by Saul McLeod published 2008
Imagine yourself in the following situation: You sign up for a psychology experiment, and on a specified date you and seven others whom you think are also participants arrive and are seated at a table in a small room.
You don't know it at the time, but the others are actually associates of the experimenter, and their
behavior has been carefully scripted. You're the only real participant.
The experimenter arrives and tells you that the study in which you are about to participate concerns people's visual judgments. She places two cards before you. The card on the left contains one vertical line. The card on the right displays three lines of varying length.
The experimenter asks all of you, one at a time, to choose which of the three lines on the right card matches the length of the line on the left card. The task is repeated several times with different cards.
On some occasions the other "participants" unanimously choose the wrong line. It is clear to you that they are wrong, but they have all given the same answer.
What would you do? Would you go along with the majority opinion, or would you "stick to your guns" and trust your own eyes?
If you were involved in this experiment how do you think you would behave? Would you conform to the majority’s viewpoint?
Solomon Asch - Conformity Experiment
Asch believed that the main problem with Sherif's (1935) conformity experiment was that there was no correct answer to the ambiguous autokinetic experiment. How could we be sure that a person conformed when there was no correct answer? Asch (1951) devised what is now regarded as a classic experiment in social psychology, whereby there was an obvious answer to a line judgment task. If the participant gave an incorrect answer it would be clear that this was due to group pressure.
Aim: Solomon Asch
(1951) conducted an experiment to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform.
Procedure: Asch used a lab experiment to study conformity, whereby
Results: Asch measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view. On average, about one third (32%) of the participants who were placed in this situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority
on the critical trials.
Over the 12 critical trials about 75%
of participants conformed at
least once and 25% of
participant never conformed.
Conclusion: Why did the participants conform so readily? When they were interviewed after the experiment, most of them said that they did not really believe their conforming answers, but had gone along with the group for fear of being ridiculed or thought "peculiar". A few of them said that they really did believe the group's answers were correct.
Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group (normative influence) and because they believe the group is better informed than they are (informational influence).
Evaluation: All participants were male
students who all belonged to
the same age group (biased
sample). The task (judging
line lengths) was artificial
(low in ecological validity)
as it is unlikely to happen
in everyday life. Therefore,
it is not similar to a real
life situation demonstrating
Finally, there are ethical issues: participants were not protected from psychological stress which may occur if they disagreed with the majority. Asch deceived the student volunteers claiming they were taking part in a 'vision' test; the real purpose was to see how the 'naive' participant would react to the behavior of the confederates.
The Asch (1951) study has also been called a child of its time (as conformity was the social norm in 1950’s America). The era of individualism, ‘doing your own thing’, did not take hold until the 1960s.
Perrin and Spencer (1980) carried out an exact replication of the original Asch experiment using British engineering, mathematics and chemistry students as participants. The results were clear cut: on only one out of 396 trials did a participant conform with the incorrect majority. This shows the Asch experiment has poor reliability.
Asch Conformity Video ClipThe clip below is not from the original experiment in 1951, but an acted version for television from the 1970s.
Factors Affecting Conformity
In further trials, Asch (1951) changed the procedure (i.e. independent variables) in order to investigate which factors influenced the level of conformity (dependent variable). His results and conclusions are given below:
|Factors Increasing Conformity||Factors Decreasing Conformity|
Size of the Group
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
Perrin, S. & Spencer, C. (1980) The Asch effect: a child of its time? Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 32, 405-406.
Sherif, M., & Sherif, C. W. (1953): Groups in harmony and tension. New York: Harper & Row.
How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2008). . Retrieved from
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