The Asch Line Conformity Tests

An area of science that has always fascinated me because of its ability to provide an explanation for human behaviour and social interaction is psychology, especially the branch of social psychology.  A few weeks ago I watched a video called 10 Psychological Experiments You Would Never Believe Happened about social psychological experiments conducted mainly around the mid-1900s from MindChop.  Although some of the experiments were a little disturbing, the findings were also extremely enthralling.  One experiment that stood out to me was a study known as the Asch Conformity Experiment. I find this study very intriguing because of its connection to the pressure people feel to try and fit in with the majority in today’s society.

The Asch Conformity Experiments were a group of trials conducted during the 1950s by Polish social psychologist Solomon Asch.  For his participants, Asch recruited 50 college students (all men) from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania under the guise that they would be taking a vision test. The study took place in a single room with eight people seated at a rectangular table. There was only one participant in the room, the other seven were actors who were aware of the situation and followed instructions given by the researchers. Starting at one end of the table, each participant was asked to look at two different images.  One of the images was a long black line and the other image was of three black lines of varying lengths. The participants were asked to look at the three lines and state which line matched the line in the other image one at a time in front of the entire group.  The hired actors gave their answers first, and the real participant answered last.  The purpose of these experiments was to observe how being in a group would influence someone to either conform to the majority, or stand alone. Even, if the majority is not necessarily correct.

Asch Experiment © Fred the Oyster, CC BY-SA 4.0, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0

There were a total of 18 trials that occurred. Twelve in which, actors would purposely give the incorrect answers. Within these 12 trials, almost 75% of the participants conformed to the majority, choosing the wrong answer, while only 25% did not conform and gave the right answer. In addition to verbally being asked to give their answer, participants were also asked to write down the answer they believed was correct. 98% of participants answered the question correctly. As a control, 37 participants were chosen to answer the question individually and not with a group. Less than 1% gave the wrong answer.  The amount of actors in the room with the participant also influenced the participant’s answer. Conformity increased as the size of the group increased.  Another interesting observation was when there were dissenting answers between the actors themselves.  In these cases, the participant was more likely to give the correct answer because someone else had already taken on the intimidating role of disagreeing with the rest of the group.

Overall, this experiment produced valid information that is very insightful for psychology. Asch’s experiment was able to show the extent of conformity and obedience in people when variables such as group size and unity were manipulated. From this experiment, he discerned that people generally would conform to fit in with a group or because they believe the group has more knowledge than themselves.  While more recent recreations of this study have produced results showing only a few participants picked the wrong answer in order to follow the group, Asch’s conclusions are accurately representative of most social situations.  Looking at this experiment from the outside, you might scoff and think that you would never give the wrong answer simply to gain approval of the group. But think about a real life situation. In class have you ever verbally agreed with an answer even though you didn’t think it was correct or kept your hand down in a group vote because no one else was voting for the option you wanted?  That is conformity. Almost everyone of us has conformed to the opinions of the majority for many possible reasons. Every day, we do a lot of things to fit in with social and cultural norms including tailoring the type of clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the activities we participate in to what is “appropriate” and “acceptable”. However, I don’t think the tendency or desire to conform is always a negative thing because the need to belong is apart of what makes us human.

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