Structure and agency are the two determinants of social outcomes. Agency is related to the individual free will, it is how we choose to maneuver within the structure. The person can exercise choice in maintaining personal and social realities. The structure of the environment greatly influences an individual’s thought and behavior. Behaviors are affected by the norms and beliefs that society has placed. Social structures that guide people’s actions are culture, social class, status, groups, and social institutions. When the social structure creates norms, they are to be followed therefore people act accordingly to the behavioral patterns set. The structure dictates what is socially acceptable for different groups, cultures, and institutions. An individual’s location, “in the social structure (his or her social class, social status, the role he/she plays, and the culture or social institutions in which he or she belongs) underlies his or her perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors,” (Henslin, 2018) Zimbardo, Asch, and Kelman are a few select researchers that depict the importance that structure has on the behavioral actions of the individuals involved.
In Zimbardo’s, “The Psychology of Imprisonment: Privation, Power, and Pathology,” the environment of the social institutions influences the role change of the participants. The study was conducted at Stanford University in the school basement. Prison guards and prisoners were picked randomly, the study starting the prisoners being arrested from home. The basement was to look and feel like a real prison with cells, “we took the doors off some laboratory rooms and replaced them with some especially made doors and cell numbers,” (Zimbardo, 1971). There was to be no windows or clocks, so prisoners could not judge time. The ‘prison’ was in a confined small space with several people to be placed together, creating this space with no freedom. Upon arrival prisoners were stripped naked for search then given clothing with a cell number with a heavy chain to be attached to the ankle. To Zimbardo the goal was to, “create a functional stimulation of a prison environment, not a literal one,” (Zimbardo, 1971). The prisoners were stripped of their individual identities to make these participants adhere to the rules of the institution. With the prisoner’s own individual uniqueness stripped away, they truly are now in a setting where who they are does not matter, they are now labeled as deviant for the experiment. Guards were given reflective sunglasses, so prisoners would not be able to look into their eyes and read emotions. In this instant guards have power because their weaknesses could not be shown. Starting off the guards are timid when it came to giving order, but by the second day after a riot inducted by the prisoners, they quickly asserted their roles by giving psychological and physical punishment (pushups) to prisoners. When asked who they were prisoners started to call themselves by their number instead of their birth names. The prison structure affected participants within the first day because of the influence of the uniforms given, the actions taken to label each subject.
The two uniforms had different meanings and labels in which categorized individuals creating a structure with hostility. Zimbardo informed the guards they can take any action to secure law and order. With a secured power and being of more status than the prisoners, guards constantly harassed prisoners. Prisoner #8612 began to act crazy, with no choice Zimbardo had to release him. The environment of the prison and the taunting from guards made prisoner #8612 become mentally unstable, he forgot he was not actually a real prisoner. The environment and social roles expected of participants created a brutal hostile environment that can be seen in a real prison. The conclusion to what was understood from this study was, “understand how prison, indeed how many total institutions, could dehumanize people, could turn them into objects…we realized how people could do this to each other,” (Zimbardo, 1971). The situation presented to the participants created behaviors that would not be seen unless in that setting. Guards immersed themselves in the norms they have seen in the media about how guards should act, losing their own personal identity.
In “Effects of group pressure upon the Modification and Distortion of Judgement,” by S.E. Asch analyzes how the pressure of the group can affect an individual’s performance. All eight participants were to answer which line was the longest with only one participant being the test subject. The other participants were told which lines to pick beforehand allowing Asch to determine if the subject would conform with the group pressure. The technique of the experiment allowed, “a simple quantitative measure of the ‘majority effect,’” (Asch, 1952). With an obvious right answer, the individual being studied usually went with the majority. The environment prompted group peer pressure because all 8 participants were in one table picking the right answer aloud one by one. The subject individual was to pick his answer last after hearing other participants obviously picking the wrong answer.
The reason the subject usually went with the majority is because he did not want to be ridiculed by the group or looked down upon for not going with the group. This all ties into the looking glass self by Charles Horton, because the subject does not want to be judged wrongly by others, so he goes with the group’s expectations of him. The interesting aspect of this experiment when interviewed subjects. The experiment consisted of different number of groups, resulting in when the group was just 2 persons, there was a small distortion of the subject going with the majority. However, with 3 persons the majority effect was fully distorted even more so than in groups of 4, 8, and 16. There was stress on subjects, they yielded to the majority because of the structure the experiment was designed. One subject was placed in a separate room from the majority writing his own answers, however once told to tell his answers with the group he quickly concurred with the group. Asch describes in the summary the two major factors that influenced subject:
- variations in structural clarity have a decisive effect: with diminishing clarity of the stimulus conditions of the majority effect increase…
- individuals are highly sensitive to the structural qualities of group opposition,” (Asch, 1952).
Group pressure depends on the structure of the actual group. As seen in Asch’s experiment a group of two as little to known majority effect, whereas a group of three or more shows conformity.
The article, “My Lai Massacre,” by Kelman and Hamilton evaluates the influence of people’s behavior to be based on culture and status. The sanctioned massacre of the My Son village in Vietnam was inducted by the Charlie Company, an American military unit. This massacre in the view of Kelman and Hamilton was a “crime of obedience…beginning with order,” (Kelman, 1989). The social influence of authority such as the commander, Capt. Medina and lieutenant Barker gave orders that were vague and unclear to soldiers. Baker told the men, “the ‘innocent,’ [villagers] would all be at the market…[and] suggested that he Son My area was to be obliterated,” (Kelman, 1989).