In socialization and group conformity, please explain how studies such as Milgram, Asch, and Zimbardo help sociologists understand group conformity and group think in relation to Abu Ghraib and Breaking the Faith?
Studies such as those conducted by Stanley Milgram, Solomon Asch, and Philip Zimbardo help sociologists understand the kinds of situations and relationships that influence individuals to harm others, Extreme behavior, including verbal and physical abuse, may be shaped by the desire to obey authority figures or conform to peer group pressure, as well as concern for avoiding punishment or ostracism. The findings of such studies can help understand behavior in prisons or fundamentalist communities.
From the 1950s onward, psychosocial studies—often with an experimental component—have helped us understand human motivations for extreme behavior, including violence. They aimed to answer questions about the reasons people engage in actions that conflict with their conscience or belief systems. The insights can be useful in analyzing situations such as a prison, where guards have considerable authority over prisoners, as in the case of Abu Ghraib. They may also shed light on interpersonal relations in isolated religious communities, such as those affiliated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which was portrayed on the Breaking the Faith television program. Flaws in the design and procedures of experiments on which some studies were based, however, raise questions about the value of their findings.
Solomon Asch’s studies revealed that people’s opinions about matters that seemed unimportant, such as the length of a line, were strongly influenced by their peer’s claims. In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted experiments in which people urged others to administer electro-shocks to a third person. To a high degree, the participants followed the authority figure’s instructions even when the recipient seemed to be in pain. The Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo simulated a prison situation by dividing participants into prisoners and guards. Those playing guards seemed willing to physically abuse the prisoners. However, many participants later claimed that they were aware of the experiment’s purpose and behaved according to what they believed was the desired outcome.
The findings of such studies, which strongly indicate that human beings are very susceptible to peer pressure, could be applied to the Abu Ghraib prison atrocities. In this prison in Iraq, US army guards humiliated, tortured, and even killed prisoners. The force of peer pressure may have led such activities to be considered normal. In an FLDS compound near Eldorado, Texas, hundreds of instances of child sexual abuse were reported, leading to the prosecution and conviction of several adult male leaders. In this case, obedience to authority may have motivated the behavior.
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