Group Conformity and Sexual Harassment
Let's look at a more-contemporary example of how social science research can help us learn about the ways in which group conformity may contribute to a complex social problem such as sexual harassment, which consists of unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Psychologist John Pryor (Pryor and McKinney, 1991) has conducted behavioral experiments on college campuses to examine the social dynamics of harassment. In one of his studies, a graduate student (who was actually a member of the research team) led research subjects to believe that they would be training undergraduate women to use a computer. The actual purpose of the experiment was to observe whether the trainers (subjects) would harass the women if given the opportunity and encouraged to do so. By design, the graduate student purposely haraJsed the women (who were also part of the research team), setting an example for the subjects to follow.
Pryor found that when the "trainers" were led to believe that sexual harassment was condoned and then were left alone with the women, they took full advantage of the situation in 90 percent of the experiments. Shannon Hoffman, one of the women who participated in the research, felt vulnerable because of the permissive environment created by the men in charge: It was very uncomfortable for me. I realized that had it been out of the experimental setting that, as a woman, I would have been very nervous with someone that close to me and reaching around me. So it kind of made me feel a little bit powerless as far as that goes because there was nothing I could do about it. But I also realized that in a business setting, if this person really was my boss, that it would be harder for me to send out the negative signals or whatever to try to fend off that type of thing. (PBS,1992) This research suggests a relationship between group conformity and harassment Sexual harassment is more likely to occur when it is encouraged (or at least not actively discouraged) by others. When people think they can get away with it, they are more likely to engage in such behavior