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Describe and evaluate psychological research into
conformity (12 marks)
A study that explores the factors of conformity is Asch's experiment (1958). He watched to
find the outcome of a person being confronted with a majority that is wrong, and if they
would change their own views to match the majority.
In order to test his theory, he carried out an experiment in which he asked 123 male
students to take part in a `task of visual perception' then split them into groups of 7-9 and
sat round a large table. The experimenter showed each group 2cards, one of a standard line,
and the other with three comparison lines. They were the asked in turns to identify a line on
the second card (either A, B or C) which matched the standard line on the first card there
was an obvious answer on each card. But in 12/18 trials Asch used confederates that were
to give incorrect answers, the real participant was seated last or second to last around the
table so that they heard the same incorrect answer repeatedly.
Asch's findings were that overall, 32% of participants conformed overall and 5% of
participants conformed on every trial. When later asked about the answers given during the
experiment, the participants reason for giving the wrong answer were that they either
doubted their eyes and thought their perception was incorrect, or they did not want to
stand out from the crowd.
The type of conformity was compliance because in most cases the participant did not
actually believe what they were saying when giving their answers. Their reasons for
conformity show examples of both informational and normative social influence. For the
people who doubted their eyes, they showed informational social influence because they
conformed due to the fact that they were unsure of what they were seeing and did not
want to be wrong. Whereas the people who did not want to stand out showed normative
social influence because they wanted to be accepted or did not want to stand out in their
It was a good experiment because it was a standardised procedure which made it fair on
each trial. But it was also low in ecological validity because the experimented situation does
not relate to real life.
As successful the experiment was with its findings, some ethical guidelines were broken.
Asch went against the principle of informed consent, which meant the participant did not
fully know what they were getting involved in so they could not consent to it properly. As a
result of the experiment, some participants also experienced stress and temporary
discomfort, but there was no lasting damage.