Experiment: Asch Conformity
To give this blog a visual, let’s pretend the dude in the picture is Solomon Asch. He was a curious man. He wanted to know how many people it took for a person to conform. In other words, he wanted to see how an individual’s opinions were influenced by the majority (Wikipedia). To test this, he conducted an experiment using lines. Like the picture to your left displays, the experimenter would ask the group of students which of the 3 lines- A, B, or C – were of equal length to line X.
One real participant, several confederates. A confederate is an actor, a person who knows the purpose of the study and is playing along as a real participant.
There are many variations to Asch’s conformity study, all with slight tweaks here and there to see if the outcome would differ. Each experiment is interesting in its own right, but for now I’ll talk about his main experiment. The participants all sat in a row facing the board. In the first and second round all participants stated the correct answer. It is in trial three where confederates were to purposely and unanimously give the wrong answer. Throughout the trials, the confederates would occasionally state the wrong answers as to omit the possibility the subject will catch on to the experiment.
The results of the one hundred and twenty three subjects who were placed in the minority position proved that publicly stating an answer and being in the minority bracket will lead to conformity (Asch, 1955). In the experiment I described above, the subjects conformed to the majority’s answer 36.8% of the time.
Asch also tested to see how many people it took for the single subject to conform. When the subject was in the room with only one confederate, their answer swayed a little but not drastically; for the most part, he answered as an individual. When the ratio of confederates to subject was 2 to 1, the percentage of conformity increased dramatically; 13.6 % of the time the subject would sway towards the majority’s decision. With the ratio of three to one, conformity occurred 31.8% of the time. This is where the conformity pressure reaches a plateau, for there was no substantial jump in conformity with any ratio beyond three to one.
Of course, after every experiment that involves some sort of “trickery”, you have to debrief, or take each participation aside, and tell them what was really going on. It’s unethical to just go back to the lab after you attain your data- you can’t leave these poor people in the dark! Anyway, most of them thought the confederates had to be right because they were the majority and doubted their abilities completely. Another interesting finding is that all of the subjects who conformed to the group consensus underestimated the frequency of their conformity. We can easily segue into how awful we can be at introspection, but we’ll leave that for another post.
Asch’s conformity test is a classic and is worth reading more into. I also suggest watching a short YouTube video of the experiment. I find it hilarious (…and by hilarious I mean educational, of course). Enjoy the confusion and conformity.