This video clip is not taken from the original 1950s experiments but is in fact a ‘made for telly’ version, from I think (guessing at the fashion of the actors). the late 1970s. The acting isn’t bad though.
Solomon Asch was interested to find out about conformity and in particular, the circumstances in which people would be more likely to conform.
In 1955 Asch conducted a classic experiment on majority influence. The aim of the study was to investigate how people behave when given an unambiguous task. That is, would participants give the answer to what they knew to be correct or would they be influenced by the behaviour of others.
The basic design of Asch’s study consisted of groups of seven to nine male college students seated in a classroom for a ‘psychological experiment in visual judgement’. There was in fact only one participant in each group and the rest were confederates of the experimenters. The real participant sat one from the end of a row, so all but one of the confederates gave answers before them.
The experimenter told them that they would be comparing the length of lines and he showed them two white cards below.
The card on the left was the standard line to be judged and the card on the right shows the three comparison lines
The participants were asked to give their judgement aloud and they did so in the order in which they were seated. On certain pre-arranged trails the confederates were told to give the same incorrect answers. The researchers were interested to find out the response of the one participant to this majority opinion.
Each series of line judgements had 18 trials, and on 12 of these, the majority gave unanimous incorrect answers. On these 12 unanimous incorrect trials around 75% of the 123 participants went along with the majority at least once. Under the pressure of the group, the participants accepted the judgement of the majority on 37% of the trials.
There were, however, considerable individual differences, with about 25% of the participants never agreeing with the majority, while some other participants agreed with the majority most of the time.
The participants were interviewed after the study to discover the reasons for their behaviour.
Many of the non-conformers said that they had confidence in their own judgement and had a capacity to recover from doubt. Other non-conformers believed that the majority were correct but continued to dissent because they believe that it was their obligation to ‘call it as they saw it’.
Some of the conformers said that ‘I am wrong, they are right’, and some suspected that the others were simply following the first person to answer, but still conformed. Others saw it as a deficiency in themselves and tried to merge with the majority to cover up.
A number of variations of the study were carried out and it was found that the conforming pressure peaks with three or four confederates.
Another variation of the experiment investigated the effect of dissenting partners whereby one of the confederates disagreed with the majority and halfway through the dissent of this confederate was removed by leaving the room. Following the removal of the dissenter conformity rose a little.
A further variation investigated the effect of dissenting partners whereby one of the confederates disagreed with the majority and halfway through the dissenter ‘went over’ to the other side and started to agree with the majority. This desertion induced high levels of conformity in the participants.