Asch conformity studies (Asch line studies) | Behavior | MCAT | Khan Academy


– One of the most famous
experiments about conformity are the Asch line experiments, which were conducted in the 1950s. And I want to go over a few
things about Solomon Asch who was the experimenter, before
I go over the experiments. First of all, he was part of a group known as the Gestalt psychologists. And they believed that it was not possible to understand human
psychology, or human behavior by breaking it down into parts. Instead, people must
be understood as whole. They they can’t really be understood without thinking about
the times and situations in which they are a part. And I’ve written a quote
here from Solomon Asch from around the time that
he conducted these studies, where he writes, “Most social acts” “have to be understood in their setting,” “and lose meaning if isolated.” “Now error in thinking about
social facts is more serious” “than the failure to see
their place and function.” And this is something that
we need to keep in mind when we think about not only Solomon Asch and his conformity experiments, but also all of the other studies on conformity and obedience
that we will discuss. Asch was born in Warsaw, Poland
in 1907 to a Jewish family. And migrated to the United States in the 1920s at the age of 13. So even though he was not in
Poland during World War II, during the holocaust,
we need to think about how these world events
might have influenced his studies of conformity. And why he and the other
psychologists might have thought that this was an important topic to study. When Asch began his studies, he was primarily
interested in understanding how group behavior can influence the behavior of the individual. And, what aspects of this group influence might be the most important. So, let’s talk about these studies. And let’s say that you are
one of the participants who is signed up to take part
in what has been described as a simple perceptual study. And say that when you
show up for the study, you find that there are a
number of other participants who are also there to
participate with you. So you all sit down at a long table and the experimenter starts to explain the experiment to you. And it seems incredibly boring. The experimenter holds up a
card with the target line on it, and three comparison lines. And the participant needs to figure out which comparison line
matches the target line. And for each card, you’re supposed to go
down the line one by one, and give your answer. And the first trial starts, and everybody gives what is
obviously the right answer. And you give it, too. The second trial goes along
just as the first one. With the correct answer
being just as obvious. But on the third trial,
something really strange happens. The answer seems just
as obvious on this card as it did the two cards before. But this time, the first
participant gives the wrong answer. And you think, okay maybe
he is just messing with the experimenter because
he’s really bored. But then the second participant
gives the same answer. And the third one. And on down the line. And then it gets to you. What do you say? The answer that seems to you to be the obviously correct answer? Or the seemingly incorrect response given by the other members of your group? Do you go with what you think you know? Or do you go with the majority? And this strange situation
doesn’t just happen once, it happens across a number of trials. So, what would you do? When I ask this question in class, most students tell me that
they would not conform. That they would always
give the correct answer, even when the majority was
giving the incorrect one. And you might be thinking the same thing, and if I’m being honest with myself, I would probably say that as well. But this is actually not
what the researchers found. Even though solitary participants, so participants answering without a group, made errors less than
one percent of the time, in the presence of a group, 75 percent of participants conformed and gave the incorrect
answer at least one. And 37 percent of participants conformed and gave the incorrect answer
every time the group did. And there are a few
things I want to mention about this study before I go on. The first is that unbeknownst to you, unbeknownst to all the individuals who participated in this study, all of the other participants
who were participating, so all of the individuals here in blue, were actually confederates, meaning that they were actually in on the experiment the whole time. And were instructed by the experimenter to give the incorrect answer. So, the real purpose of
this study was to tell whether or not the real participant, so the magenta guy here, would go along with the
group when that group was making an obviously
incorrect decision. I also want to note that
there were 18 trials in total. So, there were 18 different cards. And the confederates unanimously answered incorrectly on 12 of them. Another really important
thing to note about this study was that there was no
obvious pressure to conform, or not to conform with the group. There was no prize for conforming. No punishment for not. And there was also no prize
for doing well on the study. And no punishment for doing poorly. They were simply seated with the other participants at a table. So, keep in mind that there was no actual pressure to conform, only perceived pressure. So why would that
participants of the study go against their better judgement and conform with the group? When they were interviewed
following the experiment, when they were asked
why they had conformed, most participants noted that the answers that they had given were incorrect. But they went along with
them because they feared being ridiculed by the group. And we would refer to this as
Normative Social Influence. Which is altering our behaviors so that we better fit
in with those around us. So they saw what the correct answer was, they knew that it was the correct answer, but they went against it regardless. Other individuals noted
that they conformed because they doubted their own responses. They reasoned that if all
of the other participants at the table were giving a certain answer, then that one must be the correct one. And we refer to this as
Informational Social Influence. And this is when we change our behavior because we assume that
others are better informed. That they know more about
what’s going on than we do. So they saw what they thought
was the correct answer, but then after hearing the
responses of the group, they changed their minds. And as a result, they gave the same answer
that the group gave. So they saw the correct response, they decided that they
themselves were wrong, and so they deferred to
the group’s judgement. But for some participants in the study, the errors that they made seemed to be at the perceptual level. They really, truly
believed that the answers given by the majority were correct. So, unlike those who deferred
to Normative Social Influence or Informational Social Influence, these individuals were
never consciously aware that there was any dissonance
involved with the judgements. So they really thought that the group gave the correct answer. And they decided that
that was the correct one. And so they gave that answer as well. But what about those who did not conform? What were their reasons? When they were interviewed afterwards, some of them were really confident. They were really sure
that their perceptions and their judgements were correct. Others weren’t so confident. Meaning that there were some participants who felt a lot of doubt and unease. But even so, they stuck
with their own answers. And before I moved onto the next topic, I want to take a moment to talk about some of the problems with this study. For example, the participants all came from the same limited population. They were all male undergraduates who were all around the same age, and the same university culture. So, the original conformity
studies didn’t consider the fact that maybe women or
individuals in minority groups, or individuals from different cultures, or different age ranges might
have reacted differently. Also, even though the participants thought that they were coming in for a study about visual perception, they did know that they
were coming in for a study. And as someone who has
participated in studies before, as most college students who have taken psychology courses have, I probably would have been maybe a bit suspicious about the study. Especially when the people who I thought were the other participants, started answering questions incorrectly. I probably would have
conformed at least once, just to see what would happen when I did. One thing we always look for in studies is whether or not they
have Ecological Validity. Or whether or not the
conditions in the study mimic the conditions in the real world. Because if they don’t, if they don’t approximate real life, then we can be really limited in what conclusions we can draw from it. Judging the length of a line in a lab doesn’t really relate to how we think about conformity in the real world. Another thing that we have to think about are Demand Characteristics. Which describes how
participants will sometimes change their behavior in order to match with the expectations of the experimenter. So it’s possible that the participants in this original study conformed not because they felt any group pressures, but because that’s what they thought the experimenter wanted them to do. But even with these problems, there is still a lot that can
be learned from this study. And one thing in particular that I really want you to think about, is that this study got
75 percent of individuals to conform without any external pressure. And I want you to take
a moment to think about how much more powerful the
experiment would have been if there was pressure. If there was a reward or a punishment. Or maybe if your friends or professors, or teachers were the confederates instead of just random college students. Think about whether or not these factors would increase or decrease the likelihood that you would conform.

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