Variables affecting conformity

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  • Variables affecting conformity
    • Asch (1956)     - 123 male US undergraduates were tested.    - They were asked to look at three lines of different lengths.           - They took turns to call out which of the three lines they believed was the same length as the "standard" line. The real participant always answered second to last.
      • - On 12/18 of the trials (i.e the 'critical' trials) the confederates were instructed to give the same incorrect answer, even though there was always an obvious solution. Asch wanted to see if the real participant would stick to what they believed or follow the majority's decision.
        • On the critical trials, the average conformity rate was 33% (agreeing with the incorrect response). When Asch interviewed his participants he discovered most of the conforming ones privately trusted their own views, but changed their public view to avoid disapproval from the group. This is evidence for compliance.
    • Asch carried out variations of his study to discover which variables had the most significant effects on the level of conformity shown by participants.
      • Group size - found there wasn't much conformity when the majority was only one or two confederates. When there were three confederates the proportion of conforming responses increased to about 30%.
      • Unanimity of the majority - When the real participant was given the support of one of the confederates, conformity dropped significantly. The percentage of wrong answers dropped from 36.8% to 5.5%.
      • Difficulty of the task - Asch made the differences between the line lengths much smaller so the correct answer was less obvious. The level of conformity increased.
    • Asch's research may be a child of its time. In 1956, the US was under the anti-communist period of of McCarthyism, where people were more likely to conform because if they didn't, they could be jailed. Perrin and Spencer repeated Asch's study in the 1980s and only found one conforminy response out of a total of 396 trials. However later they used youths on probation and found similar levels of conformity to those in Asch's study. This shows that conformity is more likely if the perceived costs of not conforming are high, which was the case when Asch was conducting the study.
    • However, there are problems in determining the effect of group size. Bond points out that no studies other than Asch have used a majority size greater than nine and the range of majority sizes is very narrow, usually between two and four. Bond suggests this shows we don't actually know much about the effect of larger majority sizes on conformity levels.
    • His study might show independent behaviour as oppose to conformity. In 2/3  of the critical trials, the participant stuck to their own judgement despite the overwhelming majority with a different view. Asch believed that his study showed a tendency for participants to stick with what they thought was the correct judgement, showing independent behaviour. Therefore this is a limitation of Asch's study of conformity.

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