Asch 1955 - Aims and Context
- Conformity: Behaving in a manner which is favoured by the majority, or is considered socially acceptable.
- Jenness (1932): Asked students to guess how many beans were in a jar. After they had individually guessed, they were allowed to discuss and re-estimate individually. Jenness found that the second individual estimates tended to converge to a group norm. However, this is limited because Jenness specifically asked for a group estimate.
- Sherif (1935): Told participants that he was going to move a light. He asked for individual estimates of the distance that the light had moved. Afterwards, he allowed the participants to have a group discussion, and they then provided another individual estimate. He found that the individual guesses conformed to a group norm.
- The aim of Asch's study was:
- To investigate the effects of group pressure of individuals in an unambiguous situation.
- To find out if, when confronted with an obviously incorrect answer, individuals would conform.
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Asch 1955 - Procedures
- 123 male, American undergraduates.
- In each group, there was one naive participant (NP), and 6-8 confederates.
- The NP always sat last, or second to last, so that they had heard the majority's answers before giving his own.
- Participants were shown 2 white cards; one card had a single line on it, the other card had 3 lines on it.
- Participants were asked to choose the line that matched the length of the single line.
- The confederates were told to give the incorrect answer 12 out of the 18 trials.
- When the experiment was over, Asch debriefed the participants.
- ADDITIONAL PROCEDURES:
- Group Size: The group varied from 1 to 15 people.
- Truthful Partner: Either a confederate or another NP who gave the correct answer.
- Inaccurate Partner: A participant who disagreed with the majority, but also the NP.
- Partner Who Changes His Mind: Participant who gave the correct answer for the first 6 trials, but then gave the incorrect answer for the last 6 trials.
- Partner Who Leaves: Participant who gave the correct answer for the first 6 trials, but then had to leave due to an "appointment".
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Asch 1955 - Findings
- When faced with unanimous wrong answers, the NPs gave the wrong answers 36.8% of the time.
- In the control trials, people made mistakes less than 1% of the time.
- 25% of the participants never gave a wrong answer.
- Majority of the participants conformed nearly all the time. 75% of them conformed at least once.
- Those who were independent were very confident in their own judgement.
- ADDITIONAL PROCEDURES:
- Group Size: When there were 2 confederates, there was 13.6% conformity. With 3 confederates, there was 31.8% conformity.
- Truthful Partner: NPs were incorrect only 25% as often.
- Inaccurate Partner: This reduced the pressure to conform.
- Partner Who Changes His Mind: The NP was also independent for the first 6 trials, but then conformed for the last 6.
- Partner Who Leaves: The NP was independent for the first 6 trials, but then conformed when the partner left.
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Asch 1955 - Conclusions
- The pressure to conform reduced when the majority was smaller, and also when there was an inaccurate partner.
- This shows that the effect of the majority depends on the majority being unanimous.
- The NP remained independent on 2 out of 3 trials, which shows that people can resist the pressure to conform.
- Asch states:
- "That we have found the tendency to conformity in our society so strong...is a matter of concern."
- "...those who participated in this challenging experiment agreed nearly without exception that independence was preferable to conformity."
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Asch 1955 - Evaluating The Methodology
- Method - Lab Environment:
- Controlled environment, so extraneous variables can be controlled.
- Standardised procedures are used, so it is easier to check reliability.
- Low ecological validity due to artificial setting.
- Low mundane realism due to artificial task.
- Larsen (1974) and Perrin & Spencer (1980) both replicated Asch's study and found that conformity levels were a lot lower.
- This suggests that Asch's study was low in reliability.
- However, Asch's study was a "product of it's time" - Cold War had an effect on the conformity levels.
- Asch's study lacks temporal validity, so it cannot be applied to modern day societies.
- Low ecological validity due to artificial setting & artificial task.
- Answering out loud puts more pressure on the NP, so more likely to conform.
- Self selected - biased. They could be more motivated since they want to be there.
- Ethical Issues:
- Protection From Harm: NPs could have suffered embarrassment and stress.
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Asch 1955 - Alternative Evidence
- Perrin & Spencer (1980) - Contradicts.
- They repeated Asch's study in England. Only one student conformed out of 396 trials.
- The 1950s was a highly conformist society, and also the era of McCarthyism. This could have affected Asch's results.
- Eagly (1978) - Develops.
- Eagly discovered that women are more conformist because they are more concerned with social relationships; they have different short term goals than men do.
- Women appear more conformist in the working environment than men do.
- Berns et al (2005) - Supports.
- Berns et al used fMRI scans to observe the brains of participants while they took part in a conformity experiment.
- The most active parts of their brains were the perceptual circuits, which suggests that this task actually changes the way that people see the world.
- The "fear" part of the brain was also active, which shows that people conform out of fear of rejection.
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