Solomon Asch experimented with investigating the degree to which pressure from society from a large group can influence a person’s decision to follow the norms of society.
He believed the primary issue in Sherif’s (1935) conformity study was the need for a definitive answer to the autokinetic test. What can we do to be certain that someone conformed to the test if there was no definitive answer?
The Asch conformity tests were an assortment of psychological experiments carried out by Solomon Asch in the 1950s. The tests revealed the extent to which an entire group’s opinions influence a person’s personal opinions. Asch discovered that people were prone to deny reality and offer an incorrect answer to be in line with the majority in the class.
Asch (1951) created what is now considered to be an iconic experiment in the field of social psychology, in which there was a clear solution to a line-judgment task.
If the person gave the wrong answer, then it could be evident that it was due to pressure.
The Asch experiment on conformity is one of the most well-known in the history of psychology and has prompted a variety of research into the effects of conformity on group behavior. The research has provided crucial information about how, what, and why people become conformists and the effect that social pressure has on behavior.
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Who Was Solomon Asch?
Solomon E. Asch was a pioneer in social psychology. Asch was born in Poland in 1907 and emigrated to the United States in 1920. Asch was awarded his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1932 and continued to carry out famous psychological studies on conformity in the 1950s.
The study is referred to in the “Asch Line Experiment,” where he discovered evidence that supports the notion that people follow and accept the opinions of their peers, even when those beliefs are clearly false. This research is among the most significant studies in the field of social psychology.
What Is Conformity?
Conformity refers to the act of adjusting one’s thoughts, behaviors, or actions to align with the norms, values, and expectations of a particular group, society, or culture. It involves adhering to the prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and practices of a social group in order to fit in and be accepted.
Conformity can manifest in various forms, including:
This occurs when individuals adjust their behavior to match the behavior of others in a group. It often stems from a desire to be liked, accepted, or approved of by the group.
The need for social approval and fear of rejection drives this type of conformity. Individuals adhere to social norms and expectations to avoid criticism or disapproval from others.
In this case, individuals conform because they believe others have more accurate knowledge or information. They may adopt the beliefs or behaviors of others based on the assumption that the group is better informed.
This form of conformity occurs when individuals genuinely accept the beliefs and values of the group and integrate them into their own belief system. It goes beyond mere outward compliance and reflects a true internalization of group norms.
Conformity plays a significant role in shaping social behavior and interactions. It can lead to uniformity within a group, but it can also prevent creativity, independent thinking, and individual expression. While conformity can foster social cohesion and cooperation, it can also perpetuate harmful social norms and limit diversity of thought.
Understanding the dynamics of conformity is important in fields such as psychology, sociology, and organizational behavior, as it sheds light on how individuals and groups influence each other’s attitudes and behaviors within social environments.
Studies show that people are generally more likely to conform than they think they might be.
Do you view yourself as a conformist or non-conformist? Many people think that they are non-conformist enough to stand up against a group when they are sure they’re right, yet they are also conformist enough to fit in with their friends.
Imagine you’re in the following situation: you’ve been asked to participate in a psychological experiment requiring you to take a vision test.
Sitting in a room with other participants, you are presented with a line and asked to select the one that is identical from a selection of three segments of various lengths.
The experimenter requests each participant individually to pick the appropriate line segment. In some instances, every participant chooses the right line; however, sometimes, participants agree unanimously that a different line is the correct match.
What do you do when the observer asks you to choose which one is the most appropriate match? Do you stick to your initial choice, or do you decide to follow the other participants? Most people like to believe that they won’t conform, but many people will; in fact, at least once in our lives, we all have abandoned our reality, views, and obviously correct choices and answers to conform with others.
Conformity in Psychology
In the psychological sense, “conformity” refers to an individual’s inclination to conform to the rules and behaviors that are not explicitly stated or spoken of by the group they belong to. Researchers have always been interested in the extent to which people adhere to or defy social rules.
Asch was interested in studying how the pressure of a group can make people conform even though they are aware that the other members of the group are in error. The goal of the Asch test of conformity was to show the power of conformity within groups.
Methodology of Asch’s Experiments
The research conducted by Asch had people who participated in the study pretend to appear as normal participants and those who were actually uninvolved subjects of the study. Pretending participants in the study would act differently to determine whether the actions they took had an effect on the participants in the experiment.
In every experiment, a young student was placed in a space with a group of acquaintances who were also part of the same experiment. They were informed they were part of a “vision test.” In all, a total of 50 participants participated in Asch’s experiment.
