The Asch Conformity Experiments

What Solomon Asch Demonstrated About Social Pressure

A person dressed in a dragon costume demonstrates non-conformity to social norms and pressures.
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The Asch Conformity Experiments, conducted by psychologist Solomon Asch in the 1950s, demonstrated the power of conformity in groups, and showed that even simple objective facts cannot withstand the distorting pressure of group influence.

The Experiment

In the experiments, groups of male university students were asked to participate in a perception test. In reality, all but one of the participants were confederates (collaborators with the experimenter who only pretended to be participants).

The study was really about how the remaining student would react to the behavior of the other "participants."

The participants of the experiment (the subject as well as the confederates) were seated in a classroom and were presented with a card with a simple vertical black line drawn on it. Then, they were given a second card with three lines of varying length labeled "A," "B," and "C." One line on the second card was the same length as that on the first, and the other two lines were obviously longer and shorter.

Participants were asked to state out loud in front of each other which line, A, B, or C, matched the length of the line on the first card. In each experimental case, the confederates answered first, and the real participant was seated so that he would answer last. In some cases, the confederates answered correctly, while in others, the answered incorrectly.

Ashs's goal was to see if the real participant would be pressured to answer incorrectly in the instances when the confederates did so, or whether their belief in their own perception and correctness would outweigh the social pressure provided by the responses of the other group members.

Results

Asch found that one-third of real participants gave the same wrong answers as the confederates at least half the time. Forty percent gave some wrong answers, and only one-fourth gave correct answers in defiance of the pressure to conform to the wrong answers provided by the group.

In interviews he conducted following the trials, Asch found that those that answered incorrectly, in conformance with the group, believed that the answers given by the confederates were correct, some thought that they were suffering a lapse in perception for originally thinking an answer that differed from the group, while others admitted that they knew that they had the correct answer, but conformed to the incorrect answer because they didn't want to break from the majority.

The Asch experiments have been repeated many times over the years with students and non-students, old and young, and in groups of different sizes and different settings. The results are consistently the same with one-third to one-half of the participants making a judgment contrary to fact, yet in conformity with the group, demonstrating the strong power of social influences.

Connection to Sociology

Though Asch was a psychologist, the results of his experiment resonate with what we know to be true about the very real nature of social forces and norms in our lives. The behavior and expectations of others shape how we think and act on a daily basis, because what we observe among others teaches us what is normal, and thus expected of us. The results of the study also raise interesting questions and concerns about how knowledge is constructed and disseminated, and how we can address social problems that stem from conformity, among others.

Updated by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.

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Crossman, Ashley. "The Asch Conformity Experiments." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/asch-conformity-experiment-3026748. Crossman, Ashley. (2017, March 2). The Asch Conformity Experiments. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/asch-conformity-experiment-3026748 Crossman, Ashley. "The Asch Conformity Experiments." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/asch-conformity-experiment-3026748 (accessed January 17, 2018).