One of the characteristic phenomena of human society is conformism. Studies of this phenomenon have been conducted for a long time, and one of them was a series of experiments conducted by the American psychologist Solomon Asch. An article about the study was published in 1951. The psychologist Asch aimed to understand whether one person can resist the majority opinion, even if it contradicts the apparent facts.
Students were invited to participate in an experiment called “vision test.” Each subject was placed together with seven similar students. These seven were decoy actors. The group was then shown 2 cards, one with a vertical line and the other with three other lines, one of which was the same length as on the first card (Hogg and Vaughan, 2018). All participants were asked to determine which of the 3 lines on the second card coincided in length with the line on the first. The participants took turns expressing their views, with the subject’s opinion being asked last. There were 18 stages; in the early two sets, all the participants named the correct answers. Starting with the third stage, the actors started calling the same answer, but the wrong one.
Asch found that 75 per cent of the subjects obeyed the majority opinion and gave a deliberately incorrect answer at least at one of the stages (Davey et al., 2014). In the future, the experiment became more complicated. The actors began to provide different solutions, even if they were wrong. Eventually, the percentage of errors on the part of the subjects was sharply reduced – they were less likely to obey the majority. It was found that the number of errors of the subjects depends on how categorically the “third opinion” is expressed (Davey et al., 2014). Asch’s finding from the social psychology point of view meant that when the subject’s answer contradicts the majority opinion, he feels uncomfortable, even if his answer is correct. Thus, a person is afraid not so much to make a mistake but afraid to be criticized by others.
Asch interpreted results, stating that two primary reasons could explain conformity; the first is that man is by nature a “herd creature.” Thus, it is essential for an ordinary person to match the group to which he belongs (normative influence) (Hogg and Vaughan, 2018). Another reason states that the average person knows that their perception organs are imperfect so that they can show incorrect information. Therefore, a person checks his opinion with others’ opinion because it is unlikely that many people in a row have common problems with perception (informational influence). The finding relates to the social psychological theory of self-categorization, which highlighted that the observed conformity results from depersonalization when people expect to have the same views as others in their internal group and adopt those views as their own (Kim and Hommel, 2019).
There can be real-life implications of these findings and several things that people can learn from. For instance, the necessity to use an individual’s opinion and not rely on others to make a decision under social pressure. At the same time, Asch’s experiments were substantially criticized by analysts, who emphasized the impossibility to scale results on all people (McLeod, 2018). It was suggested that Asch used a biased sample of males only of similar age in a group, whose results cannon be generalized. Furthermore, the experiment used an artificial task to judge lines’ length; thus, the experiment used low validity tasks that cannot constitute real-life conformity situations (Martin et al., 2010). Finally, psychologists stated that some of the subjects could express external agreement with the majority opinion not because of conformity but because they wanted to maintain avoid conflict.
To conclude, one can state that Asch’s experiments went down in the history of social psychology as one of the most famous. Even today, it inspires many researchers in the field of group behaviour to continue working. This research has given important insights into how, when, and why people imitate a group and the effects of social pressure on a person’s behaviour.
Davey, G., Sterling, C., and Field, A., 2014. Complete Psychology. Routledge.
Hogg, M., and Vaughan, G., 2018. Social Psychology (8th Ed.). Pearson Education.
Kim, D. and Hommel, B., 2019. Social Cognition 2.0: Toward Mechanistic Theorizing. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.
Martin, G. N., Carlson, N., and Buskist, W., 2010. Psychology (2nd Ed.). Pearson Education.
McLeod, S. 2018. Solomon Asch – Conformity experiment. Simplypsychology.org. Web.