Critical Evaluation of Allports

Allports claim that “The individual in the crowd behaves just as he [sic] would behave alone, only more so” (Allport, 1924) is an interesting and influential part of social psychology and has lead to numerous pieces of research trying to either support or disprove this claim. How people and their behaviour is affected by social context is a huge part of social psychology. Understanding this allows us to make movements to also correct or explain many forms of anti-social behaviour or criminal behaviour.

Understanding this can even help to explain some of the most disturbing parts of history such as Hitler’s third Reich which saw the ‘extermination’ of 6 million Jews. This was arguable one of the more horrific acts in history and it causes people to think about how the Nazi soldiers did what they did. Events such as this lead to much criticism of Allports claim arguing it was people being obedient and conforming to not just a single order but to Hitler’s entire belief system.

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This claim by Allport is supported to some extent by the social identity approach. According to this approach people do not automatically act in terms of group memberships (or roles) ascribed by others. Rather, whether or not they do so depends upon whether they internalize such memberships as part of the self-concept (Turner, 1982). This shows that the only time that a person will conform to group behaviour is if it is something that they view as being good to their self identity and something that they agree with. This supports Allports claim as it shows the individual acting as they would on their own.

Conformity and obedience are two ways commonly used within social psychology to explain the changing people’s behaviour when in different social contexts. These theories and the research around then offer I feel a great deal of evidence against Allports claim showing that an individual’s behaviour when in a crowd or group is very often manipulated by those around them, and therefore causing them to act differently to how they would on their own. I will be looking at the individual pieces of research in this area in order to properly evaluate Allports claim.

Conformity can be defined as a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behaviour in order to fit in with a group. Crutchfield (1954) defined it as; ‘Yielding to group pressures’. , Deutsch & Gerard (1955) distinguished between informational and normative conformity motivations, the former based on the desire to form an accurate interpretation of reality and behave correctly, and the latter based on the goal of obtaining social approval from others. This implies that Allports claim is in fact incorrect as we are changing our usual behaviour, or decision on how we act in order to fit in with the group or crowd. This implication is supported by several pieces of research supporting the theory of conformity. (Asch, 1956; Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990; Moscovici, 1985; Sherif, 1936)

One of the first people to look into conformity was Jenness (1932). He created a simple experiment to test the effect of a group on an individual. He asked each person individualy to estimate how many beans were in a jar, he then put the group in a room with the bottle, and asked them to give a group estimate. After this he then asked the participants to give another individual group estimate to identify if they would change their opinion based on the information from the group. Jenness then interviewed the participants individually again, and asked if they would like to change their original estimates, or stay with the group’s estimate. Almost all changed their individual guesses to be closer to the group estimate. This was one of the originally pieces of research into conformity and does show that the claim originally made by Allport may be incorrect. But the research into conformity is not limited to this one original study and the evidence against the claim that ‘the individual in the crowd behaves just as he [sic] would behave alone, only more so’.

Asch (1956) created a study that has proved to play a huge part in the area of conformity. He created a simple setting where by one person would be placed in a group of confederate to see if the person would go against their own judgment and perception just to fit in with those around him/her. The task to perform was simple, the participant has to look at a set of lines and tell the experimenter which two matched. However there were others in the room (confederates) which would give the same but false answer. Asch noticed that the participant would almost always conform to the decision given by the majority. These findings have also been supported by the Meta analysis of similar studies to this. This Meta analysis was performed by Bond and Smith (1996), they also noted slight cultural differences but all cultures to some extent did show levels of conformity, changing their behaviour to fit in with the group.

If you take these findings into account it seems impossible for Allports claim to be 100% correct. When the participant was alone, or in a smaller group he would give the majority of the time the correct answer, however when inn a group the participant would go against what they could see to be correct in order to gain social acceptance. However these findings have been challenged and the study criticised as research done by Perrin and Spencer (1980) found that participants were much less likely to conform and would continue to give the correct answer as supposed to conforming to the group, this would help support Allports theory by as outlined above a meta analysis by Bond and smith did later find more evidence to support Asch.

