Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Asch Conformity Experiments

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Asch Conformity Experiments

Conformity occurs when we change our behaviour or opinions to match those of a group. We all conform in some way to the explicit rules of the groups we belong to (e.g. by adhering to dress codes) or to implicit ones (e.g. respecting queues).

However, how can we investigate conformity and the factors that affect it in a lab? In the 1950s, Solomon Asch tackled this problem and created a replicable laboratory procedure to observe conformity.

Asch Conformity Experiments a group of people with lightbulbs infant of their hands and one person jumping StudySmarterStanding out from a group can threaten our need to belong, freepik.com

Asch's conformity experiment

To study the effects of group pressure in a laboratory environment Asch (1951, 1956) investigated whether participants' judgements on a simple visual perception task will be affected by group pressure. The sample consisted of 123 male, American students.

Deception was used to elicit conformity. Participants took part in a task in a group and didn't know they were the only subject of the experiment. Participants thought they were a member of a larger panel making the judgements. They met the other group members who were taking part in the task, not knowing they were confederates.

Confederates are actors that pretend to be participants in an experiment.

After the stimuli were presented to the group in some trials, all other group members unanimously gave a wrong answer to the task. Participants had to decide whether to provide the right answer and stand out from other group members or whether to conform to the group that is making a mistake and avoid the anxiety of being the odd one out.

This experimental paradigm was the first one to investigate conformity concerning an unambiguous task. Previously conformity was investigated using ambiguous tasks that required some interpretation; participants were often unsure about the correct answer and so relied on the answers of others. This type of conformity relates to our need to be right. Using an unambiguous task allows us to understand whether conformity occurs in situations when we know the group is incorrect. It can be argued that this type of conformity relates to our need to be liked by the group or simply the need to fit in.

Asch's conformity experiment: hypothesis

Asch hypothesised that in the critical trials, when the other group members (confederates) unanimously give a wrong answer to the task, participants will conform to the group and provide the same answer as others, even though they know it's incorrect.

Asch's conformity experiment: procedure

Asch used an unambiguous visual perception task to measure conformity. The experimental stimuli consisted of a standard line and three comparison lines. Participants had to make judgements about which comparison line matches the length of the standard line.

Asch Conformity Experiments procedure StudySmarter

Demonstration of stimuli used by Asch (1951), StudySmarter - Alicja Blaszkiewicz
  • In the control condition, participants made judgements about the lines alone, without any group influence to establish the task's difficulty.

  • In the experimental condition, participants had to make judgements in groups ranging from 7 to 9.

    • After experimental stimuli were presented, each group member had to voice their answer publicly.

    • Participants were the second last person to state their judgement, which means they heard the answers of almost the entire group before stating their own.

    • The task was repeated 18 times (18 trials). In 12 of the trials, confederates unanimously gave a wrong answer to the task (either chose a longer or shorter line than the original line). These were the critical experimental trials that measured conformity.

Asch's conformity experiment: results

In the absence of the group, when participants made judgements alone they were correct over 99% of the time, suggesting that the task was obvious.

Most participants (75%) conformed to the group at least once in the experimental condition. Half of the participants conformed in at least 50% of the 12 critical trials. On average, 37% of participants conformed in each of the twelve critical trials.

  • When asked about why they conformed, some participants admitted that they started doubting the accuracy of their perception, and some conformed to avoid standing out from the rest of the group. The majority's motivation to conform was to avoid social rejection. Therefore, it can be concluded that they conformed due to the normative social influence.

Summary of Asch's conformity experiment

In a nutshell, Asch's conformity experiment investigated the degree of conformity concerning an obvious task (matching the length of a line to comparison lines).

Each participant was tested in a group of confederates. In the 12 critical trials, confederates unanimously gave a wrong answer, putting pressure on the participant to conform to the rest of the group. Under the influence of group pressure, participants experienced distress related to the fear of rejection. 37% of participants conformed on an average critical trial, with 75% conforming at least once.

Asch's conformity experiment: evaluation

Asch's study was one of the first experimental investigations of conformity and has helped us understand how we can often conform. However, it's not without its limitations.

Validity of findings

Asch's conformity study was a laboratory experiment, which allowed to control of potential confounding variables and therefore has high internal validity and minimal issues with extraneous variables. However, it has been criticised for low ecological validity. The task used is artificial and quite different from how we experience conformity in our daily lives.

