The Asch experiment reveals the true power of conformity. In fact, you might just see yourself in a whole new light!
If you’ve ever wondered how your opinions can influence people, as well as how others can influence you, the Asch experiment is worth reading about in more detail. One of the greatest psychologists of the past century, Solomon Asch, ran a series of experiments during the 1950s. These experiments demonstrate to what extent a person’s own opinion can be influenced by that of the group.
The findings showed that for the sake of conforming to the group, the participants chose to ignore the truth and give a false answer. Asch also discovered why we do this as part of our human nature.
Here are three observations from the Asch experiment and what they actually reveal about human nature.
1. The Asch experiment challenges conformity – without the individual realising it
One of Asch’s experiments looked at a vision test sample. Participants were shown a line segment. They then had to pick the matching line from three segments of different lengths. Each participant was asked individually to give their answer regarding the line segment of their choice.
Sounds pretty straightforward, but, of course, there is a catch. Unknown to the participants, there are a number of planted individuals, who are working for the experimenter. Their job is to subtly convince the rest of the room, the genuine participants, to come around to their way of thinking.
This meant, on some occasions, every participant picks the correct line segment, but in other cases, the other members of the group claim that a different line segment is, in fact, the correct answer.
What would you do if you were in the place of the participants? Would you give your initial answer or would you prefer to conform and go with the choice of the rest of the group?
Or, do you think if you were none the wiser about who was in the room with you, you might come around to others’ way of thinking? Would you write it off as “just compromise” or “the nature of group work” and as “par for the course” to accept the opinions of others?
2. Conformity is more important than doing the right thing
This brings us to the second of Asch’s observations. In considering your answer to the above question, also consider your own personal situation and day to day life. You might find yourself strongly disagreeing with the statement that conformity is more important than doing the right thing.
After all, we would all like to believe that doing the right thing is part of our human nature. We are hard-wired to do right by others; we are brought up to have moral fibre and that is a lesson we pass on to our own children.
However, we are also hard-wired to conformity, according to the Asch experiment. Again, consider your own situation. You may believe you are a non-conformist and will stand up to a group when you are sure that the truth is on your side. However, you may also think you are still conformist enough to fit in with the rest of your social group.
How “conformist” does that really make you?
In psychological terms, to “conform”, you must have a general tendency to obey the unwritten rules or behaviours of the social group. Asch’s experiment aimed to demonstrate how the power of conformity made people give false answers despite the fact that they knew they were right and the group was wrong.
During the matching experiment, nearly 75% of the participants gave a false answer in order to conform to the group at least once. The final results demonstrated that the incorrect answers were given nearly one-third of the time.
3. You can be influenced, whether you like it or not!
Conformity is about influence. However, it is possible to conform without being completely submissive.
Next time you are in a group situation, think about how easy you are to influence, as well as those around you. Look out for some of these factors which may increase conformity:
- The more people are present, the greater is the increase in conformity. At the same time, the change is insignificant when there are over 4-5 people in the group.
- A higher social status of the other group members tends to increase group conformity. It’s natural for people to conform to the opinion of those who seem more powerful or intelligent than they are.
- There is also a positive correlation between the difficulty of the task and group conformity. When people are unsure about their answer, they tend to seek help from others.
And some factors that decrease conformity:
- The possibility of giving answers in private results in a decrease of conformity.
- If at least one member of the group supports the answer of the respondent, the need to conform decreases as well.
In social situations, we follow certain unspoken rules, even though most of the time, we are not even aware of that. Breaking or ignoring these rules results in overwhelming feelings of awkwardness. For this reason, most people choose to accept and follow those rules.
This truth about human behaviour is quite disappointing. It seems that we would rather turn a blind eye on someone’s unjust, fake or negative behavior than act or speak in a socially awkward way. However, according to Asch, it might just be true!