The Confederates were all told what their responses would be when the line task was presented. The other participant was unaware of any notion that the other students were not the real participants. Following the line task given, every student publicly announced the line (either 1, 2, or 3) that matched the target line.
There were 18 trials in the experimental conditions, and the confederates provided incorrect answers in 12 of the trials, which Asch called the “critical trials.” The goal of these trials was to test whether participants changed their responses to match the responses of other participants in the group.
In the initial phase of the exercise, the Confederates answered all questions correctly, but they soon started giving incorrect answers based on how the researchers instructed them.
The study also had 37 participants in a controlled condition. To ensure that the average person could accurately judge the length of lines, the control group was asked to write down the correct match individually. As a result, the participants were extremely precise in their line judgments, picking the correct answer 99% of the time.
The Asch Conformity Experiments Results
About 75% of participants in the experiments on conformity went along with the rest of the group at least one time.
After combining the two trials, the results showed that the participants agreed with the incorrect group response about one-third of the time.
The studies also explored the impact that the number of participants within the group had on the degree of conformity. If only one confederate was in the group, it almost did not affect participants’ responses. Two confederates only had a small impact. The degree of compliance observed with at least three confederates was more significant.
Asch also found that having one of the confederates give the correct answer while the rest gave the incorrect answer dramatically lowered conformity. In this situation, just 5% to 10% of the participants conformed to the rest of the group (depending on how often the ally answered correctly). The results of subsequent studies also support this result, indicating that social support is an essential instrument to fight conformity.
Factors That Influence Conformity
Following the Asch tests, the participants were asked to explain why they had joined with the rest of the members of the class. Most participants stated that even though they were aware that the majority of members of the group were not right, they didn’t want to be ridiculed. Some of the students said that they believed that others were right in their responses.
The results suggest that conformity may be affected by both a desire to conform and the belief that others are smarter or more educated.
Based on the degree of conformity observed in Asch’s research, the degree of conformity could be more pronounced in real-world situations where the stimuli are unclear or more difficult to determine.
Asch continued to conduct additional tests to find out what factors influence how and when people behaved. He discovered that:
Asch (1956) discovered that the size of groups influenced how subjects adhered to conformity. The larger the number of people in the main group (no or confederates), the more people complied, but only up to a certain level.
With one person (i.e., confederate) in the group, the conformity was 3%. With two, it grew to 13%; with three or more, it was 32 percent (or 1/3).
Optimum conformity effects (32%) were found with a majority of 3. Increasing the size of the majority beyond three did not increase the levels of conformity observed. Brown and Byrne (1997) indicate that individuals might be suspicious of conspiracy when the majority grows above three or four.
According to Hogg and Vaughan (1995), the most solid conclusion is that the level of conformity can reach its maximum at the 3-5 person majority, with additional members having little effect.
Lack of Group Unanimity / Presence of an Ally
The study also revealed that when a single person was different from the rest, the ability to conform diminished.
This demonstrated that even a tiny discord can weaken the power of a group, offering an important understanding of how individuals can withstand social pressure.
If the group’s conformity drops off with five or more members, it could be because of the unanimity in this group (the confederates are all in agreement on a common basis) that matters more than the size of the group.
In a different variation to the original test, Asch broke up the unity (total accord) in the group through the introduction of a divisive confederate.
Asch (1956) discovered that the presence of only one confederate against the general consensus can decrease conformity by as high as 80%.
For instance, in the initial experiment, 32% of participants conformed on the critical trials, whereas when one confederate gave the correct answer on all the critical trials, conformity dropped to 5%.
This was confirmed in research conducted by Allen and Levine (1968). The way they conducted the study, they presented a dissenting (disagreeing) confederate with glasses with thick edges, implying that he might be visually impaired.
Despite this seemingly incompetent dissenter, the level of conformity fell from 97% to 64%. It is clear that the presence of an ally lowers the degree of conformity.
The absence of group unanimity lowers overall conformity as participants feel less need for social approval of the group (re: normative conformity).
Difficulty of Task
When the (comparison) lines (e.g., A, B, C) were made more similar in length, it was harder to judge the correct answer, and conformity increased.
If we are unsure, It is apparent that we turn to others for confirmation. The more challenging the task is, the greater the degree of conformity.
Answer in Private
Participants were given the option to speak in secret (so that the rest of the group was not aware of the answer), and the degree of conformity dropped.
This is due to the fact that there are fewer pressures from the group, and normative influence isn’t as strong since it is not a fear of being rejected by the group.