Generalisability

Asch's sample consisted of only male, American students, limiting the findings' generalisability to the wider population and might not reflect conformity across cultures. The US is an individualist culture; it can be argued that the degree of conformity would be higher in collectivist cultures that have a greater emphasis on the group. It's also possible that conformity differs in women compared to men, as women in many cultures can be more oriented towards maintaining social relationships.

Failed replications

Later, Perrin and Spencer (1980) replicated Asch's experiment on a sample of UK Engineering students. Across 396 trials, only one participant conformed. Some have argued that this failed replication suggests that Asch's findings were limited to his time (The United States population in the 1950s) and didn't necessarily apply to other contexts. It is also possible that a greater degree of expertise and confidence of Engineering students prevented conformity on this task.

Asch's conformity experiment: ethical issues

The first ethical issue to consider concerning Asch's experiment is the use of deception. Participants were deceived about the character of the study (they thought they were taking part in a visual test experiment) and about the other group members (they thought the confederates were real participants). While deceiving participants is unethical, it can be argued it was necessary for conducting this environment. If participants knew the study investigated conformity and they were the only subject, they wouldn't conform.

Another issue is the lack of protection from harm. The experience of being the only one that perceives the lines differently and gives different answers than the group was distressing to most participants. After the experiment, participants reported experiencing a fear of rejection or anxiety related to the pressure to conform. During the experiment, participants were not protected from distress. However, participants were debriefed after the experiment and took part in an interview about their experience, which could reduce their distress.

Asch Asch Conformity Experiments a person getting hate from the internet StudySmarter

Social rejection can cause distress and anxiety, freepik.com

Variations of Asch's conformity experiment

Asch conducted multiple variations of his original experiment to investigate which factors affect the degree of conformity to clearly incorrect majority influence and take situational factors into account.

Group size

To investigate how the size of the group impacts conformity rates, Asch (1956) tested participants in groups ranging from 2 to 15. When only one confederate was present, conformity dropped to 3%. When two confederates were present, conformity rapidly increased to 13.6%. When three confederates were present conformity reached 33% and mostly levelled off as the number of confederates increased further.

These findings suggest that a lower group size reduces conformity. However, as many as 3 other people can be a source of pressure to conform.

Anonymity

In one of Asch's experiment variations, participants wrote down their answers privately without disclosing them publicly to the other group members. Anonymity decreased conformity. Only 12.5% of participants conformed in this variation of the study. However, it is important to note that even when participants could give anonymous responses, some were still influenced by the group.

Task difficulty

To examine how the difficulty of the task impacts our tendency to rely on the judgements of others, Asch conducted a variation of his study but with smaller differences between comparison lines. As the comparison lines were much closer together in length, matching the standard line became harder. Asch reported that when the task's difficulty increases, conformity also increases. This effect can be attributed to the informational social influence.

Informational social influence occurs when we are uncertain what behaviour is right in a particular situation so we refer to what others do for guidance.


Asch Conformity Experiments - Key takeaways

  • To study the effects of group pressure in a laboratory environment Asch (1951, 1956) investigated whether participants' judgements on a simple visual perception task will be affected by group pressure.

  • Asch's sample consisted of 123 male American students. Each participant was tested in a group of confederates.

  • Asch hypothesised that when the confederates will unanimously give a wrong answer to the task in the critical trials, participants will conform to the group, even though they know the group is incorrect.

  • Asch used an unambiguous visual perception task to measure conformity. The experimental stimuli consisted of a standard line and three comparison lines.

  • Under the influence of group pressure, participants experienced distress related to the fear of rejection. 37% of participants conformed on an average critical trial, with 75% conforming at least once.

  • Asch's study (1951) was criticised for low ecological validity and limited sample use. Failed replications also question how transferable Asch's findings are across cultures and time.

  • The study raises ethical issues that the use of deception and lack of protection from psychological harm.

  • Variations of Asch's experiment found that group size, anonymity and task difficulty affect conformity, alongside unanimity.

Frequently Asked Questions about Asch Conformity Experiments

Asch conducted many variations of his conformity experiments. The main variations tested for the effects of group size, unanimity, anonymity and task difficulty.

Asch's conformity study was a laboratory experiment.

After experimental stimuli were presented each group member had to voice their answer publicly. Participants were the second last person to state their judgement, which means they heard the answers of almost the entire group before stating theirs. On 12 of the 18 trials, confederates unanimously gave a wrong answer to the task (either chose a longer or shorter line than the original line). These were the critical trials that measured conformity.

