Psychology

Psychology of Social Information

In “A Study of Normative and Informational Social Influence Upon Social Judgment,” Morton Deutsch and Harold B. Gerard seek to explain how normative social influence and informational social influence can lead to conformity of judgment in group scenarios. Although their experimental design was thorough and produced a lot of data to support their hypotheses, there are some issues regarding achieving induced value through reward selection, subject selection, and subject relationships that may have impacted their results. In particular, the reward medium that Deutsch and Gerard selected for the group situation did not satisfy monotonicity or dominance. The experimenters selected subjects with familiarity with psychology, which may have caused them to respond differently than the general population may have. Finally, the subjects’ behavior may have been influenced by their relationships and experiences outside of the lab.

The induced-value theory claims that “proper use of a reward medium allows an experimenter to induce prespecified characteristics in experimental subjects, and the subjects’ innate characteristics become largely irrelevant” (Friedman & Sunder 12-13). One of the conditions of the induced-value theory is monotonicity, which explains that subjects must “prefer more reward medium to less and not become satiated.” The dominance condition states that subjects’ actions must be the result of their desire to attain increased reward, and not the result of any other factors (Friedman & Sunder 13). However, in the group situation, Deutsch and Gerard used Broadway tickets as a reward for high performance. This reward does not satisfy monotonicity or dominance, and therefore, the experimenters cannot claim that they effectively were able to achieve induced value or control over their subjects’ actions. The tickets as a reward do not satisfy monotonicity because there is no evidence that all participants like Broadway, or would be satiated by the receipt of Broadway tickets. The tickets do not satisfy the principle of dominance because if the participants have no interest in Broadway or the Broadway tickets, there is a reason to believe that the motivation for their behavior and selections was cursory to the available reward.

David Myers’ popularized definition of conformity claims that it is “a change in behavior or belief as a result of real or imagined group pressure” (1999). However, the subjects’ behavior may have been influenced by other factors, as described by Orne. For example, Orne explains that “college students tend to share…the hope and expectation that the study in which they are participating will in some material way contribute to science and perhaps ultimately to human welfare in general” (778). If students are attributing their decision-making to a greater cause (like science), there is a possibility that they were conforming to the assumed expectations of the experimenter and the experimental design in order to be perceived as a “good subject.” There is no indication that Deutsch and Gerard checked to see whether subjects were validating the experimental hypothesis by playing the role of the “good subject.”

The subjects that Deutsch and Gerard used were 101 “college students from psychology courses at New York University” (630). This is a potentially problematic feature of their experimental design for a few reasons. That they are all presumably classmates may allow for noninstitutional interactions or the notion that “subjects’ behavior may be affected by interactions outside the laboratory institution” (Friedman & Sunder 30). The experimenters could not properly anticipate or control for preexisting relationships, levels of trust, or perceptions and knowledge of intelligence or capabilities of other group members. Further, as Martin Orne explains, “a subject’s behavior in any experimental situation will be determined by two sets of variables… experimental variables and… the perceived demand characteristics of the experimental situation” (779). Demand characteristics serve as contextual variables that affect subjects’ perception of the experiment’s hypothesis. Examples include rumors or information shared about the experiment, which can be hard to control or curb where students are close in proximity and potentially friends or acquaintances and can propagate this information. It is also possible that these students’ familiarity with psychology and psychological experiments could have influenced their recognition of the mechanisms and expectations of this particular experiment.

While this study produced interesting and useful insights about conformity, there were issues with the rewards and subjects that the experimenters selected. The use of Broadway tickets as a reward in the group situation does not satisfy dominance or monotonicity, which has a negative impact on the control that the experimenters can claim to have over subjects’ behavior. In addition, there is the possibility that the college students they selected may have been subject to a different form of conformity (conformity to the expectations of the experimenters) as a result of their desire to be “good subjects.” Demand characteristics and noninstitutional interactions may have colored the way that subjects interacted in the lab– a possibility that Deutsch and Gerard did not explore or control for.

Citations:

Deutsch, M. and H. Gerard. 1955. “A Study of Normative and Informational Social Influences

Upon Individual Judgment.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51: 629-636.

Friedman, D. & S. Sunder. (1994). Experimental Methods: a Primer for Economists. Cambridge

University Press. Chapters 1-3.

Myers, David G. Social Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999. Print.

Orne, M., 1962. “On the social psychology of the psychological experiment: With particular

reference to demand characteristics and their implications.” American Psychologist,

17(11):776-783. (7 pp)

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