Solomon Asch

When you think of famous social psychologists, you probably think of Solomon Asch. Who was he, and what made him so famous?

Solomon Asch Solomon Asch

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Table of contents
    • Who was Solomon Asch?
    • What did Solomon Asch study?
    • Why was Solomon Asch's conformity study so important?
    • What were Solomon Asch's contributions to psychology?

    Social Psychology’s Solomon Asch

    Solomon Asch was a renowned Polish-American psychologist born in 1907. While credited for his contributions to the field of social psychology, he was also a firm believer in Gestalt psychology. Two core beliefs of Gestalt psychology are that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that people are influenced by their surroundings, meaning that the environment needs to be considered a social influence. It is these beliefs that, despite Asch's prominence as a social psychologist, remained a cornerstone of all of his research.

    Like many people and students, Solomon Asch changed his mind about what he wanted to do with his life. He began his doctoral studies pursuing an anthropology degree. He eventually switched to psychology, earning his Ph.D. in 1932. While working on his Ph.D. at Columbia University, Asch was mentored by Max Wertheimer, a notable Gestalt psychologist, who influenced Asch's psychological beliefs.

    Fun fact! Solomon Asch was actually Stanley Milgram’s Ph.D. supervisor while at Harvard. Milgram is renowned for his obedience shock experiments. Talk about a power duo!

    Solomon Asch’s Theory

    If you have any prior knowledge about Solomon Asch, you'll probably know that Asch's main subject of research is the theory of conformity.

    Conformity happens when people change their behavior or beliefs to fit in with a group.

    We often think conformity happens in our daily lives but could never happen to us since we stick to our morals, opinions, and actions. However, as Asch's experiment shows, we are all more susceptible to conformity and conforming to a group than we may think.

    The best example to help someone understand conformity happens in high school. If there is a new member of your high school class who is unsure of where they fit in socially, they might conform to try to fit into a social group. They could change their hair, clothes, or even attitudes to try to become accepted by a group. Think of unspoken peer pressure! Once these new classmate figures out where they fit in, the levels of conformity could decrease since there is less social pressure than at the beginning of the school year.

    Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment

    In Asch's experiment, he studied conformity through a simple test – do the lines match each other? He had subjects in a room with people who the subjects thought were other participants in the experiment. It turns out they were confederates. (Think of confederates as actors. The confederates were told before the experiment started how to answer the questions, but the actual subject had no idea.) In each room were one subject and around seven confederates. The people in the room were shown one line and asked which of the other three lines that first line matched.

    Solomon Asch, An example of Asch's lines, StudySmarterAn example of Asch's lines for his experiment. wikimedia commons.

    Asch ran multiple trials for each subject. The first couple of trials consisted of the confederates all giving the correct answer for the matching lines. However, randomly all the confederates would give the same wrong answer. The subject was the last person in the room to answer – would they succumb to the pressures of conforming to the group and give the answer they knew was wrong, or would they say the correct, obvious answer?

    Asch found that only 23% of all his participants refused the group pressures and did not conform during all the trials. Most participants conformed during some trials, showing that group pressure strongly influences people, even when the group is strangers!

    Despite these results showing that conformity does happen, there's a catch! Asch conducted additional trials where all the confederates except one person said the wrong answer. He wondered if the presence of one lone dissenter would affect the subjects' conformity levels. The results of these trials showed that the dissenter did have a significant impact on conformity. Conformity by the subject significantly and drastically dropped, with only one person disagreeing with the group (who was answering incorrectly).

    Solomon Asch was not controversial as compared with his contemporary, Stanley Milgram. The pushbacks to Asch were about his experiment's conditions rather than the research's ethics. In Asch's famous conformity experiment, all of his participants were young men enrolled in college. It doesn't take much understanding of experiments to know that having participants of the same demographics will not yield the best results. If there were a variety in the backgrounds of the participants, the results would be even stronger.

    Importance of Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment

    Solomon Asch's conformity experiment dates back to 1951. Since it was conducted over 70 years ago, it has been one of the pioneering experiments about conformity—researchers built upon the findings published in Asch's study for years after this experiment.

    Milgram's extremely well-known experiment on obedience was conducted in 1961, ten years after Asch's study.

    Asch's study showed just how intense the pressures of conformity could be. Even though the participants were in a room with perfect strangers – people they've never met before and will never see again – they still conformed, even when they knew the correct answer! The results would not have been as pivotal if the length of the lines were not as clear-cut as they were. This shows that other people's responses in the room, over anything else, caused the participant to answer incorrectly.

    Solomon Asch, Black and white photograph of young women, StudySmarterHow many of these people conformed in actions or clothing? pixabay.com.

    Solomon Asch’s Contributions to Psychology

    As stated above, Asch's conformity experiment was crucial in understanding conformity's impact on our daily lives. This research served as a basis for countless other studies focusing on the effect of conformity in social settings. Although the conformity experiment was Solomon Asch's most famous study, he still researched other principles of psychology.

    Another influential (albeit not as famous) experiment conducted by Asch was about impression formation.

    Impression formation happens when we use context clues, interactions, and other knowledge to form an impression of someone else.

    Asch's experiment involved participants reading descriptions of people. There were two statements depending on the participants' group; the only difference was that one person was described as "warm", and one was described as "cold." Asch found that the changing of one word does make a difference in the impression (the participants summarized the person in the "warm" description more positively than the person in the "cold" description), but most often when the word is a key descriptor of the person.

    Overall, Solomon Asch's contributions to psychology still exist today. He was a pioneer in social psychology and was the main contributor to Gestalt psychology in his day. His conformity experiments have provided the foundation for research and understanding of social and group influence.

    Solomon Asch - Key takeaways

    • Solomon Asch was a social and Gestalt psychologist
    • Solomon Asch was most famous for his experiments on conformity
    • Solomon Asch found that conformity exists in group settings, yet is reduced when there is the presence of a dissenter in the group
    • Solomon Asch also contributed to impression formation, which happens when people use the information they have about a person to form an impression of them
    Frequently Asked Questions about Solomon Asch

    What was the purpose of the Solomon Asch experiment? 

    The purpose of Solomon Asch's experiment was to see if participants would conform to the group even when they knew the correct answer. 

    What was Solomon Asch's theory? 

    Solomon Asch's theory was that people conform to social pressures. 

    What was Solomon Asch's most famous experiment? 

    Solomon Asch's most famous experiment was studying conformity by having participants match one line to three existing lines. 

    What did Solomon Asch's studies reveal about conformity? 

    Solomon Asch's studies revealed that people are more susceptible to conformity than they realize. 

    Why was the Asch experiment important? 

    Solomon Asch's experiment was so important because it was the first major psychological experiment showing just how strong the pressures of conformity are. 

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