Asch (1955) Opinions and Social Pressure

Asch's Context & Aims, Procedures, Findings & Conclusions, Methodology and Alternate Evidence

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  • Created on: 06-02-13 19:46

Context & Aims (Asch - 1955)

Context studies: both used ambiguous stimuli.

1. Jenness (1932): Jar of beans participants asked to give estimate individually & grouply, then asked to change own estimate or go with group estimate. Majority changed own estimates closer to groups

2. Sherif (1935): Autokinetic effect (light) - participants give estimates (direction and measurement) individually and then exposed to 2 others. Estimates converged to group norm (average of individual estimates)

Issues - Ambiguous stimuli used - little known about conformity in unambiguous situations

Aims: - Investigate effects of group pressure on individuals in unambiguous situations

- When confronted with an obviously incorrect answer, would individuals give an answer perpetuated this error or give an independent response

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Procedures (Asch - 1955)

  •  123 male undergraduate students from 4 American uni's - volunteers, paid $3 to take part    
  • thought it was a 'psychological experiment on visual judgement' (decieved)              
  • tested in groups of 7-9 (all were confederates except for 1 naive participant)                
  • naive participant sat last to second or last                                                           
  • shown 2 cards (1st card = 1 standard line, 2nd card = 3 lines of varying length)          
  • had to state aloud which line matched standard line                                                 
  • each experienced 18 trials (12 critical - wrong a's + 6 control - correct a's)               
  • method = lab based study (repeated measures design)                                         
  • IV=confederates' a's, DV=level of conformity                   

Additional procedures:                                                                                       

  • size of group = 1-15 people                                                                                   
  • truthful partner (either a confederate or another naive participant)                         
  • dissenting, inaccurate participant (confederate disagrees with majority + naive participant)  
  • partner who changes mind (gives correct a's for 1st 6 trials + then joins with majority) 
  • partner who leaves (gives correct a's for 1st 6 trials + then leaves for important app)
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Findings (Asch - 1955)

  • Control study: mistakes made less than 1% of the time - confirms stimulus lines were unambiguous                                                                                                 
  • Critical trials: found participants gave wrong answers 36.8% of the time - all critical trials (63.2% responses = right)                                                                             
  • Individual differences: (how much each participant conformed) 25% participants gave right answer = no conformity (75% participants conformed at least once or more)         
  • some participants agreed with majority most critical trials                                             
  • whether participant conformed or not, behaviour = constant                                                                                         
  • Independent (not conformed) reasons: "staunch confidence in own judgement", "capacity to recover from doubt + to re-establish their equilibrium", felt it was "their obligation to call the play as they saw it"       
  • Conformed reasons: believed "I am wrong and they are right", "not to spoil results", "victim of an optical illusion", thought they were 'deficient' (useless)                                                        
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Conclusions (Asch - 1955)

Results from both baseline study + variations suggest:                                       

  • strong tendency to conform to group pressure even in unambiguous situations
  • pressure from majority reduced when majority = smaller                                          
  • pressure to conform reduced by precense of dissenter (disagree) even if dissenter = wrong                                                                                                                      
  • conformity depends upon majority being unanimous                                                         e.g. dissenter agree's with majority - more participants conformed         
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Methodology (Asch - 1955)


  • Increased internal validity - removed ambiguous stimulus, participants didn't know aim of study, reduces demand characteristics
  • Men do conform to the extent Asch found


  • Androcentric (only males used - gender biased
  • Ethnocentric (only americans used - culture biased)
  • Sample biased (only students used)
  • Historically biased (1950's people used)
  • Deception - real aims hidden in order to avoid demand charecteristics
  • Lack of informed consent - consented to a different study (deception)
  • Harm caused - embarassed after debriefed
  • Reliability issues - results were not replicated
  • Validity issues - low in ecological validity + mundane realism + low in (external) population validity (sample is limited and unrepresentative)
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Alternate Evidence (Asch - 1955)

  • Sherif (1935)
  • Neto (1995) + Eagly (1998)found that women were actually more conformist than men.  It could be because they have different short-term goals. This could be because they are more interested than men in maintaining good social relationships. Eagly found that they appeared to be more conformist in a lab experiment.
  • Perrin & Spencer (1980)suggested Asch’s high conformity rates due to research was conducted in USA in 1950’s = era of highly conformist society. They repeated Asch’s study in Britain in late 1960’s + found out of 396 critical trials only 1 student conformed. Contradicts Asch’s study as it shows the conformity levels Asch found due to era + country. But they used science students. 
  • Doms and Avermaet (1981) thought that this was because scientists might have self-confidence about estimating line length.
  • Perrin & Spencer (1981)used youths on probation to repeat Asch study + found same levels of conformity. Supports Asch's but 1 contradiction = confederates used in study were probation officers which could have meant that youths felt highly pressured into conforming. 
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