Most participants (75%) conformed to the group at least once. Half of the participants conformed on at least 6 of the twelve critical trials. On average, 37% of participants conformed in each of the twelve critical trials.

Asch conducted his conformity experiment in 1951.

Final Asch Conformity Experiments Quiz

Question

What is conformity?

Show answer

Answer

Conformity occurs when we change our behaviour or opinions to match those of a group. 

Show question

Question

Asch used deception in his conformity experiments. What did the participants think was the purpose of the study?

Show answer

Answer

Participants thought they were taking part in a visual test.

Show question

Question

Asch used deception in his conformity experiments. How were the participants deceived?


Show answer

Answer

Participants were deceived about the character of the study (they thought they were taking part in a visual test experiment) and about the other group members (they thought the confederates were real participants).  

Show question

Question

What does the word confederate mean?

Show answer

Answer

Someone you can confide in

Show question

Question

What was the hypothesis of Asch's (1951) study?

Show answer

Answer

Asch hypothesised that in the critical trials when the confederates will unanimously give a wrong answer to the task, participants will conform, even though they know the group is incorrect.  

Show question

Question

What was the stimuli used in Asch's study of conformity?

Show answer

Answer

The experimental stimuli consisted of a standard line and 3 comparison lines. 

Show question

Question

What task did Asch (1951) use to investigate conformity?

Show answer

Answer

Unambiguous visual perception task  

Show question

Question

What was the control condition used by Asch in his study of conformity? What was its purpose?

Show answer

Answer

In the control condition, participants made judgements alone, without any group influence, in order to establish the difficulty of the task.

Show question

Question

What was the experimental condition in Asch's experiment?

Show answer

Answer

In the experimental condition, participants had to make judgements about the stimuli in groups of confederates ranging from 7 to 9

Show question

Question

What was the procedure of Asch's conformity experiment?

Show answer

Answer

  • After experimental stimuli were presented each group member had to voice their answer publicly. 
  • Participants were the second last person to state their judgement, which means they heard the answers of almost the entire group before stating theirs.
  • On 12 of the 18 trials confederates unanimously gave a wrong answer to the task (either chose a line that was longer or shorter than the original line). These were the critical trials that measured conformity.

Show question

Question

What were the results of Asch's conformity experiment?

Show answer

Answer

Most participants (75%) conformed to the incorrect majority at least once. 

Half of the participants conformed on at least 50% of the twelve critical trials. 

On average a third of participants conformed on each of the twelve critical trials.


Show question

Question

What type of experiment was the Asch conformity study?

Show answer

Answer

Asch's conformity study was a laboratory experiment.

Show question

Question

What year was Asch conformity experiment?


Show answer

Answer

Asch conducted his conformity experiment in 1951. 

Show question

Question

What is the strength of Asch's conformity experiment?

Show answer

Answer

Asch's conformity study was a laboratory experiment, it allowed to control potential confounding variables and therefore has high internal validity.  

Show question

Question

What are the limitations of Asch's conformity experiment?

Show answer

Answer

  • Low ecological validity - the task used is artificial and quite different to the way we experience conformity in our daily life
  • Asch's sample consisted of only male, American students, which limits the generalizability of findings to the wider population and might not reflect conformity across cultures and genders
  • Failed replications also question how transferable Asch's findings are across cultures and time 


Show question

Question

What are the ethical issues of Asch's conformity study?

Show answer

Answer

Use of deception 

Lack of protection from psychological harm

Show question

Question

What is informational social influence?

Show answer

Answer

Informational social influence occurs when we are uncertain what behaviour is right in a particular situation so we refer to what others do for guidance.

Show question

Question

What were the variations of Asch's study of conformity?

Show answer

Answer

Variations of Asch's experiment investigated the effects of group size, anonymity and task difficulty on conformity.

Show question

Question

How does group size affect conformity?

Show answer

Answer

A lower group size reduces conformity. However, as many as 3 other people can be a source of pressure to conform. 

Show question

Question

In one of the variations of Asch's experiment, participants wrote down their answers privately without disclosing them publicly to the other group members. How did this affect conformity?

Show answer

Answer

Anonymity decreased conformity, only 12.5% of participants conformed in this variation of the study.  

Show question

Question

What happened when the difficulty of the task increased in one of the variations of Asch's experiment?

Show answer

Answer

When the difficulty of the task increased, conformity also increased. 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Asch Conformity Experiments quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.