Asch tested conformity by showing participants two large white cards at a time. One card was a standard line and the other card there were three comparison lines. One of the three was the same length as the standard line and the other two were different. The participant was asked which of the three lines was the same length as the standard line.
The participants in the study were 123 American male undergraduates. Each naïve participants was tested individually with a group of between 6-8 confederates. The participant was not aware that the other people in the room were confederates.
On the first few trials the confederates gave the right answers but then they started making errors. They were instructed to all give the wrong answers. Altogether participants took part in 18 trials and on 12 critical trials the confederates gave the wrong answers.
The naïve participants gave the wrong answer 36.8% of the time. Overall 25% of the participants did not conform to the trials, which meant that 75% conformed at least once. When interviewed after the participants said they conformed to avoid rejection from the rest of the group. (Normative social influence).
Group Size - He wanted to see if the group size would be more important than the agreement of the group. Asch found that with three confederates conformity to the answer was 31.8%. This suggests majority is not sufficient for influence to be exerted.
Unanimity - Asch also wanted to know if presence of another, non-conforming, person would affect the naïve participant’s conformity. To test this, he introduced a confederate who disagreed with the others – sometimes the new confederate gave the correct answer and sometimes the wrong one. The presence of a dissenting confederate led to reduced conformity.
Task Difficulty - Asch made the line judging task more difficult by making the stimulus line and the comparison lines more similar in length. He found that conformity increased under these circumstances. This implies that informational social influence plays a greater role when the tasks become harder.
A Child of its Time
Perrin and Spencer repeated Asch’s original study with engineering students in the UK. Only one student conformed in a total of 396 trials. It may be that the engineering students felt more confident about measuring the lines than the original sample and therefore conformed less. But it is also possible that the 1950s when Asch conducted his research were an especially conformist time in America, and therefore the conformed more to social norms.
This is a limitation of Asch’s research because it means that the Asch effect is not consistent across situations and may not be consistent across time and is not a fundamental feature of human behaviour.
Artificial situation and task
Participants knew they were in a research study and may simply have gone along with the demands of the situation. The group did not represent an everyday sample of people. This is a limitation because it means that the findings do not generalise to everyday situations.
Limited application of findings
Only men were tested by Asch. Other research suggests that women might be more conformist, possibly because they are more concerned about social relationships than men are. He also could have conducted his in a more collectivist culture such as China were conformity rates may be higher. This shows than conformity levels are sometimes even higher than Asch found. Asch’s findings may only apply to American men.