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Asch - Context and Aims

  • Jenness (1932) jelly beans study, arrived at group estimates
  • Sherif (1935) autokinetic effect, group norms arrived, even after very different individual estimates
  • Research was limited because it didnt measure conformity
  • Research lacked impact ad conformity is quite likely in ambiguous situations where there is no clear answer, it makes sense to ask for help

AIMS: the effects of group pressure on individuals in unambiguous situations. Would we conform? 

Whether group size of the majority or its unanimity was more important in determining conformity

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Asch - Procedures

  • 123 male college students divided into groups between 7-9 confederates
  • Nature of visual judgement test - matching vertical line lengths 12/18 were given the wrong answer
  • Verbal reporting from each participant
  • Participant was always seated last
  • After the trial Asch debreifed the naive participant about their respoonses and behaviour
  • MODIFICATIONS: size, 1-15 persons, truthful partner, another person gave the right answer, inaccurate partner, gave the wrong answer to the group and the naive participant 
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Asch - Findings and Conclusions

  • Naive participants gave a conforming response at least once on 36.8% of the critical trials 
  • 25% never have a conforming answer
  • Participant behaviour (individual or conforming) tended to be consistent
  • Reasons for independence: had confidence in their own judgement, capacity to recover from doubt, felt it was their obligation to call the play as they saw it
  • Reasons for compliance: suspected the majority were sheep, thought it was an optical illusion, thought they could not see the difference like the rest of the group

CONCLUSION: there is a suprisingly strong tendency to confrom where the situation is unambiguous 

People do resist conformity 

Needed but psychologically unhealthy to be dominated by majority pressure 

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Asch - Methodology

  • Design: high levels of control, demand characteristics 
  • Ethics: active and passive deception, failure to protect from psychological harm (participants thought that they had faulty vision and were embarresed)
  • Reliability: replications of the study suggest that it is not reliable
  • Validity: the task was trivial and so lacks credability as to whether people would conform in important situations, confederates were unknown, people are more likely to conform with friends, answers had to be given out loud, changes if answers given in private, did not reflect real life (ecological)
  • Sample: all participants were from the same college and were male, cant be generalised, men conform less than women
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Asch - Alternative Evidence

  • Gender Bias - Neto (1995) investigated conformity using female psychology student (Portugal) 59% conformed atleast once and showed considerable distress
  • Cultural Bias - Bond and Smith (1996) meta analysis of 133 conformity studies from 17 countried, collectivist cultures (Africa) show higher levels of conformity than individualist societies (Britain)
  • Historical Bias - Perrin and Spencer (1980) exact replica in Britain using engineering, mathematics and chemistry students, out of 396 critical trials only 1 conformed
  • Unpredictable phenomenon - Lalancette and Standing (1990) the Asch effect appears to be unpredictable phenomenon rather than a stable tendancy of human behaviour
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