Criticisms of the Asch Conformity Experiments
The main issue with the study is that it was based on an unbalanced sample. The majority of participants were male students and were all in an identical age range; this means that the study lacks population validity and that the results cannot be generalized to females or older groups of people.
Another issue is that the experiment was based on an artificial task to test the level of conformity by judging line lengths. How often do we have to deal with a decision similar to the one Asch employed when it is obvious to be seen?
This implies that the research has a low degree of ecological validity, and its findings cannot be used to predict other real-world scenarios of conformity. Asch said that he was looking to examine a situation in which participants were completely certain of the right answer. By doing this, he could explore the true limits of social influence.
Certain critics believed that the excessive levels of conformity observed by Asch were an indication of American 1950s cultural trends and revealed more about the social and historical atmosphere of the USA in the 1950s than they did about the phenomenon of conformity.
Perrin and Spencer on the Asch Conformity Effect
The conformity of the American values American values was to be expected. This is supported by studies from the 1980s and 1970s, which reveal lower levels of conformity (e.g., Perrin & Spencer 1980).
Perrin and Spencer (1980) claimed that the Asch effect was a “child of its time.” They conducted exactly the same experiment as the original Asch experiment with mathematics, engineering chemistry, and engineering students as the subjects. They found that only one of the 396 trials did observers join the false majority.
Perrin and Spencer assert that a cultural shift has occurred in the way we value obedience and conformity, as well as on the part of students.
In America during the 1950s, students were considered unobtrusive (hidden) in society, but today, students are in the asking role.
One problem in comparing this study with Asch is that very different types of participants are used. Perrin and Spencer utilized engineering and science students who could be considered to be more independent by training through education when it comes to making perceptual judgments.
Additionally, there are ethical concerns that arise: the participants were not shielded from psychological pressure and stress that could result if they did not agree with the majority.
Evidence that Asch-like situations are extremely emotional was discovered by Back et al. (1963), who discovered that those who participated in the Asch situation experienced significantly increased levels of autonomic stimulation.
This also suggests the group was in stressful circumstances and had difficulty deciding if they should report their observations or be in line with the opinions of other people.
Asch also misled students by claiming that they were participating in the “vision” test; the actual purpose was to determine how the “naive” participants would react to the actions of the Confederates, so deception was used to produce results.
Real-world Examples of Conformity
When a particular style or fashion trend becomes popular, individuals may conform to that trend by purchasing and wearing similar clothing or accessories to fit in with the prevailing fashion norms.
Social Media Behavior
On social media platforms, individuals may conform to the behavior of others by posting content, using specific hashtags, or participating in challenges that are popular within their social circles.
In group settings such as work meetings or academic discussions, individuals may conform to the opinions or decisions of the majority, even if they have different perspectives, in order to avoid conflict or gain acceptance within the group.
Within certain cultural or ethnic groups, individuals may conform to traditional practices, rituals, or customs as a way of preserving and upholding their cultural identity and sense of belonging.
Adolescents and young adults may conform to the behavior of their peers in social settings, such as engaging in substance use, risky behaviors, or adopting certain attitudes and beliefs to gain acceptance within their peer group.
Individuals may conform to the political beliefs and ideologies of their social or familial circles, aligning their own political views with those of their community to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.
In a professional setting, employees may conform to the norms and expectations of the workplace culture, such as adhering to dress codes, communication styles, or work practices in order to integrate into the organizational environment.
These examples illustrate how conformity manifests in various aspects of everyday life, highlighting how individuals adjust their behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes to align with the expectations and norms of different social contexts.
Negative Effects of Conformity
The negative effects of conformity can have wide-ranging implications on individuals and society:
Suppression of Individuality
Conformity can lead to the suppression of individuality and personal expression, as individuals may feel pressure to adhere to the norms and expectations of a group, leading to a lack of diversity in thought and behavior.
Limitation of Creativity
Conformity can stifle creativity and innovation, as individuals may be hesitant to express unconventional ideas or solutions for fear of deviating from the group’s expectations.
Conformity can contribute to groupthink, a phenomenon in which group members prioritize harmony and consensus over critical thinking and independent evaluation of ideas, leading to flawed decision-making and missed opportunities for improvement.
Conformity can subject individuals to social pressures, leading them to engage in behaviors or adopt beliefs that are contrary to their personal values or preferences in order to gain acceptance or avoid rejection.
Reinforcement of Prejudice
Conformity can reinforce prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behavior within a group, as individuals may conform to biased beliefs and practices without critically evaluating their impact on others.
Prejudice and discrimination are beliefs and the resulting actions that cause people to be treated differently. Many people today are actively fighting discrimination and prejudice in all its forms. If you’re not one of those people, it’s time to get involved.
