Reasons why people conform
Key study: Asch (1951)
A study of conformity to majority influence.
- To see in participants would yield (conform) to majority social influence and give incorrect answers in a situation where the correct answers were always obvious.
- 7 male student participants looked at two cards; the ‘test card’ showed one vertical line; the other card showed three vertical lines of different lines.
- The task was to call out in turn, which if the three lines was the same length as the test line. The correct answer was always obvious.
- All participants except one, were accomplices if the experimenter. The genuine participants called out his answer last but one.
- Accomplices gave unanimous wrong answers on 12 of the 18 trials.
- In total 50 male college students were used as genuine naive participants.
- Participants conformed to the unanimous incorrect answer on 32% of the critical trails.
- 74% of participants conformed at least once.
- 26% of participants never conformed.
- Even in unambiguous situations, there may be strong group pressure to conform, especially if the group is a unanimous majority.
- Following post experimental interviews Asch concluded that people conform based on two reasons:
Informational Social Influence: As they felt that the others in the group were a source of correct information.
A02: EVALUATION OF ASCH (1951)
Smith & Bond (1993) suggested that there might be a difference between individualistic cultures (like the UK and US) and collectivist cultures. The former are less likely to conform, as demonstrated by research showing that 14% of Belgian students conformed to giving a wrong answer in comparison with 58% of Indian teachers in Fiji.
Perrin and Spencer (1980) replicated Asch’s procedure, using British students. They found one conforming response in 396 trials. They concluded that cultural changes over 30 years had led to the reduction in the tendency of students to conform.
It has been argued that America in the 1950’s was more conformist than in the 1960’s and 70’s. Replications of Asch’s study in later decades have found lower levels of conformity.
Perrin and Spencer (1981) claim that the Asch studies reflect a particular historical and cultural perspective (the American era of McCarthyism) where conformity was highly valued.
Nicholson et al (1985) compared conformity levels in British and American students using the Asch procedure. The students in 1985 were less conforming than their 1952 US counterparts, but more conforming than the British students in 1981.