Moscovicis aim of his study was to investigate minority influence and examine whether a minority are most likely to influence a majority if they are consistent in their views. He proceeded with his study by testing his 172 participants to make sure they weren’t colour blind. The participants were asked six at a time (two of which were confederates) to estimate the colour of thirty-six slides, the slides were all coloured blue but different in brightness. There were two conditions, consistent were the confederates called the slide green everytime and inconsistent were the confederates called the slides green twenty-four times and blue twelve times.
The experiment was first done with a control group with all pressures to conform removed. In this only 0.25% of the answers were green. In the experimental group were the confederates were inconsistent the percentage rose to 1.25% of green replies. When the confederates were consistent with their replies the conformity rate rose to 8.42%. (Queen Elizabeth 6th Form College Website) The conclusion of this study was that a minority has the power to influence a majority.
However they are more influential when they are consistent in their views, when they were inconsistent they were largely ignored. Criticisms of this study have been that it lacked external validity in that the task was unlikely to occur in real-life therefore the results cannot be generalised. Also it lacked validity because they were not real groups and did not have the power and status that groups in the real world have. However in fairness the minority has swayed people when they have remained consistent such as the suffragette movement, apartheid in South Africa and animal and gay rights.
It is fair to say that both of the studies give evidence that people do conform for different reasons. Moscovici’s shows that minorities can have an influence on the majority although later studies did show that minorities must also avoid appearing rigidly inflexible. Zimbardo’s experiment is interesting in that it shows conformity to a wider society and not to just those in a room, and has been compared to the Abu Gharib prison, where because the guards were hardly trained they fell into stereotypical roles.
There have been criticisms of both studies in that they were both done in America in the late sixties and early seventies that were still considered to be very conformist times. However similarities with the studies findings in real life have become apparent over the years. Moscovici is supported by Baron and Byrne (1991) who argue, “Minorities often have appear to have deep convictions because they often take unusual stands. This makes others take them seriously”(Minority Influence Class Handout (14.10.04))
Further studies into other areas of social influence such as obedience, examples being Milgram and Hofling have demonstrated that as well as being ‘swung’ by minority and majority influence, authoritarian figures can also play a part too. It is fair to say that psychological studies are as important today as they were thirty odd years ago into giving us some insight into the various aspects of social influence and how it effects us, not only as individuals but society as a whole.
Cardwell, Clark ; Meldrum (2003) Psychology for AS-level, London: Collins. S-cool Student Site AS ; A2 Level Psychology Social Influence – Conformity ; Conformity Key Studies (accessed on 21.10.04) Available: http://www.s-cool.co.uk/