Asch’s Study on Conformity
The following essay will briefly outline Solomon Asch’s classic study on conformity (Asch, S. E.,1956)., highlight the importance of the study in the field of psychology, ask if one gender tends to conform over another, explain the reasons why people conform to social norms and discuss the factors affecting conformity. Have you ever wondered why groups of teenagers dress and wear their hair so similarly? Or why people order the same dish as their partner at a restaurant? Or why people queue in an orderly fashion at the supermarket? These are all examples of social conformity and when you look closer at our social world, they are all around us.
The aim of Solomon Asch’s conformity experiment (Baron, R. A., Branscombe, N. R., & Byrne, D., 2009) was to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform. The experiment was conducted under laboratory conditions and involved only one real participant and 7 confederates. The real participant was unaware that there were confederates involved and was informed that it was a visual perception study. The participants had to match a standard line length to three comparison line lengths that were shown on two separate cards and announce their answer out loud. The 7 confederates were always first to answer, leaving the real participant last to act each time. On particular occasions (12 out of 18), known as clinical trials, the confederates unanimously chose a comparison line that was clearly incorrect. Each participant took part in the experiment several times. The results showed (Baron et al., 2009) that over the course of several studies 76 % of the participants conformed with the rest of the group’s incorrect answers at least once and 37% of the participants went along with the confederate’s incorrect consensus overall. Asch also put a control group in place where adversely only 5% made such errors. In later experiments, Asch slightly varied the conditions of the experiment where one of the confederates answered correctly, agreeing with the real participant. This broke the group’s unanimity and conformity dropped to 5%. “Apparently, a single ally is all you need to “stick to your guns” and resist the pressure to conform” (Hock, R., 2004). Further research (Morris, W. N., Miller, R. S., & Spangenberg, S., 1977) supports this, whereby the experiment was recreated with 1 of the confederates giving the correct answer, going against the group consensus. The researchers found that the level of conformity depended on at what stage the confederate agreed with the participant’s correct answer, early or late in the process. “It now seems clear that early agreement with one's implicit response serves to solidify or strengthen the implicit response, making conformity less likely” (Morris et al., 1977). Further research (Asch, S. E.,1956)., also showed that when the participant did not say his answer out loud but wrote it down, the level of conformity dropped. “Often, it appears, we follow social norms overtly but don’t actually change our private views” (Maas, A., & Clark, R. D.III, 1984 as cited in Social Psychology, Baron et al.). This shows the distinction between public conformity and private acceptance.
Asch’s study on conformity was important in the field of psychology because “the real power of social pressure to conform was demonstrated clearly and scientifically for the first time” (Hock, R., 2004). Many researchers (Crutchfield, R. S.,1955, Morris et al., 1977, Mori, K., & Arai, M., 2010) that have reconstructed Asch’s original study or conducted similar studies support the original findings for the most part. A very clever variation of the study was devised (Mori et al., 2010) without the use of confederates whereby the participants wore two types of polarized sunglasses during the critical trials which depending on the filtering of green or magenta at the top of the comparison lines...
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