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Asch Conformity Experiments

Asch Conformity Experiments

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Published by Own Way
During the 1950s, Solomon Asch conducted and published a series of laboratory experiments that demonstrated the
degree to which an individual's own opinions are influenced by those of a majority group
During the 1950s, Solomon Asch conducted and published a series of laboratory experiments that demonstrated the
degree to which an individual's own opinions are influenced by those of a majority group

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Published by: Own Way on Jul 20, 2013
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Asch conformity experiments1
Asch conformity experiments
During the 1950s, Solomon Asch conducted and published a series of laboratory experiments that demonstrated thedegree to which an individual's own opinions are influenced by those of a majority group.
Together, theseexperiments are recognized as the
Asch conformity experiments
or the
Asch Paradigm
. The methodologydeveloped by Asch has been utilised by many researchers and the paradigm is in use in present day socialpsychology. The paradigm has been used to investigate the relationship between conformity and task importance,
and culture.
Initial conformity experiment
One of the pairs of cards used in the experiment. The card on the left hasthe reference line and the one on the right shows the three comparisonlines.
In 1951, Solomon Asch of Swarthmore Collegeconducted one of his first conformity laboratoryexperiments, laying the foundation for hisremaining conformity studies. The conformityexperiment was published on two occasions.
Male college students participated in a simple
task. In reality, all but one of theparticipants were "confederates" (i.e., actors), andthe true focus of the study was about how theremaining student (i.e., the real participant) wouldreact to the confederates' behavior.Each participant was placed in a room with seven"confederates". Confederates knew the true aim of the experiment, but were introduced as participantsto the "real" participant. Participants were shown acard with a line on it, followed by a card with threelines on it (lines labeled A, B and C, respectively).Participants were then asked to say aloud, which line (i.e., A, B or C) matched the line on the first card in length.Each line question was called a "trial". Prior to the experiment, all confederates were given specific instructions onhow they should respond to each trial. Specifically, they were told to unanimously give the correct response orunanimously give the incorrect response. The group sat in a manner so that the real participant was always the last torespond (i.e., the real participant sat towards the end of a table). For the first two trials, the participant would feel atease in the experiment, as he and the confederates gave the obvious, correct answer. On the third trial, theconfederates would all give the same wrong answer, placing the participant in a dilemma. There were 18 trials intotal and the confederates answered incorrectly for 12 of them. These 12 were known as the "critical trials". The aimwas to see whether the real participant would change his answer and respond in the same way as the confederates,despite it being the wrong answer. Once the experiment was completed, the "real" participant was individuallyinterviewed; towards the end of the interview, the participant was debriefed about the true purpose of the study.Participants' responses to interview questions were a valuable component of Asch's study because it gave him aglimpse of the psychological aspects of the experimental situation. It also provided Asch with information aboutindividual differences among participants.Solomon Asch's experiment also had a control condition where there were no confederates, only a "real participant".This meant that one participant answered to all 18 trials without the group of confederates present and with only the
Asch conformity experiments2experimenter in the room. In total, there were 50 "real" participants that took part in the experimental condition and37 participants in the control condition.
All results are based on participants' responses to critical trials. In the control group, with no pressure to conform toconfederates, the error rate was less than 1%.
An examination of all critical trials in the experimental grouprevealed that one-third of all responses were incorrect. These incorrect responses often matched the incorrectresponse of the majority group (i.e., confederates). Overall, in the experimental group, 75% of the participants gavean incorrect answer to at least one question while only 25% never gave an incorrect response.Through analysis of participants' interview responses, Asch discovered that there were vast individual differences inreaction to the experimental situation. Thus, interview data revealed that participants who did not conform to themajority group and thus, remained "independent" from the group, reacted to the experiment in particular ways. Somereacted with "confidence" in their perception and experience. That is, despite experiencing conflict between theiridea of the obvious answer and the groups incorrect answer, they stuck with the answer that was based on their ownperception. Others were "withdrawn", suggesting that they stuck with their perception without experiencing conflictas those in the confidence group. Some participants also exhibited "doubt". This meant that they experienced greatdoubt and tension but nonetheless stuck with their correct responses because they felt a need to adequately take partin the task.Moreover, interview data with participants that did conform to the majority group on at least one-half or more of thetrials, and thus, "yielded" to the group also exhibited certain reactions to the experiment. Some participants reactedwith a "distortion of perception". These participants (very few) conformed on nearly all trials and actually believedthat the confederates incorrect answers were true. They were never aware that the majority gave incorrect answers.Other participants exhibited a "distortion of judgment" (most belonged to this category). This meant that participantsgot to a point where they realized that they must be wrong and that the majority must be right, leading them toanswer with the majority. These individuals lacked confidence and were very doubtful. Lastly, participants exhibiteda "distortion of action", suggesting that they knew what the correct answer was, but conformed with the majoritygroup simply because they didn't want to seem inferior.Asch provided a descriptive account of a subject that remained "independent" and another that "yielded". Afterdisclosing the true nature of the experiment, the "independent" subject said that he felt happy and relieved and added,"I do not deny that at times I had the feeling: 'to go with it, I'll go along with the rest'.