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Exam technique advice

Example Answers for Social Influence: A Level Psychology, Paper 1, June 2018 (AQA)

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA

Section A – Social: Q1 [2 Marks]

The ‘agentic state’, as an explanation for obedience, occurs when an individual carries out the orders of an authority figure and acts as their ‘agent’, with little personal responsibility and reduced moral strain for their actions. The shift from autonomy (exercising free will) to ‘agency’ of obeying others is referred to as the ‘agentic shift’.

Section A – Social: Q2 [6 Marks]

In order for Jenny (the minority), to persuade the rest of her psychology department (the majority) she must show consistency, commitment and flexibility in her views about marking. 

Firstly, Jenny could show consistency by continually repeating the same message about the benefits of verbal feedback – that it prevents the students from becoming distracted over their grades – in each of the department meetings.

Secondly, Jenny could show commitment to this view by explaining how she is making a personal sacrifice, by investing time in researching the best teaching strategies for marking and working hard to ensure that students have the best quality feedback on their work.

Finally, Jenny could show flexibility by listening to the other members of her department and agree to a compromise. They may agree to trial a marking strategy that involves verbal feedback with a reduced emphasis on grading. This will make Jenny appear less rigid and dogmatic.

Section A – Social: Q3 [16 Marks]

There are two key explanations about why people conform: informational social influence and normative social influence. Normative social influence (NSI) is when a person conforms to be accepted and to feel like they belong to a group. Here a person conforms because it is socially rewarding, or to avoid social rejection; for example, feeling like they don’t ‘fit in’. 

Asch’s (1956) study into conformity provides research support for normative social influence. He found that many of the participants went along with the majority and provided an obviously incorrect answer on a line judgement task. When questioned by Asch in post-experimental interviews, participants said that they changed their answer to avoid disapproval from the rest of the group which clearly shows that NSI had occurred, as the participants conformed to fit in.  Furthermore, Asch demonstrated that when the pressure to publicly conform is removed, by asking participants to write down their answers on a piece of paper rather than say them aloud, the conformity rates fell to 12.5%. This provides further evidence for NSI because the reduction in public pressure reduced the rate of conformity.

While the Asch study provides support for the notion of NSI, more recent research has yielded different results. For example, Perrin and Spencer (1980) conducted an Asch-style experiment and found a conformity level of 0.25%. Therefore, it could be argued that the results of Asch are the results of a different era and do not represent conformity and the idea of NSI in 2017. However, it must be noted that Perrin and Spencer used a very different sample to Asch, consisting of engineering and mathematic students. Therefore, it can be that the lower levels of conformity were also influenced by the participant’s expertise in problem-solving tasks.

However, NSI is not the only reason that people conform and some people conform to for informational reasons. Informational Social Influence (ISI) is when a person conforms to gain knowledge, or because they believe that someone else is ‘right’. Informational social influence is usually associated with internalisation, where a person changes both their public behaviour and their private beliefs, on a long-term basis. This semi-permanent change in behaviour and belief is the result of a person adopting a new belief system because they genuinely believe that their new beliefs are ‘right’ or that the majority are ‘experts’.

Jenness (1932) provides research support for the role of informational social influence. Participants were asked to initially make independent judgements about the number of jelly beans contained in a jar and then discuss their estimates in a group. Following the discussion, participants then made another individual private estimate. Jenness found that this second private estimate moved closer to the group estimate and that females typically conformed more. This shows that ISI will occur in unfamiliar, ambiguous situations as the participants believed they gained knowledge from the group and are now more likely to be right.

While Jenness provides convincing evidence for the role of ISI, it must be noted that his experiment has been criticised for lacking ecological validity. Providing an estimate of the number of beans in a jar is a rather mundane task with no social consequences. Consequently, it is legitimate to question whether we would display such levels of ISI in tasks that have more significant social consequences, for example, hearing evidence in a court case from an ‘expert’ barrister. Therefore, until further research examining ISI is conducted in the real-world, these results remain confined to the laboratory. 

Revision Resources for AQA A Level Psychology

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