WJEC AS Psychology PY2 - Asch (1955)

Revision notes for aims and context, procedures, findings and conclusions, evaluate the methodology and alternative findings


Asch (1955) - Aims and Context


  • conformity: when an individual is said to conform if they choose a course of action that is favoured by other group members or considered socially acceptable eg smoking because your friends do

Importance: group pressure is a common factor in conformity explanations; conformity is important process to understand as thought to have significant impact on many behaviours and decisions in many situations, such as jury decisions and student behaviour in classrooms

Previous Research:

  • Jenness (1932) 'beans in a jar' study, asked to estimate no. beans in a jar; then asked them in groups to arrive at group estimate, when asked to make another individual estimate, found they had shifted towards group estimates; in ambiguous situations, one looks to another for a reasonable answer; however research is limited as he specifically asked for group estimate rather than observing producing similar estimates
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Asch (1955) - Aims and Context

Previous Research continued:

  • Sherif (1935) reported research using the autokinetic effect (where stationary spot of light is projected onto a screen appearing to move in a dark room). Sherif told pps he was going to move the light and they had to estimate how far spot of light had moved; all pps tested individually, however when exposed to other pps, tended to converge to group norm (average of estimates); Sherif's research considered improvement to Jenness' as didn't specifically ask for group estimate, as pps arrived at group norm naturally


1) Asch aimed to investigate effect of group pressure on individuals in unambiguous situations; he wanted to find out if when confronted with an obviously incorrect answer, whether individuals would conform to this error or give an independent response

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Asch (1955) - Procedures

  • student volunteers asked to take part in 'vision' test although unknown to volunteers all but 1 of pps was confederates (stooges); real purpose of experiment was to see how lone 'naive' ps would react to confederate's behaviour
  • participants: 123 male undergraduates tested; in each research session, 1 naive ps and a group of 6 - 8 male confederates
  • pps seated in a room in a 'horse shoe' formation, with naive ps always seated last or second to last (ensure heard answers before own)
  • Asch showed 2 large white cards: 1st card = single vertical black line (standard line) and on 2nd card, 3 vertical lines of various lengths; pps asked to choose line on 2nd card that is same length as standard line (1 is the same, 2 substantially different)
  • task is repeated 18 times, with lines of diff. lengths, correct answer always obvious; in the first few trials, confederates gave 'normal' correct responses however after few trials, confederates told to give same obviously wrong answer on 12/18 trials - 12 called 'critical trials'
  • afterwards, Asch revealed nature of research and interviewed naive pps about responses and behaviour
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Asch (1955) - Procedures

Modifications to First Procedure:

  • Group Size = naive ps sat on the end of 1 - 15 confederates
  • Truthful Partner = naive ps has truthful partner, gave correct answer, different to the majority (played by confederate or another naive ps)
  • Dissenting/Inaccurate Partner = naive ps experience 1 confederate who disagreed with other confederates AND naive ps
  • Partner who changes his mind = naive ps given a partner who gave independent (correct) responses for first 6 critical trials but then gave conforming answers for no reason
  • Partner who leaves = naive ps given a partner who gave independent responses for first 6 critical trials and then has to leave the expt for an important appointment
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Asch (1955) - Findings and Conclusions

Results from the Experiment:

  • control trials: to confirm lines were unambiguous, Asch conducted control trial with no confederates giving wrong answers: found people made mistakes less than 1% of the time
  • when faced with unanimous wrong answers from confederates, naive pps gave wrong answers 36.8% of the time
  • individual differences: range of conformity levels, 25% of pps never gave wrong conforming answer, some went with majority all the time and 75% conformed at least once
  • either independent or compliant pps:
    - independent: lots of confidence in own judgement, played it as they saw it even though regarded majority as incorrect
    - compliant: believed they were wrong, yielded not to spoil results, suspected majority were 'sheep' of first ps or victim of optical illusion; lot of compliant ps didn't realise how often they conformed
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Asch (1955) - Findings and Conclusions

Conclusions from the Experiment:

  • surprisingly strong tendency to conform to group pressures in a situation where answer is clear
  • group agreement is necessary in society but psychologically unhealthy to be dominated by majority pressure
  • majority of pps didn't conform but large minority (36.8%) did
  • pressure of majority was reduced when there was only a small majority and reduced by presence of dissenter, even when dissenter gave incorrect answer = therefore effect of majority depends on unanimity
  • presence of supporting partner depleted majority's power
  • if partner deserted ps with no good reason, ps gave more conforming responses and if left with good reason, incorrect answers increased but not as much, meaning a supporting person's influence outlasts presence if partner has good reason to desert 
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Asch (1955) - Evaluate the Methodology


  • controlled observation in a lab expt which is a strength as IV and DV creates cause-effect relationship
  • EV controlled, more reliable
  • easy to replicate due to standardised procedures which increases reliability


  • lab environment has low ecological validity as difficult to generalise from artificial surroundings and asked to conform when there is clearly a correct answer
  • demand characteristics as pps may try and guess aim of expt and change behaviour
  • research conducted in 1950's America in the era of McCarthyism - highly conformist society; Perrin and Spencer repeated expt in late 1970's England and only 1 conformed in 396 trials
  • all male pps = androcentric, conformity with females may be different so cannot generalise to all populations = low population validity
  • all American pps = ethnocentric, not all cultures are as conformist (collectivist/individualist) = low population validity
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Asch (1955) - Alternative Findings

1. Perrin and Spencer (1980) CONTRADICTS/SUPPORTS

  • repeated expt in Britain on engineering students in late 1970's
  • found that only 1 student conformed in 396 trials

CONTRADICTS as P+S believed that Asch's results reflected era of McCarthy in 1950's America where paranoia of being accused of communist beliefs was high so people didn't want to stand out; HOWEVER when P+S repeated procedure a year later on youths in probation, similar levels of conformity appeared supporting Asch

2. Smith and Bond (1988) DEVELOPS

  • reviewed 133 studies carried out in 17 countries classified as being collectivistic or individualistic
  • found collectivistic ones are more conformist as these cultures strive to achieve more group harmony than individualistic

DEVELOPS as suggests that even though conformity occurred in US (individualistic culture), in cultures where needs of group place above individual needs, conformity increases further, suggesting culture influences conformity

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Asch (1955) - Alternative Findings

3. Latane and Darley (1968) SUPPORTS

  • pps had to fill in a qs in a room either alone or with 2 other people; steam made to look like smoke made to pour through a vent in wall
  • alone 75% of pps reported smoke, half of them within 2 mins
  • with 2 other people, 38% reported smoke, 62% of pps carried on for 6 minutes

SUPPORTS because in an unambiguous (dangerous) situation where majority acting in an incorrect manner, individual conforms to group's rule (don't leave room in spite of smoke)

4. Burger and Cooper (1979) DEVELOPS

  • pps asked to rate funniness of cartoons aloud either individually or sat with confederate
  • those that were least conforming to confederate's humour rating were those that had greater desire for personal control in their lives (measured by qs)

DEVELOPS by suggesting that personality characteristics can influence conformity; suggests drive for personal control in individual increases independence and decreases conformity

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