The Asch Phenomenon and Consumer Behavior (Bridget Walczak)
Imagine yourself sitting in a room with seven of your peers. You are asked a question and given a choice of three different answers: A, B, or C. You know the answer is C, yet every single person before you confidently states that the answer is B. Do you stick with your answer, or eliminate the fear of being wrong and embarrassed in front of your peers and go along with the group? This is the exact dilemma faced by subjects in the famous Asch experiment. The Asch phenomenon can be defined as the effect of a reference group on individual decision making that occurs because of a perceived pressure to conform to the stated opinions of the group members. As consumers, we should recognize the great impact this phenomenon can have on our buying behaviors. While interacting in a group setting, we may make choices that are different from what we would do when alone. Marketers and salespeople may use this idea to their advantage when presenting a product to potential customers. If they can get a few people to voice a positive opinion toward their products, it is likely that others will follow. As consumers, we should be aware of when this idea may be used unethically in order to protect our individual interests. For example, a salesperson may try to sell a product to an audience of potential consumers. However, some people working for the salesperson may be planted in the audience posing as naïve consumers in order to influence the purchase behaviors of the other members of the audience. Also, marketers may use individuals’ insecurities to pressure them to go along with the group, even when it is not in a person’s best interest. An ad showing a man being ridiculed for buying a less expensive television set may unethically lead a consumer to think he needs to buy something unaffordable to fit in with his friends. Explanation of the Topic
The Asch phenomenon is a concept derived from the findings of a study conducted in 1951. Solomon Asch (1907 1996) originally conducted this experiment to explain conformity to majority-established norms (Moghaddam, 1998). The subjects involved in the study were brought into a room with seven other students (who were all working for Asch and were instructed on what to do) and seated second-to-last around a table. The subjects were told that the experiment was concerned with accuracy and visual perception, and that their task was to choose which of the three bars on the right matched the length of the bar on the left and to give their answers aloud. The confederates in the study were instructed to give incorrect answers 12 out of 18 times in order to see whether or not the subject would go along with the crowd after hearing their incorrect responses (“Conformity Experiments Asch: Social Pressure”). A Test of Perception
Which line in Exhibit 2 is the same length as the line in Exhibit 1? A series of experiments by Solomon Asch, testing the effects of social pressure on individual perceptions, showed that some people in some situations will go against the evidence of their own senses if the people around them seem to perceive something different. Thirty-seven of the fifty subjects conformed to the majority at least once, and fourteen of them conformed on more than half of the significant trials (“Conformity”). Overall, 35 percent of the subjects’ responses conformed to the group’s incorrect judgments. This is surprising because the control group achieved near perfect accuracy, showing that the task was not inherently difficult. In addition, when the experiment was duplicated allowing the subjects to write down their own judgments privately after hearing the incorrect responses of the group, conformity was drastically reduced (Baxter). The reasons why subjects gave in to group influence hold important ideas for salespeople and marketers. People conform for two main reasons: because they want to be liked by the group and because they...
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