(page 182)" At the other end of the spectrum, one "yielding" subject (who conformed in 11 of 12 critical trials) said, "I suspected about the middle
but tried to push it out of my mind."(page 182) Asch points out that although the "yielding" subject was suspicious,he was not able to reinstate his confidence and go against the majority.
Asch's variations
Solomon Asch took the paradigm from his experiment published in 1951 and applied it to his subsequent researchexperiments. In his 1952b paper, he slightly altered his experiment.
His sample still consisted of male collegestudents. However, instead of eight persons per session, there were seven to nine; instead of 18 trials (with 12 of them being critical trials), there were 12 trials (with 7 of them being critical trials). Asch also mentioned that anoutsider in the room would single out the "real" participant after the first few trials. Furthermore, in his 1955 paperhe conducted the same study as in 1951 but with 123 male students from three different universities; instead of eightparticipants per group, there was a range of seven to nine. The real participant also sat among the group so that theywere the last or almost last person to give a response.
Finally, his 1956 paper also consisted of 123 male collegestudents from three different universities.
Asch never mentioned whether it was the same sample as in his 1955paper. Again, like his 1955 paper, the real participant sat among the group so that they were the last or almost lastperson to give a response. Unlike his previous papers, his 1956 paper includes an elaborate account of his interviews
Asch conformity experiments3with participants. Overall, across all of his papers published, Asch found the same results
participants conformedto the majority group in about one-third of all critical trials.In his 1951 experiment and subsequent studies, Asch wanted to further his investigation of conformity by examiningwhether slight changes in participants' environments would lead to different results. He had the followingexperimental variations:Presence of a true partnerAsch examined whether the presence of a "true partner" influenced level of conformity.
This partnerwas also a "real" participant or another actor that was told to give the correct response to each question.This decreased the level of conformity, especially when the partner was instructed to give correctresponses.Withdrawal of a partnerAsch also examined whether the removal of a partner (that he instructed to give correct answers)halfway through the experiment would influence the participants' level of conformity.
He found thatthere was a low level of conformity during the first half of the experiment. However, once the partnerleft the room, the level of conformity increased dramatically.Majority sizeAsch also examined whether decreasing or increasing the majority size had an influence on participants'level of conformity.
It was discovered that the smaller the size of the opposing group(confederates), the lower the level of conformity, and by simply increasing the opposing group to two orthree persons, the level of conformity increased substantially. However, an opposing group beyond threepersons (e.g., four, five six etc.) did not increase conformity.Written responsesAsch wanted to know whether altering participants' method of responding would have an influence ontheir level of conformity. He constructed an experiment whereby all confederates verbalized theirresponses aloud and only the "real" participant was allowed to respond in writing. He discovered thatconformity significantly decreased when shifting from public to written responses.
Normative influence vs. referent informational influence
The Asch conformity experiments are often interpreted as evidence for the power of conformity and normative socialinfluence,
where normative influences is the willingness to conform publicly to attain social reward andavoid social punishment.
From this perspective the results are viewed as a striking example of people publiclyendorsing the group response despite knowing full well that they were endorsing an incorrect response.
In contrast, John Turner and colleagues argue that the interpretation of the Asch conformity experiments as normative influence is inconsistent with the data.
They point out that post experiment interviews revealedthat participants experienced uncertainty about their own judgement during the experiments. Although the correctanswer appeared obvious to the researchers, this was not necessarily the experience of participants. Moreover,subsequent research has demonstrated similar patterns of conformity where participants were anonymous and thusnot subject to social punishment or reward on the basis of their responses.
From this perspective the Aschconformity experiments are viewed as evidence for the self-categorization theory account of social influence(otherwise known as the theory of referent informational influence).
Here the observed conformity isan example of depersonalization processes whereby people expect to hold the same opinions as others in theiringroup and will often adopt those opinions.

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