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Saul McLeod published 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.
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. If you were involved in this experiment how do you think you would behave? Would you go along with the majority opinion, or would you "stick to your guns" and trust your own eyes? How could we be sure that a person conformed when there was no correct answer?
Asch 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. Solomon Asch conducted an experiment to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform.
The confederates had agreed in advance what their responses would be when presented with the line task. The real participant did not know this and was led to believe that the other seven participants were also real participants like themselves. Each person in the room had to state aloud which comparison line A, B or C was most like the target line. The answer was always obvious. The real participant sat at the end of the row and gave his or her answer last.
There were 18 trials in total, and the confederates gave the wrong answer on 12 trails called the critical trials.
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Asch was interested to see if the real participant would conform to the majority view. Asch measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view. 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.
Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: One limitation of the study is that is used a biased sample.
All the participants were male students who all belonged to the same age group. This means that the study lacks population validity and that the results cannot be generalized to females or older groups of people. Another problem is that the experiment used an artificial task to measure conformity - judging line lengths. How often are we faced with making a judgment like the one Asch used, where the answer is plain to see? This means that study has low ecological validity and the results cannot be generalized to other real-life situations of conformity.
Asch replied that he wanted to investigate a situation where the participants could be in no doubt what the correct answer was. In so doing he could explore the true limits of social influence. Conformity to American values was expected. Support for this comes from studies in the s and s that show lower conformity rates e. Perrin and Spencer suggested that the Asch effect was a "child of its time.
They found that on only one out of trials did an observer join the erroneous majority. They argue that a cultural change has taken place in the value placed on conformity and obedience and in the position of students. In America in the s students were unobtrusive members of society whereas now they occupy a free questioning role.
However, one problem in comparing this study with Asch is that very different types of participants are used. Finally, there are ethical issues: Evidence that participants in Asch-type situations are highly emotional was obtained by Back et al. This finding also suggests that they were in a conflict situation, finding it hard to decide whether to report what they saw or to conform to the opinion of others. However, deception was necessary to produce valid results.
Asch Conformity Video Clip The clip below is not from the original experiment in , but an acted version for television from the s. Factors Affecting Conformity In further trials, Asch , changed the procedure i.
His results and conclusions are given below: Group Size Asch found that group size influenced whether subjects conformed. The bigger the majority group no of confederates , the more people conformed, but only up to a certain point.
With one other person i. Increasing the size of the majority beyond three did not increase the levels of conformity found. Brown and Byrne suggest that people might suspect collusion if the majority rises beyond three or four. In another variation of the original experiment, Asch broke up the unanimity total agreement of the group by introduced a dissenting confederate.
In their version of the experiment, they introduced a dissenting disagreeing confederate wearing thick-rimmed glasses — thus suggesting he was slightly visually impaired. Clearly, the presence of an ally decreases conformity. The absence of group unanimity lowers overall conformity as participant feel less need for social approval of the group re: Difficulty of Task When the comparison lines e.
When we are uncertain, it seems we look to others for confirmation. The more difficult the task, the greater the conformity. Answer in Private When participants were allowed to answer in private so the rest of the group does not know their response conformity decreases. This is because there are fewer group pressures and normative influence is not as powerful, as there is no fear of rejection from the group. Social support, dissent and conformity. Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment.
Groups, leadership and men. Group forces in the modification and distortion of judgments. Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority. General and applied, 70 9 , An interpretation of experimental conformity through physiological measures. Behavioral Science, 8 1 , Introduction to social psychology. Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 32, Groups in harmony and tension. How to reference this article: