Solomon Asch

Solomon Asch (1951) conducted an experiment to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform. Asch used a lab experiment to study conformity, whereby 50 male students from Swarthmore College in the USA participated in a ‘vision test.’ Using a line judgment task, Asch put a naive participant in a room with seven confederates ( McLeod, 2007)The confederates had agreed in advance what their responses would be when presented with the line task ( McLeod, 2007)The real participant did not know this and was led to believe that the other seven participants were also real participants like themselves. Each person in the room had to state aloud which comparison line (A, B or C) was most like the target line ( McLeod, 2007) The answer was always obvious. The real participant sat at the end of the row and gave his or her answer last ( McLeod, 2007) Asch measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view. On average, about one third (32%) of the participants who were placed in this situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority on the critical trials ( McLeod, 2007)Over the 12 critical trials, about 75% of participants conformed at least once, and 25% of participant never conformed ( McLeod, 2007)In the control group, with no pressure to conform to confederates, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer ( McLeod, 2007 )Asch study did demonstrate conformity in an unambiguous situation, he showed normative social influence ,for example the participants chose to fit in with the group even though they know the answer was wrong ( FrenchDoc , 2008) . Asch’s study also demonstrates historical bias as it was carried out in the 1950s a very different and move conformist time then the present day (FrenchDoc, 2008). It is also culture bias as it was carried out in America therefore as can’t be generalised to other cultures. But Asch’s findings could be criticised as it could be said that the task given didn’t challenge his participants after all, who care about how long a line is (FrenchDoc, 2008) As a result, his findings could be due to demand characteristics, where the participants know they are involved in an experiment. Another problem is that the experiment used an artificial task to measure conformity – judging line lengths. How often are we faced with making a judgment like the one Asch used, where the answer is plain to see? This means that study has low ecological validity and the results cannot be generalized to other real-life situations of conformity. Asch replied that he wanted to investigate a situation where the participants could be in no doubt what the correct answer was (FrenchDoc, 2008)

Sherif (1935) conducted an experiment with the aim of demonstrating that people conform to group norms when they are put in an ambiguous (i.e. unclear) situation ( McLeod,2007). Sherif used a lab experiment to study conformity ( McLeod,2007). He used the autokinetic effect – this is where a small spot of light (projected onto a screen) in a dark room will appear to move, even though it is still (i.e. it is a visual illusion).It was discovered that when participants were individually tested their estimates on how far the light moved varied considerably ( McLeod,2007).The participants were then tested in groups of three ( McLeod,2007). Sherif manipulated the composition of the group by putting together two people whose estimate of the light movement when alone was very similar, and one person whose estimate was very different ( McLeod,2007). Each person in the group had to say aloud how far they thought the light had moved (FrenchDoc, 2008). Sherif found that over numerous estimates (trials) of the movement of light, the group converged to a common estimate. The person whose estimate of movement was greatly different to the other two in the group conformed to the view of the other two ( McLeod,2007).Sherif said that this showed that people would always tend to conform ( McLeod,2007).Rather than make individual judgments they tend to come to a group agreement. The results show that when in an ambiguous situation (such as the autokinetic effect), a person will look to others (who know more / better) for guidance (i.e. adopt the group norm). They want to do the right thing but may lack the appropriate information ( McLeod,2007). This is known as informational conformity (FrenchDoc, 2008) Not everyone conforms to social pressure ( McLeod,2007). Indeed, there are many factors that contribute to an individual’s desire to remain independent of the group. For example, Smith and Bond (1998) discovered cultural differences in conformity between western and eastern countries ( McLeod,2007). People from Western cultures (such as America and the UK) are more likely to be individualistic and don’t want to be seen as being the same as everyone else( McLeod,2007). Sherifs was unethical as he was deceived his participants he stationary pinpoint of light was moving. Sherif can be criticised because this task was not challenging, surely conformity, should challenge a person’s belief system for them to care about it (FrenchDoc, 2008). After all, who cares how far a light is moving. Sherif’s study can also be criticised for historical bias as it was carried out in 1936-perhaps people were more conformist back them (FrenchDoc, 2008)

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