Asch Conformity Experiments

Tests of human nature


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Researchers use various methods to test the results of the experiments.

Most people would like to believe that they are non-conformists – they do not try to blend in with the majority, they stand up for their beliefs, and they remain true to their personal values. However, research shows that people are likely to succumb to social pressures to conform, no matter how resistant they believe they are to those pressures. 

In the 1950s, Solomon Asch conducted a series of psychological experiments to see how much a person’s personal opinions could be influenced by the opinions of groups. He found that participants were willing to answer a question incorrectly in order to conform to the opinions of the group. 

In twelve of the eighteen trials, one participant, who was the subject of study, was placed in a room with a group of other participants, whose actions were manipulated by the experiment’s conductors. All participants were told they were going to complete a series of vision tests. They were shown a line segment and were then asked to identify the line from a group of three others that was the same length. The conductor of the experiment individually asked each participant to identify the matching line, forcing them to speak in front of the entire group. The group of participants who were in on the experiment initially answered the questions correctly, but they were told to answer the questions incorrectly as the experiment went on. This created a conflict for the subject of study, requiring them to decide whether they were going to conform to how the group responded or present a differing response. Twelve trials resulted in 75% of participants conforming to the group’s incorrect answer at least once. In a control group, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer. 

Participants who went along with the group’s incorrect answers were asked why they chose to do so, and most of them expressed that they did not want to be subject to ridicule or contempt. Several of the participants stated that they actually thought the group’s answer was correct, suggesting that conformity is not only influenced by a desire to fit in, but also a fear that others are smarter or superior. 

The results of the Asch Conformity experiment are revealing and somewhat alarming. The participants’ fear of being ostracized is demonstrative of how everyone can feel vulnerable when placed in a situation that forces them to diverge from the majority. This experiment is also reflective of the dangers and drawbacks of the psychological concept of groupthink. Groupthink describes people’s tendency to think and make decisions as a whole, which can inhibit diversity, creativity, and individual critical thinking. When a group’s ability to agree is valued too highly, their ability to solve problems and make good decisions is compromised.