Deutsch and Gerard (1955) called this type of approval-based conformity; ‘normative influence’. This suggests that the reason that people go along with the actions or behaviours of a group is because it results in being liked and accepted by the group. This ‘normative influence’ is seem to be particular effective because although conformity comes with benefits, it is also likely that nonconformity is punished, this can be through ridicule or even rejection from the group. Evidence for this was produced by Kruglanski and Webster (1991) and more recently by Janes and Olson (2000). Again this normative influence shows the strong effect of a crowd or group on an individual’s behaviour. The majority of the research into this area such as Asch (1956) and Deutsch and Gerard (1995) shows people changing how they act, or modelling their actions on the people around them in order to gain favourable status or to be ‘liked’. Cialdini and Trost (1998) also noted another benefit from conformity that by conforming to a group it helps an individual reach his own personal goals such as gaining status as well as acceptance.

However there is also some evidence to counter this. Maslach et al (1985) fount that people would sometime resist conformity and continue to act how they would individually in order to retain a sense of individuation or uniqueness. This argument does go some way to support Allports claim as it shows that people in a group still act as they would alone as it can result in some personal benefit.

Another one of the more influential people in social psychology and conformity was Sherif (1936). He found and highlighted another benefit for conformity which is now known as informational influence (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). Sherif aimed to show that people conform to group norms when they are put in ambiguous situations. He said that this showed that people would always tend to conform. Rather than make individual judgments they tend to come to a group agreement. His findings supported this and give further evidence against Allports claims. When people are in a situation they are unsure about, they look to others for information on how to act, now when a person is alone this is not available and would not have these influences to change their behaviour. Gigerenzer and Todd (1999) argue that the reason that this form of conformity is so commonly used is it is often the most effective way of behaving and is why we change our behaviour as supposed to doing as we would on our own.

Zimbardo (!973) performed the well know study known as the stanford prison experiment which gives strong evidence to conformity and helps offer an explanation as to the group influence on extreme behaviours. Banuazizi and Movahedi (1975) claimed that this study by Zimbardo created the shift from individual to group-level explanations of extreme behaviours. He created a situation where the participants were split into two different groups, one group were the prisoners and the other was the prison guards. This experiment highlighted not only how people would conform to roles but also how being around others influences the behaviour. In the experiment he noted that the guards become aggressive and authoritarian adopting the stereotypical role and the prisoners became more submissive. With the guars one was noted as being particularly aggressive and Zimbardo noted how the other guards would follow his behaviour.

Although this study has been criticised for its ethical issues it give huge evidence to the effects of groups on behaviour. Zimbardo (1969) also concluded that ‘immersion in a group is seen to undermine the constraints that normally operate upon people when they act as individuals. In addition, when those groups have power at their disposal, this is believed to encourage extreme antisocial behaviour’. Not only does this give evidence to criticise Allports claim it also helps to provide an explanation for extreme acts such as Hitler’s third Reich that was mentioned previously. Although it does not excuse the behaviour it helps to understand it, the group paired with the regimented uniform and style could have all help lead to the extreme acts committed by the Nazi soldiers. A replica of this study was perfumed by Reicher and Haslam (2001) called the BBC prison study and found similar results supporting Zimbardo’s claim.

As you can see there is a large amount of evidence to support the theory of conformity in group behaviour. There have been several different types of conformity labelled by different psychologists such as Deutsch and Gerard (1995) but all are based around the consensus that we change our behaviour to mimic that of the group. However this is not the only area that provides evidence against Allports claim. The theory of obedience also offers critical evidence.

Mcleod (2007) define obedience as ‘a form of social influence where an individual acts in response to a direct order from another individual, who is usually an authority figure. It is assumed that without such an order the person would not have acted in this way’. The main difference recognized between obedience and conformity is that obedience is an instruction given, usual by someone in a position of authority where as conformity is when a person gives in to social pressure. As well as also offering evidence against Allports claim, this theory helps give a stronger explanation for the behaviour of people during acts such as the holocaust or soldiers committing violent acts in a war, or even people supporting racist regimes. With other explanations such as agency theory explain that if a person has been made to do an act they feel less responsible for it.

