Asch’s Conformity Studies

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Roots of conformity research
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Work in the 19th century on hypnotism gave rise to the idea that people are subject to suggestibility – we are subject to the influence of others. Gabriel Tarde: \”a social man is a somnambulist (sleepwalker)\”. – Early studies in the 20th century demonstrated that people shift their own opinion in line with experts and majorities. – There was big fear of brainwashing Asch wanted to know whether people really changed their opinions, or just express new opinions out of a feeling of pressure without having a new belief.
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Asch’s conformity paradigm
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Design: 7-9 young college students, assembled in a room. They are asked to decide which of three lines is as long as an exemplar line. Asch establishes that it is easy to get this right. In each session only one student is a real subject. Experiment: on 12 or 18 trials the confederate students unanimously give the wrong answer before it is the turn of the participant. Results: 24% never conform. Overall, participants conformed in 38.6% of trials. ¾ of participants conform at least once. 29% of people conform on half or more of the trials.
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Further Studies
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– As the number of confederates increases from one to three conformity increases, but after that size of majority has little effect. – Younger children conform more than older children – Women conform more than men – Conformity is higher in collectivistic countries – One dissenter from the majority radically reduces conformity. If only one person stands out this strongly affects the impact of the consent. If the dissenter is very different from you this effect might be less strong. It works especially if the dissenter is an ingroup member.
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Normative social influence
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the wish to be accepted leads people to compromise their motivation to be accurate and go along with a majority that is obviously incorrect. Will only work if you want to be part of the group. If you are dependent on others you are more likely to be influenced. If others are dependent on you your opinion will be influential.
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Blind and Unthinking?
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– Talking to participants they are far from blind and unthinking – They seek to make sense of what is going on! – Do others conform out of politeness; are they the victim of optical illusions? We are aware of our own limitations and might assume that we are simply missing something obvious. – Not to take the account of the group would be \”wilful\”, arrogant or anti-social.
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Informational social influence
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You look to others for information about the world. You are uncertain yourself. – Some later studies where participants were allowed to give answers privately still showed some conformity – evidence of informational social influence.
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Conformity and Resistance
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We have to distinguish between the phenomenon of conformity and its explanation. Its explanations cannot be reduced to normative social influence. – We know that the tendency to conform is very strong even among intelligent and well-meaning people – But we also need an explanation for why people don’t always conform! The context is not enough to create an automatic conformity.
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Reasons for conformity/resistance
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Reasons for the people who resisted in the study were a confidence in own judgment and the goal of giving the right answer and staying true to their own perception. – Participants were actively engaged and developed theories as to what was going on. Some allowed conformity, others didn’t. – Capacities for independence are not to be underestimated Group forces don’t create slavish submission, rather it is an ability that maintains harmony to be able to conform – one is mindful of others views and perceptions and values them. It would be stupid not to consider the group in own decisions.
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Conclusions from Asch’s study
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– we have a strong tendency to conform that can overrule reason – but the capacity for independence should not be underestimated – submission to group forces is not slavish, thinking in psychology has implicitly denied the capacity for independence.

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