Asch's study

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ASCH (1956) - Description

Aim: To investigate conformity in unambiguous situations.

Method: One participant sat in a row (near the end) with some confederates. They were asked to compare the lengths of lines. Also confederates were asked to give the same, wrong answer most of the times.

Results: Nearly 75% conformed at least once. A third conformed all the time.

Conclusion: People would often conform - either due to normative or informational social influence.

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ASCH (1956) - Evaluation

Asch's study may be a 'child of its time' - the results are due to the time the experiment took place (50's, USA). During that period of time conformity in the US was particularly high. A similar study was done by Perrin and Spencer (1980) and they found that although signs of conformity were present, there was no evidence for conformity.

Asch has been criticised for using male college students in the study, and therefore his study may not be representative. We cannot generalise to other times, groups (women), or cultures.

Bond (2005) suggests that there might be problem with determinig the group size. He points out that none of the studies other than Asch investigated the effect of a greater group than nine and therefore we don't know much about the effect of significant majority on individual.

As it was an experiment, there is lack of ecological validity. The experiment took place in a lab and was artificial (i.e. we don't compare the lengths of lines in a real life).

Only about a third unanimously gave the same wrong answer, while the rest stuck with their answers despite signs of anxiety. Asch believed that participants showed independent behaviour rather than conformed, i.e. that they said what they believed to be correct judgement.

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ASCH (1956) - Variables affecting conformity

Group size - Asch found that there was very little conformity when the majority consisted of one or two confederates. However the pressure increased significantly when there were three confederates. Further increases in size of a group did not increase conformity that much, suggesting that size of majority is important only to a point.

The unamity of majority - If the participant was supported by another participant or confederate (presence of dissenter) instructed to give the correct answer, coformity level dropped significantly (from 33% to about 5%). If the confederate gave answer different from that given by confederates but still wrong, conformity dropped a little less (33% to 9%).

The task difficulty - In one variation of the study, Asch made differences between lines smaller (therefore less obvious answer). Conformity increased. Lucas et al. (2006) found that when participants were exposed to maths problems in Asch-style task, participants more confident in their own abilities were less likely to conform. It suggests that situational and individual differences are both important in determinig conformity.

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