Milgram (1963) is one of the most influential psychologists in the area of obedience. After the horrific acts of World War 2 as explained before such as Hitler’s third Reich there was much debate over how people could act in such ways. It seemed impossible that as Allports claim would suggest that the Nazi soldiers would have done these acts purely of their own accord. A common theme from the soldiers was that they only performed the acts because they have been told to, and they were just being obedient. Milgram (1963) wanted to examine this further and wanted to investigate whether Germans were particularly obedient to authority figures or if people in general are capable of performing acts against their nature if they see it as just obeying authority.

He acquired his participants for this experiment by advertising for male participants to take part in ‘a study of learning’. The procedure was that the participant was paired with another person and they drew lots to find out who would be the ‘learner’ and who would be the ‘teacher’. The draw was fixed so that the participant was always the teacher, and the learner was one of Milgram’s confederates (pretending to be a real participant). The confederate was taken to a room out of sight of the participant and had electrodes attached to his arms, and the teacher and researcher went into a room next door that contained an electric shock generator and a row of switches marked from 15 volts labelled Slight Shock to 375 volts (Danger: Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX). He found that an astonishing 65% of people would go all the way to the maximum 450 volts. Although heavily criticised for the ethics of the experiment with the participant being put under large amounts of distress thinking they were harming the ‘learner’ I feel this gives huge amounts of evidence to contradict Allports claim. These findings were not just a one of either, Milgram in total created 18 variations of this study each time finding similar high levels of compliance and obedience. Now if the individual was on their own, with no one around then I feel it is extremely unlikely they would have gone as far as they did, however they were following an order for a person they viewed as being in a position of authority so they changed the way they would act drastically, with some going to extreme levels in order to obey. As highlighted before the agency gives good evidence as to why this could be, suggesting that they felt a diminished sense of responsibility for their actions because it was someone else telling them to do it. Proving that in a group we do act differently. These findings were also supported by work of other psychologists such as Mantell (1971) who found that before the condition of varying the authority of the experimenter there were extremely high levels of obedience of around 85% giving greater validity to the findings.

Another piece of evidence for obedience is found in Hofling (1966). He wanted to create a more realistic study of obedience involving nurses to see if they would obey and order from a person in authority even if it goes against what they know the rules suggest they should. He found that although 21 out of the 22 nurses had said afterwords they would not obey the order; in practice he found that actually 21 out of the 22 were in fact obedient. This shows how a person can significant change how they would act if they feel they are following orders.

I have outlined here several studies and articles that have shown evidence to support the theories of conformity and obedience. I feel that these theory’s show us that Allports claim cannot be correct. There is likely to be a certain level of individual control where a person each has their own limits which would offer explanation for why all the studies in obedience and conformity do not show a 100% rate. However their behaviour is still shown to be altered to a certain extent. But even outside of scientific and psychological research we can see examples where a group or crowd are seen to act in ways that the people would not do on their own. This can be explained through various means such as people conforming to those around them, or the act of deindividuation or even obedience making people act differently, but the point remains that their behaviour has been altered by the group. You see examples of this in the media every week. For example take football hooliganism after a football match there is often in the news a group of people that have committed acts of vandalism or violence. Some of the people who commit these acts go through the majority of their lives without ever behaving in this way until there is a large group which they follow. An unfortunately recent example of this sort of behaviour can be found in the news yesterday where in Tehran thousands of students and opposition supporters clashed with security forces in a protest against the election. (Manthorpe 2009) This is an example of where people have to come together as a group to protest, which yes they may have all individually done, but then the group broke out into a violent riot where some people were just conforming to the behaviour those around them if they had not joined in there is a likely chance they may receive the focus of some of the abuse.

In conclusion feel the evidence I have presented shows us that Allports claim that The individual in the crowd behaves just as he [sic] would behave alone, only more so” (Allport, 1924) is proven to be incorrect, and an inadequate way of explain human behaviour. I feel the theory’s of conformity and obedience not only offer evidence against his claim but also a suitable way of explaining why and how people have acted the way they do, especially in acts of violence, any social behaviour and in extreme case like World War 2 it helps us understand how the Nazi soldiers had acted the way they did. Although the theories do not condone any of the behaviour but it does help explain it.

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