Nemeth and Wachtler (1974) – Minority Influence

Nemeth, C. and Wachtler, J. (1974) ‘Creating the perceptions of consistency and confidence: a necessary condition for minority influence.’ Sociometry, 37, 529-540

Background

This is the third study we will be looking at from the ‘reaching a verdict’ section of ‘reaching a verdict’, as part of your OCR A2 Forensic Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘Minority Influence

To further your learning, it is highly recommended that you read: Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics which will give you a broader understanding of group dynamics.

Recall the last study we looked at? Asch (1955) considered the impact of the majority on the minority in a group. Nemeth and Wachtler consider the opposite: the influence of the minority on the majority.

Referring specifically to juries, can the minority sway the majority to their views on the verdict of a defendant?

The background study that you need to know for this study is Rotter (1966) and Moscovivi (1985). You may remember Rotter from the background of the Gudjonsson and Bownes (2002) from the ‘Turning to Crime’ section of this course.

Rotter (1966) distinguished between two different types of personality:

  1. The internally directed (Internal Locus)
  2. The externally directed (External Locus)

The internally directed – see their effectiveness and behaviour in terms of their own directions, for example people who blame themselves for failing at something, because they did not practise enough.

The external directed – see no connection between their own behaviour and events which they see as beyond their own control, for example people who blame the weather for failing a driving test.

Moscovivi (1985) – suggests that people who are more internally directed are more likely to resist conforming to the majority. Moscovivi also suggests that the consistency of the minority is the most persuasive factor concerning conformity. Moscovivi suggests that the reason for this is that consistency creates a sense of certainty and confidence.

Aim

To investigate the influence of perceived autonomy and consistency on minority influence.

Method and Design

A laboratory experiment. In the form of a mock trial.

Participants

Participants were split into groups of five, one of whom was a confederate of the experimenter.

The participants were students.

Procedure

The group of five have to deliberate on the amount of compensation due to a victim of an injury.

After listening to all the facts, all the participants made an individual verdict. Once the participants had made their decision they were taken to another room with a table, which had four seats at the sides of the table and one seat at the head of the table.

The experimenters confederate would sit at the head of the table. There were two conditions: one where the confederate chooses to sit at the head of the table and another were the experimenter directed each individual participant where to sit.

Once all the five participants were seated at the table, they all begin to deliberate on the case.

During this deliberation the confederate takes a deviant position relative to the other members of the group. The confederate would suggest compensation of around $3000, when the other participants were suggesting figures of between $10,000 and $25,000.

Findings

The confederate exerts influence when he is consistent and when he is perceived as autonomous  because he has chosen his seat, as opposed to being seated by the experimenter, which caused the confederate to exert little influence over the group.

When the confederate sat at the head of the table, he is seen as more confident and consistent and therefore is able to better influence the group.

Conclusion

The findings from Nemeth and Wachtler (1974) have interesting repercussions for the jury room where people sit around a long table. There are a myriad of examples which show the influence of minorities on the majority. An example of this can be found in the notion of global warming, at one time, global warming was seen as an extremist view and was only held by a few scientists, but now it is widely accepted.

However, Nemeth and Wachtler (1974) suggest that the effects of the minority group on the majority may be somewhat diminished in a jury room environment, due to the limited time for which a unanimous verdict must be reached.

Nemeth and Wachtler  (1974) Evaluation

+ Validity – the independent variable was clearly manipulated, however, we do not know the impact of the minority group not sitting at the head of the table.

– Ecological validity – Firstly, the study used a mock trial. Secondly, there was only a group of 5, which is not reflective of actual juries who have 12 members. There is certainly evidence to suggest that the the influence of the minority is somewhat diminished with larger groups.

+ Construct Validity – the study shows evidence for the idea that minorities can influence the minority, however the study lacks further evidence for the influence of minorities in different scenarios, so we can argue that the study lacks generalisability.

– Ethnocentrism – to further the preceding point,  the sample consisted of only students and therefore cannot be easily generalised to larger populations.

 Audio Podcast



References

Asch, S. E. (1995) ‘Opinions and Social Pressure’, Scientific American 193 (5), 31-5.

 

Further Reading

OCR A2 Psychology Student Unit Guide: Unit G543: Forensic Psychology (Student Unit Guides)

Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics

 

Summary
Article Name
Nemeth and Wachtler (1974) - Minority Influence
Description
Revision notes for Nemeth and Wachtler (1974), from OCR A2 Forensic Psychology, this study considers the impact of minorities on the majority.
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