If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:9:56

Asch conformity studies (Asch line studies)

Video transcript

one of the most famous experiments about conformity are the ash 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 that 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 no 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 Ash 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 two during the Holocaust we need to think about how these world's 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 ash 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 this study you find that there are a number of other participants who are also there to participate with you so you all sit down in 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 in three comparison lines and the participant needs to 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 to 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 asked 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 1% of the time in the presence of a group seventy-five percent of participants conformed and gave the incorrect answer at least once 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 are 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 a group when that group was making an obviously incorrect decision I also want to know 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 you know punishment for not and it 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 the participants of this study go against their better judgment 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 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 until they deferred to the group's judgment but for some participants in this study the errors that they made seem to be at the perceptual level they really truly believed that the answer is 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 judgments 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 judgments 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 move on to 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 in the same university culture so the original conformity studies didn't consider the fact that maybe women or individuals and 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 may make 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 long 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 our 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 seventy five 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 well 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