Asch (1955) – Opinions and Social Pressure – Conformity Experiment

Asch, S. E. (1955) ‘Opinions and Social Pressure’, Scientific American 193 (5), 31-5.

Background

This is the second study we will be looking at from the ‘reaching a verdict’ section of ‘reaching a verdict’, as part of your OCR A2 Forensic Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘Majority Influence

In this classic social psychology experiment Solomon Asch looked at conformity: particularly the influence of the majority on the minority.

This is one of the most influential and well-known studies in Psychology. It looks at conformity, which of course means that this study was conducted from a Social Psychological perspective. However, as this is from the Forensic Section of your OCR A2 Psychology exam, then we need to consider it from a forensic perspective. In this case how to do juries come to either a unanimous or majority decision.

“Exactly what is the effect of the opinions of others on our own?”

– Asch (1955)

If you wish to further your social psychological knowledge, it is highly recommended that you read this book: Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics

Aim

Asch’s aim was to investigate the effects of conformity to a majority when the task is unambiguous.

Method and Design

A laboratory experiment. The participants were told that this would be a ‘vision test.’

Participants

50 male participants from Swarthmore College in the USA.

Procedure
Asch Conformity Experiment (1955)
Participants were shown one line and then asked to match it to one of three lines. Clearly, the answer is C, but did all participants agree?

Asch (1955) tested single participants in a room full of confederates. In some cases all the confederates would answer with a unanimous wrong answer, for example in the picture above all the confederates would answer B, as opposed to the correct answer C.

Asch (1955) had arranged for the naïve participants to be asked the question: ‘which of the three lines, A, B or C, matches the stimulus line X?’  In all the conditions the confederates answered the question first and gave clearly wrong answers.

Findings

Asch (1955) found that individuals conformed on one out of three occasions. This finding of approximately 32% conformity is a robust one until just one stooge in the group is instructed disrupt this conformity when it falls to about 5%. Another finding is that majorities bigger than three make very little difference to the conformity effect, which may be because three is enough to create a group norm, while two would be insufficient.

Asch (1955) Evaluation

– Androcentrism and ethnocentrism – as the study comprised of only 50 male students from the United States, it is difficult to generalise the results to other populations. If we think of a similar experiment: Milgram (1963) used a very similar sample, but later when the study was replicated in other areas, it was found that many other places had differing rates of obedience, with Australia having the lowest rate of obedience.

+ Validity – the independent variable was clearly manipulated with few extraneous and confounding variables, therefore we can argue that the experiment is high in internal validity.

+ Predictive Validity – the predictive validity of this study is high.

– Generalisability – the results of this study may be hard to generalise to a forensic environment.  Remember in this experiment there was no consequences for responding with the wrong answer, but this is not the case for juries.

 

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References

Asch, S. E. (1995) ‘Opinions and Social Pressure’, Scientific American 193 (5), 31-5.

 

Further Reading

OCR A2 Psychology Student Unit Guide: Unit G543: Forensic Psychology (Student Unit Guides)

Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics

 

Summary
Article Name
Asch (1955) - Opinions and Social Pressure - Conformity Experiment
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In this classic social psychology experiment Solomon Asch looked at conformity: particularly the influence of the majority on the minority.
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