Asch’s Study – Conformity

Procedure
Tested conformity by showing participants 2 large white cards at a time. On 1 card is a ‘standard line’ and on the other is 3 ‘comparison lines’. One of the 3 lines matched the same length as the ‘standard line’ and the other 2 were substantially different. Each participant were asked which line matched the standard line.
123 Male Undergraduate Participants whom were American. Each tested individually with a group of between 6 and 8 confederates, naïve participant not aware of the confederates.
On 1st few trails all confederates gave the right answer but started to make errors. Confederates instructed to give the same wrong answer.
All together there were 18 trials and one 12 ‘critical’ trials the confederates gave the wrong answer. A trial was the occasion of matching one of the 3 lines to the ‘standard line’.
Findings
Naïve participants gave a wrong answer 36.8% of the time. Overall 25% didn’t conform on any trials, meaning 75% conformed at least once. Term ‘Asch effect’ used to describe this result – the extent to which participants conform even when the situation is unambiguous.
When interviewed afterwards most said they conformed to avoid rejection – Normative Social Influence.
Variation 1; Group Size
Increased group size of group by adding more confederates, thus increasing the size of the majority. Conformity increased to 31.8%. But adding more confederates made little difference, suggesting the majority isn’t sufficient for influence to be exerted but no need for majority to be more than 3. Therefore showing that conformity increased to a certain point before levelling out.
Variation 2; Unanimity
Extent to which all members of the group agree. Majority was unanimous when all confederates selected the same comparison line. Producing greatest degree of conformity in naïve participants. When a non-conforming confederate was introduced who sometimes gave the wrong answer and sometimes gave the correct answer. The presence of a non-conforming confederate reduced conformity, on average 25% independently. Suggesting influence of majority depends on being unanimous.
Variation 3; Task Difficulty
The line-judging task gets more difficult when it becomes a harder to work out the correct answer. Conformity increases as naïve participants assume the majority is more likely to be correct. Suggesting that Informational Social Influence plays a greater role when the task becomes harder. Due to the situation becoming more ambiguous, so we’re more likely to look to other people for guidance and assuming they’re right and we’re wrong.
Evaluation
Perrin and Spencer repeated Asch’s original study with engineering students in UK, only 1 conformed to the full 396 trials. May be that engineering students felt more confident with measuring lines than original sample and therefore less conformist. But also possible that in the 1950s it was a more conformist time in America, therefore making sense that people were conforming to established social norms. But society has changed a lot since then and its possible that today its less conformist. This is a limitation to Asch’s study, as it means that the Asch effect isn’t consistent across all situations and may not be consistent across time and therefore not a fundamental feature of human behaviour.
Participants knew they were in a study and may have simply gone along with the demands of the situation (demand characteristics). The task of identifying lines was relatively trivial and therefore there was no reason not to conform. Although members of a ‘group’, it didn’t really resemble groups that we’re in in everyday life. Limitation as it means that findings don’t generalise to everyday life. Especially true where consequences of conformity might be more important, and we interact with other people in groups in a more direct way.
Only men were tested by Asch. Other research suggests that women might be more conformist, possibly due to them being more concerned about social relationships and being accepted than men are. Men in Asch’s study are from America whom are in an Individualist culture, concerned more with themselves rather than their social group. Similar conformity studies conducted in Collectivist Cultures like China where a social group is ore important than the individual found conformity rates were much higher. Such cultures are orientated to group needs. Some conformity levels are much higher than in Asch’s study so Asch’s findings can only be applied to American men as didn’t take gender and cultural differences into account.
But Williams and Sogon found that conformity levels were much higher when amongst a group of friends than a group of strangers.
Ethical Issues were also in Asch’s study as the naïve participants were deceived as thought that other people were involved in the procedure were genuine participants and not confederates. Ethical cost should be weighed up against the benefits gained from the study.