissions policy. I divide the class in half, have students generate their arguments (without having read the relevant research), and then let them go at it. Then, after students have thought about the issues, I introduce the research that speaks to the issues they raised (and failed to consider)."

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According to Leon Mann, conformity means "yielding to
group pressures". Everyone is a member of one group or
another and everyone expects members of these groups to
behave in certain ways. If you are a member of an
identifiable group you are expected to behave
appropriately to it. If you don"t confirm and behave
appropriately you are likely to be rejected by the group.
Like stereotypes, conforming and expecting others to
conform maintains cognitive balance.

There are several kinds of conformity. Many studies of
conformity took place in the 1950"s which led Kelman to
distinguish between compliance, internalisation and
identification. Compliance is the type of conformity where
the subject goes along with the group view, but privately
disagrees with it. Internalisation is where the subject comes
to accept, and eventually believes in the group view.
Identification is where the subject accepts and believes the
group view, because he or she wants to become associated
with the group.

Leon Mann identifies normative conformity which occurs
when direct group pressure forces the individual to yield
under the threat of rejection or the promise of reward. This
can occur only if someone wants to be a member of the
group or the groups attitudes or behaviour are important to
the individual in some way.

Apart from normative conformity there is informational
conformity which occurs where the situation is vague or
ambiguous and because the person is uncertain he or she
turns to others for evidence of the appropriate response.

Thirdly, Mann identifies ingratiational conformity which
occurs where a person tries to do whatever he or she
thinks the others will approve in order to gain acceptance
(if you make yourself appear to be similar to someone else,
they might come to like you).

The first major research into conformity was conducted in
1935 by Sherif who used a visual illusion, known as the
auto-kinetic effect. Sherif told his subjects that a spot of
light which they were about to see in a darkened room was
going to move, and he wanted them to say the direction
and distance of the movement. In the first experimental
condition the subjects were tested individually. Some said
the distance of movement wasn"t very far in any directio,
others said it was several inches. Sherif recorded each
subjects response. In the second experimental condition,
Sherif gathered his subjects into groups, usually of three
people, and asked them to discribe verbally the movement
of light. He gave them no instructions as to whether they
needed to reach any kind of agreement among themselves
but simply asked them to give their own reports while being
aware of the reports that other members gave. During the
group sessions it became apparent that the subjects reports
strarted to converge much nearer to an average of what
their individual reports had been. If a subject who had said
that the light didn"t move very far when tested individually
said "I think it is moving 2 inches to the left" then another
who had reported movement of 4 inches, when tested
individually, might say "I think it may have been 3 inches".
As the number of reported movements continued the more
the members of the group conformed to each others

This spot of light was in fact stationary so whatever reports
were made was the consequence of the subject imagining
they saw something happen. So they were not certain
about the movement they observed and so would not feel
confident about insisting that their observations were wholly
correct. When they heard other reported judgements they
may have decided to go along with them.

The problem with this study, for understanding of
conformity, as one aspect of social psychology is that it is a
total artifical experimental situation - there isn"t even a right
answer. Requested reports of imaginary movements of a
stationary spot of light in a darkened room when alone, or
with two others, hardly reflects situations we come accross
in our every day lives. Generalising from its conclusions to
real life might be innacurate. However, some of them do
have a common sense appeal.

Ash was a harsh critic of Sherifs experimental design and
claimed that it showed little about conformity since there
was no right answer to conform to. Ash designed an
experiment where there could be absolutely no doubt about
whether subjects would be conforming or not and it was
absolutely clear what they were conforming to. He wanted
to be able to put an individual under various amounts of
group pressure that he could control and manipulate and
measure their willingness to conform to the groups
response to something that was clearly wrong. Ash
conducted what are now described as classic experiments
in conformity. This is not to say they aren"t criticised today
or that its conclusions are wholly acceptable now - they
showed the application of the scientific method to social
psychology and we used as models of how to conduct
psychological research.

In an early experiment Ash gathered a group of seven
university students in a classroom. They sat around one
side of a large table facing the blackboard. On the left side
of the board there was a white card with a single black line
drawn vertically on it. On the right of the board there was
another white card with three vertical lines of different
lengths. Two of the lines on the card on the right were
longer or shorther than the target line. Matching the target
line to the comparison line shouldn"t have been a difficult
task however for these seven students, all but one was a
confederate of Ash and they had been instructed to give
incorrect responses on seven of the twelve trials. The one
naive subject was seated either at the extreme left or next
to the extreme left of the line of students so that he would
always be last (or next to last) to answer. He would have
heard most of the others give their judgements about which
comparison line matches the target line before he spoke.
The naive subject was a member of a group he didn"t
know and might never see again who suddenly and for no
apparent reason started saying something which directly
contradicted the evidence of his own eyes.

In subsequent experiments Ash used between 7 and 9
subjects using the same experimental procedure. In the first
series of experiments he tested 123 naives on 12 critical
tests where 7 were going to be incorrect. Each naive
therefore had 7 opportunities to conform to something they
could see to be wrong. One third of the naives conformed
on all 7 occasions. About three quarters of them
conformed on at least one occasion. Only about one fifth
refused to conform at all.

Just to be certain that the result was due to the influence of
the confederates responses and not to the difficulty of the
task Ash used a control group. Each control subject was
asked to make a judgement individually - there were no
pressures at all. Over 90% gave correct responses.

Hollander and Willis give some criticisms of the early
research into conformity. Firstly the studies do not identify
the motive or type of conformity. Do the subjects conform
in order to gain social approval? Are they simply
complying? Do they really believe that their response is
correct? Secondly Hollander and Willis claim that the
experiments do not identify whether the subjects are
complying because they judge that it"s not worth appearing
to be different, or because the actually start to believe that
the groups judgement is correct. Hollander and Willis also
claim that the studies cannot show whether those who do
not conform do so because they are independant thinkers
or because they are anti-conformists. And Lastly, they
claim that the studies seem to assume that independance
has to be good and conformity has to be bad. However
conformity is often benificial.

Sherif and Asch have each conducted fairly artificial
laboritory experiments which showed that about 30% of
responses can be explained by the need or desire of the
subjects to conform. These experiments may not accurately
reflect real life when conformity might be benificial and
sometimes contribute to psychological well-being.

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