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Social Effects of Conformity

Social cognition is an area in social psychology concerned with social influences on thought, memory, perception and other cognitive processes. These other cognitive processes include individual behavior as well as group behavior. Social cognition relates directly to behavior and attitude in that it contains perceptions and beliefs as well as emotions about any given topic. All of these terms directly relate to the topic of this paper which is social pressure being directly linked to performance in school.
According to Rosabeth Kanter, the less minority members there are in a group the less likely they are to be academically successful. Contrastingly, the more minority members in a social group the more likely they are to be successful. This is an indirect example of the strengthening of the minorities’ social identity. The “ Us versus Them” frame of mind is shown in that with increase in the amount of members that consist of the minority their performance level also increases. This is shown in the Robbers Cave experiment, in that with the each child identifying with their group more and more they become more aggressive and competitive in order to defeat the enemy, which was the other clan of boys.
According to Spangler, Gordon and Pipkin the characteristics of social pressure on minorities in an academic and social environment include:
A dramatic increase or decrease in grades
Not volunteering to speak in class or other public forums
Withdrawal from school itself
Not participating in extracurricular activities
Spangler, Gordon and Pipkin concluded that these characteristics would innately influence the performance of students as well as their social status. In order for an individual to ensure that they are a member of the majority they would have to conform to the practices and behavior of the whole unit. Similar to, ethnic acculturation, which is the process by which a member of a minority group comes to identify with and feel part of the mainstream culture.
According to Luchins & Luchins conforming to social pressure can make an individual’s sense of right and wrong go askew “social pressure can cause people to judge incorrectly”. Luchin & Luchin’s experiments showed that subjects agreed with an incorrect answer after they heard it from multiple outside subjects. This also correlates with the Line Test experiment, in which, one line is clearly longer than the others but through peers stating that other lines are longer the subject begins to believe that what they think is incorrect. Other examples include the “nearsighted” experiment conducted by Solomon Asch.
A blatant example of conforming to social norms, are the 21 Bedouin women interviewed by Asali, Khamaysi, Aburabia and Letzer on the topic of Ritual Female Genital Surgery RFGS or circumcision. It was found that the most common reason for this practice was a need to conform to social pressure. The women interviewed indicated that their mothers were the main reason as to why they were circumcised and they are the reason why their daughters will be circumcised. The most alarming fact was the low regard the circumcised women held of the uncircumcised women. The women who were in majority (circumcised) believed that the minority (uncircumcised) were unclean and could not cook. Due to the minorities unwillingness to conform they are not allowed to secure a place in Bedouin society. I believe that the Bedouin women have the extreme form of conformity named groupthink. The characteristics of a groupthink include:
Illusions of invulnerability
Direct pressure on dissenters to conform
Illusions of unanimity
This subject of group thinking and conforming directly relate to the institution where all of these behaviorisms are most obvious. This is the societal necessity of learning. Allen and Bragg conducted an experiment in which they wished to explore the effects of social pressure on learning. In their experiment, they tested if the subjects could remember the concept of colored circles and triangles by subject. They had three groups: the first group received correct feedback for their answers; the second group received incorrect feedback for their answers. It was observed that the subjects in the first group performed better than the subjects in the other two groups. The experiment was then extended to two groups that had to perform two tasks; one received positive feedback after the first task and negative feedback after the second. The second group received negative feedback after the first task and positive feedback for the second task. It was observed that the group that received the negative feedback performed poorer on the second task than they had before receiving the negative feedback.
Allen and Bragg’s experiments directly relate to social pressure in school. This was also confirmed by Frith “social pressure can affect a student’s performance by influencing his or her motivation. Putting doubts into a student’s mind is a form of social pressure that can reduce his or her motivation”. The most evident symbols of social pressure are grades, which can be looked at as secondary reinforcers.
These secondary reinforcers have their positive as well as negative side. A reward can sometimes be looked at as a negative social pressure. For instance, a student may study just to get a grade and not because he is interested in the subject he is studying. His/or Her desire to learn would be disregarded and their performance would start to decline. This is an example of extrinstic reinforcers.
Along with the negative effects of social pressure there are positive effects. The positive effects of social pressure are increasing academic performance by increasing it significantly. This means that if people are given a positive impression they are more likely to perform better. This is supported by Brickman who stated “sometimes telling a person that he has done well, that is giving him success feedback, leads to a better subsequent task performance than telling him that he has done poorly, that is, giving him failure feedback”. This is an example of intristic reinforcers.
It was surprising that negative social pressure did not have any effect on performance. One of the possible reasons for it could be that the negative pressure group was not large enough to represent a population.
In conclusion, I do believe that ones’ social identity is directly linked to how social pressure is directly linked to performance in school.

References Allen, V.L., Bragg, B.W. (1968). Effect of Social Pressure on Concept Identification. Journal of Educational Psychology, 59(4), 302-08. Asali, A., Khamaysi, N., et al (1995). Ritual Female Genital Surgery Among Bedouins in Israel. Archives of Sexual Behavior,24(5), 571-75. Brickman, P., Linsemmier, J.A.W., McCareins, A.G. (1976). Performance Enhancement by Relevant Success and Irrelevant Failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33(2), 149-60. Frith, C. (1997). "Motivation to Learn". University of Saskatchewan. Kanter, R.M. (1977). Some effects of proposition of group life: Skewed sex ratio and responses to token women. American Journal of Sociology, 82, 965-70. Luchins, A.S., Luchins, E.H. Conformity: Task vs. Social Requirements. The Journal of Social Psychology, 71, 95-105. Robert, M. (1983). Observational learning of conservation: Its independence from social influence. The British Journal of Psychology, 74, 1-10. Schlenker, B.R., Boneiki, K.A., Schlenker, D.R. (1995). Where is the home(shock)? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(4), 649-52. Spangler, E., Gordon, M.A., Pipkin, P.M. (1978). Token women: An empirical test of Kanter's hypothesis. American Journal of Sociology, 84(1), 160-69. Tucker-Ladd, C.E. (1997). Psychological Self Help. Mental Health Net.

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