Asch (1951) - Conformity on an unambiguous task

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Asch (1951)

Asch designed an experiment to see whether people would conform to a majority's incorrect answer in an unambiguous task (where one answer is obvious).

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Method

  • Lab experiment
  • Independent groups design
  • Groups of 8 patricipants judged line lengths by saying out which line matched the standard line.
  • Each group only contained one real participant - 7 confederates
  • Participant when last or one before last so they heard everyone elses answers before giving theirs.
  • Each patricipant did 18 trials.
  • On 12 trials the confederates all gave the same wrong answers.
  • Was a control group, where patricipants judged the line lengths in isolation.
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Results

  • Control trails, participants gave the wrong answer 0.7% of the time
  • In critical trials, participants conformed and gave the same answer 37% of the time.
  • 75% conformed at least once.
  • Afterwards, some of them said that they knew the answers were wrong they just didn't want to look different. 
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Conclusion

The control condition showed that the task was easy to get right. However, 37% were wrong in the critical trials - they conformed to the majority due to normative social influence.

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Evaluation

Strengths

  • Labratory experiment - good control of variables - minimises effects of extranous variables. 
  • Can repeat the experiment to see if you got the same results. 

Weaknesses

  • Artificial - lacks ecological validity.
  • Participants decieved and may have been embarassed when they found out the true nature of the the study.
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Situational factors

1. Group size

  • To test whether if conformity is easier to resist if the group size is smaller, Asch (1956) did his experiment with different numbers of confederates as the majority.
  • With two confederates, the participant conformed 14% of the time in the critical trials.
  • Three confederates, conformity = 32%.
  • Little change in conformity after that - no matter how big the group got. 
  • Very small majorities easier to resist than larger ones.
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Situational factors

2. Unaimity/ social support

  • Asch ran another experiment to test if having a supporter in the group decreased conformity. 
  • One confederate agreed with the participant.
  • Having a dissenter broke the unanimity and made it easier for the participant to resist the pressure to conform.
  • Conformity dropped to 5.5%.
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Situational factors

Task difficulty

  • When Asch made the lines more difficult to tell apart, conformity levels increased. 
  • People are less likely to conform if they're confident their answer is right, Asch found this put during his debrief.
  • Weisenthal et al (1980) found that if people felt more competent in a task, they were less likely to conform.
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Gender

Eagly and Carli (1981) did a meta analysis of conformity research & reanalysed data from a load of studies. They did find some sex differences in conformity, but they were inconsistent. Clearest differences were between men and women in Asch-like studies where there was group pressure from an audience.

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