Effects of success-failure feedback and status of others on the perpetuation of arbitrary group norms
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In an experimental analogue of the transmission of arbitrary cultural or group norms over a number of generations (cf. Jacobs and Campbell, 1961), four-person groups made estimates of the number of dots in each of a series of patterns of randomly arrayed dots. In the first generation, groups consisting of three confederates and one naive subject made a series of 20 estimates, with the confederates attempting to establish an arbitrary norm by deliberately making extreme overestimates of the number of dots in each of the presented patterns. In subsequent generations of 20 estimates each, first the confederates and then the "older" naive subjects were replaced one-by-one by "new" naive subjects. The effects of two factors on the perpetuation of the arbitrary norm regarding dot estimates were studied. The first factor was the subjects’ perceptions of the status of the other group members. Prior to entering a group, subjects were told either that the others in the group would be graduate students (high status relative to the subjects) or that they would be introductory psychology students (peers of the subjects). The second factor was the subjects' prior experience of success or failure on the task of making numerical estimates of dot patterns. Prior to making estimates in a group, subjects performed the experimental task alone and received false feedback as to their performance (success vs. failure). The design of the study was thus a 2(status: peers vs. others of high status) x 2(feedback: success vs. failure) factorial. There was also a control condition that did not receive the experimental manipulations and that consisted, from the first generation onward, entirely of naive subjects. It was predicted that (1) subjects who were in groups with others whom they believed to be of higher status than themselves would perpetuate the arbitrary norm longer than would subjects who were in groups with others whom they believed to be peers, and that (2) subjects who received failure feedback regarding estimates would perpetuate the arbitrary norm longer than would subjects who received success feedback. The first prediction was not supported, whereas the second was strongly supported. The results are discussed in terms of prior experiences that predispose individuals to place less weight on their own judgments, relative to the judgments of others, thus increasing the likelihood of perpetuating arbitrary group norms.