Prejudice is derived from the word “to judge before.” It refers to the ability to form an opinion or impression regarding a person or group of people without complete investigation. In theory, it’s possible for someone to be prejudiced without anyone else being aware of it.Breaking Prejudice and Discrimination: Unveiling the Hidden Impact and Overcoming Barriers
Resistance to Change
Conformity can create resistance to change, as individuals may conform to existing norms and traditions, inhibiting progress and adaptation to new ideas or social developments.
Loss of Autonomy
Conformity can lead to a loss of autonomy, as individuals may feel compelled to conform to external expectations rather than make decisions based on their own judgment and values.
The term “cognitive dissonance” is used to refer to this mental stress that comes from having two opposing beliefs or values. People generally look for consistency in their beliefs, values, and beliefs, which is why this conflict can cause a feeling of discomfort or unease.
The contradiction between what people believe and the way they conduct themselves prompts people to take actions that help ease discomfort. People try to ease the tension in a variety of ways, including refusing to accept, explaining why, or refusing to accept new information.Cognitive Dissonance And Ways To Resolve It
Conformity can undermine diversity of thought, belief, and culture, leading to a lack of inclusivity and representation of different perspectives within a group or society.
Understanding the negative effects of conformity is crucial for promoting individual autonomy, critical thinking, and diversity within social contexts. It also shows the importance of fostering environments that encourage independent thought, creativity, and open-mindedness.
Difference Between Conformity and Obedience
Conformity and obedience are related social behaviors, but they differ in their underlying dynamics and the nature of the influence they exert on individuals. Here’s how conformity differs from obedience:
Conformity refers to the act of adjusting one’s thoughts, behaviors, or actions to align with the norms, values, and expectations of a particular group, society, or culture.
Individuals conform to social norms and group behavior to fit in, gain acceptance, or avoid rejection. The primary motivation is often the desire for social approval and belonging.
Conformity is typically a voluntary and internalized process, where individuals choose to align their behavior with the group’s expectations in order to maintain social harmony and acceptance.
Conformity is often driven by peer influence and the desire to be liked or approved of by others within a social group.
Obedience refers to the act of following the commands, orders, or instructions of an authority figure or institution, often without questioning or challenging those commands.
Individuals obey authority figures due to a sense of duty, fear of consequences, or a belief in the legitimacy and power of the authority. The primary motivation is often rooted in compliance with perceived legitimate authority.
Obedience is often a more involuntary and externally imposed process, where individuals feel compelled to comply with the demands of authority figures due to their perceived power and legitimacy.
Obedience is driven by the influence of authority figures, such as leaders, supervisors, or institutions, and often involves a power dynamic in which the authority figure has control over the individual.
While both conformity and obedience involve the influence of external factors on individual behavior, conformity is more focused on aligning with group norms and social expectations for the sake of acceptance and belonging, while obedience revolves around complying with the commands and expectations of authority figures or institutions out of a sense of duty or fear of consequences.
Understanding the differences between conformity and obedience is essential for examining social influence and its impact on individual behavior within different contexts.
The Asch conformity line experiment has demonstrated that people are prone to conform to the norms of a group even when the norms are obviously incorrect. This experiment has had a significant impact on our understanding of conformity and influence from social groups and has highlighted the powerful influence of group pressure on individual behavior. It has influenced the field of psychology in the social sphere very much.
Read More: What is The Bystander Effect in Psychology?
Conformity is a complex, widespread, and pervasive social phenomenon that influences individual behavior and interactions within various social contexts. It plays a significant role in shaping group dynamics, social norms, and individual decision-making processes; now, while conformity can contribute to social cohesion and cooperation, it can stifle creativity, diversity of thought, and independent expression.
The study of conformity sheds light on how individuals adjust their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors to align with the expectations of a group, society, or culture. It highlights the interplay between social influence, peer pressure, the desire for acceptance, and the impact of conformity on individual autonomy and personal identity.
Understanding the dynamics of conformity is crucial for promoting critical thinking, individual autonomy, and diversity of thought within social environments. It also underscores the importance of creating inclusive and open-minded spaces that encourage independent expression and the exploration of diverse perspectives.
By examining the negative effects of conformity and its implications for individual well-being and social progress, we gain insight into the complexities of human behavior and how social influence shapes our interactions and decision-making processes.
Ultimately, understanding conformity provides a foundation for fostering environments that value independent thought, creativity, and inclusivity while recognizing the impact of social influence on individual behavior and beliefs.