Muzafer Sherif - Education

Education

Sherif received a B.A. at the Izmir American College in Turkey in 1926, and an M.A. at the University of Istanbul in 1928. Sherif then went to America, earning an M.A. from Harvard University. He enrolled at Columbia University, and in 1935 earned a Ph.D. with Gardner Murphy. His dissertation was titled "Some Social Factors In Perception" and the ideas and research were the basis for his first classic book "The Psychology of Social Norms."

The topic of his dissertation was social influence in perception, and the experiments have come to be known as the "autokinetic effect" experiments. In an otherwise totally dark room, a small dot of light is shown on a wall, and after a few moments, the dot appears to move. This effect is entirely inside-the-head, and results from the complete lack of "frame of reference" for the movement. Three participants enter the dark room, and watch the light. It appears to move, and the participants are asked to estimate how far the dot of light moves. These estimates are made out loud, and with repeated trials, each group of three converges on an estimate. Some groups converged on a high estimate, some low, and some in-between. The critical finding is that groups found their own level, their own "social norm" of perception. This occurred naturally, without discussion or prompting.

When invited back individually a week later and tested alone in the dark room, participants replicated their original groups' estimates. This suggests that the influence of the group was informational rather than coercive; because they continued to perceive individually what they had as members of a group, Sherif concluded that they had internalized their original group's way of seeing the world. Because the phenomenon of the autokinetic effect is entirely a product of a person's own perceptual system, this study is evidence of how the social world pierces the person's skin, and affects the way they understand their own physical and psychological sensations.

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