Asch (1955)

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Aims&Context

  • Jenness (1932) asked students to guess how many beans there were in a jar. Then they were given the opportuinty to discuss their estiamtes and, finally, they were asked individually to give their estimates again. 
  • Sherif (1935) conducted a similar investigation into repsonses to an ambiguous stimjulus using the autokinetic effect (this is where a stationary spot of light is projected on to a screen in an otherwise dark room and it appears to move). Sherif asked the participants to estimate how far he moved the light. He tested them initally individually and then asked them to discuss in groups, he then asked them for an individual answer, again. They're answer would all be similar to that of the others in the group they were in.
  • However, Asch thought Jenness and Sherif's work didn't show conformity but group norms. Asch also believed that there research lacked because conformity is quite likely to happen to ambiguous situations. So Asch devised a new study of confomrity using unambigiuos situations. 
  • In ambiguious situations you look to others around you for what to do it is normal behaviour. Asch was interested in conformity in unambiguious situations, in obvious situations. He wanted to find out if, when confronted with an obviously incorrect answer, individuals would give an answer that peretuated this error (conformed) or would give and independent response. 
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Procedure

  • Asch asked student volunteers to take part in a 'vision' test, although, unbeknown to these volunteers, all but one of the participants were really confederates (i.e colleagues) of the experimenter. The real purpose of the experiment was to see how the lone 'naive' participant would react to the behaviour of the confederates. 
  • In total 123 male undergraduate from three different US colleges were tested. In each session there was one naive participant and a group of six to eight confederates. The participant were seated in a room, with the naive participant always seated last or second to last (to ensure that he heard the others' answers before giving his own). 
  • The participants were shown two large white cards. On one card is a single vertical black line  - the standard line whose length is matched. On the other card are three vertical lines of various length as the standard line. One of the comparison lines is the same length, the other two are substanitally different. 
  • The experiment began uneventfully, with all the confedeates indetifying the correct line, but after a few trials all the confederates make an erroneous selection. In total, the confederates were instructed to give the same incorect answer in 12 our of the 18 trials with each participant. 
  • After the experiment was over Asch revealed the true nature of the research.
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Findings&Conclusions

  • When faced with unanimous wrong answers from confederates, the naive participant also gave wrong answers 36.8% of the time.
  • Asch found that with only one confederate, the naive paricipant was swayed very little. With two confederates, the naive participant accpeted the wrong answer 13.6% of the time. With three confederates, this rose to 31.8%. The addtion of more confederates made little difference. 
  • If another person gave the right answer, a truthful partner, then the pressure to conform was less meaning the conformity rate droped to 25%. 
  • This study shows that there is a surpisngly strong tendency to conform to group pressures in a situation where the answer is clear. Asch pointed out 'life in soceity requires consensus as an indispensable condition. But... when consensus comes under the domiance of conformity, the socail process is polluted and the individual....surenders the powers on which this fuctioning as a feeling and thinking being depends.In other words, group social agreement is an aspect of social life and is nesscary. 
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Alternative Evidence

  • A recent study by Berns et al. (2005) used brain-scanning techniques fMRI to observe which parts of the brain were active while participants were engaged in an Asch-like task. They found that, on the critical trials the most active aread of the brain were the perceptual cricuits rather than brain regions involved with making judgments. This suggests that the Asch task actually changes the way people see the world, although it is possible that activity in this part of the brain was caused because participants were double-checking what they thought theyh saw. 
  • Nicholson et al. (1985) repeated the study with British and US students and found that 32% and 38% respectively, conformed at least once. On the other hand, some studies have found no effect. For example, Lalancette and Standing (1990) found no conformity, even though they made the task more ambiguous. 
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