Asch (1955): Opinions & Social Pressure

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Context and Aims

Prior to Asch, many research studies had been carried out into conformity.

Jenness (1955) asked students to estimate 'how many beans were in a jar?' They were given the opportunity to discuss and estimate again. Individual estimates tended to converge to a group norm.

Sherif (1935) conducted a similar investigation based on the autokinetic effect. (There is no correct answer). He asked participants alone and then in groups of three. He then tested them alone again. People quickly conformed to a group norm as there is no correct answer and participants were unsure.

Asch believed that it would be more impressive to show what would happen when participants are put in a situation with an obvious, clear, correct answer.

Aims of Asch:-

  • To establish what would happen if there was no ambiguity.
  • To ivestigate the impact of group pressure.
  • To investigate what environmental conditions conformity is at it highest and lowest.
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Procedures

  • 123 USA male college students took part in a lab experiment. Each was told it was a study involving a visual perception task.
  • Groups were 7-9 people. Each group was shown two pieces of card. One had a 'standard' line, the other three had lines of varying length.
  • One of the three lines were the same length. The other two ranged from 3/4s of an inch to an inch and 3/4s.
  • The was only one true participant in each group and the others were confederates working with the experimenter in order to exert group pressure.
  • Answers were announced in order of seating. Round 1: Same matching line. Round 2: Again unanimous. Round 3+: Confederates gave the wrong answer.
  • 12 out of the 18 trials were critical (confederates gave the wrong answer).
  • The experimental trials were compared to the control trials.
  • Variations were made by Asch. Group size, truthful/dessenting partner, some participants wrote their answers down.
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