Factors Affecting Conformity
The size of the majority
Asch's experimental method allowed him to manipulate a variety of factors to see which influenced conformity rates. In one set of variations, Asch manipulated the size of the group of confederates carrying out the conformity trial by using 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10 and 15 in the group.
- Asch found that conformity was very low when there was one confederate and one real participant with only 3% of the real participants changing their view to that of the confederates.
- When the group was increased to include 3 confederates and one real participant, conformity climbed to 33%. It did not increase much beyond this regardless of group size.
- In some conditions, a greater majority of 15 led to slightly lower levels of conformity, perhaps because participants became increasingly suspicious when confronted with a majority of 15 apparently mad people.
- Many replications of Asch's study have shown these findings to be robust. Conformity seems to be at its maximum with a three-to-five person majority (Stang, 1976).
In a final version of Asch's experiment, he arranged for one confederate to agree with the real participant and give the correct answer. In this conditioned, conformity dropped dramatically, implying that people are able to remain independent in a group situation when they have a small amount of support, even from just one other person.
The importance of time
The extent to which people conform varies in different times and places as well as between different people. One of the criticisms made of Asch's work was that it was carried out in America in the 1950s when conformity was high. This is not surprising as Asch lived and worked in 1950s America. However, there is a serious issue at stake here. Research always takes place within a social, historical and cultural context, within a specific time and place. It does not occur in a social vacuum. Therefore what is researched, the questioned asked and the way in which the research is carried out can be seen to reflect the time and place in which the researcher is working.
The question remains as to how much conformity varies in different places and at different historical periods. Perrin and Spencer (1981) argues that Asch's classic studies of conformity reflected the social and historical aspects of 1950s America where pressures to conform were very strong. For this reason they carried out an experiment to assess the differences in conformity 25 years after Asch's original research, comparing different groups of young men. They replicated Asch's study using the same line task with different groups. In one condition, 33 male students were used. In another, 20 male students who were on probation were used. Probation…