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What was aim of Asch’s lab experiment?

-To investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform
- Asch tested this by showing participants two large white cards. One was a ‘standard line’ and on the other card there were three other lines- one of the 3 lines was the same length as the standard and the other 2 were always substantially different I.e. clearly wrong
- the participant was asked which of the three lines matched the ‘standard line’


What was the procedure of Asch’s 1951 lab experiment?

-123 American male undergraduates were recruited for the study. Each naïve participant was tested individually with a group of between 6-8 confederates. The group sat around a table with the naïve participant always sat second to last or last
- naïve participant was not aware that the others in the room were confederates
- on the first few trials all the confederates gave the correct answer but then they started making errors- all the confederates were instructed to give the same wrong answer. So, altogether each participant took part in 18 trials and on 12 ‘critical trials’ the confederates gave the wrong answer


What are the findings from Asch’s 1951 lab experiment?

- naïve participants gave wrong answer 36.8% (around 1/3) of the time (where the confederates deliberately gave the wrong answer) = shows high levels of conformity and term ‘Asch effect’ been used to describe this result

- considerable individual differences- 25% of the participants never conformed and gave a wrong answer, which means that 75% of participants conformed at least once


When participants were interviewed after Asch’s 1951 lab experiment what was found?

most participants said they had conformed in order to avoid rejection (NSI) and had continued to privately trust their own opinions (compliance)


What did Asch’s 1955 study involve?

Variables affecting conformity:
- group size
- presence of an ally/lack of group unanimity
- task difficulty
In further trials, Asch changed the procedure (i.e. IVs) to investigate which situational factors influenced the level of conformity (DV)


Explain how ‘group size’ was carried out

- to test this he varied the number of confederates: between 1 and 15 confederates


Explain how ‘presence of an ally’ was carried out

to test this, Asch introduced one truthful confederate or a confederate who was dissenting but inaccurate


Explain how ‘task difficulty’ was carried out

Asch made the line-judging task more difficult by making the stimulus line and comparison lines more similar in length


What were findings from ‘group size’?

- no effect with one confederate and full effect with 3 confederates
- the addition of further confederates made little difference = suggests that small majority is not sufficient for influence to be exerted, but at the other extreme, there is no need for a majority more than 3


What were the findings from ‘presence of an ally’?

- presence of a dissenting confederate led to reduced conformity, whether the dissenter was giving the right or incorrect answer- figure was on average 25% wrong answers
- so the presence of a dissenter enabled the naïve participant to behave more independently = suggest that the influence of the majority depends to some extent on the group being unanimous


What were the findings from ‘task difficulty’?

- Asch found that conformity increased when the task was more difficult
- this suggests that ISI plays a greater role when tasks become harder
- this is because the situation is more ambiguous, so we are more likely to look to others for guidance and to assume they are right and we are wrong


What are the evaluation points for Asch’s baseline study?

❌ McCarthy era (Perrin and Spencer)
❌ artificial situation and task
❌ Beta bias
❌ ethical issues associated


Explain how McCarthy era (Perrin and Spencer) is a limitation of Asch’s baseline study?

- it is possible that Asch’s findings are unique as the research took place in a particular period of US history when conformity was high
- in 1950s, the US was in the grip of McCarthyism, a strong anti-communist period when people were scared to go against the majority and so more likely to conform
- Perrin and Spencer repeated the study with engineering students in the UK
- only 1 student conformed in 369 trials- it may be that the engineering students felt more confident about measuring the line than the original sample so were less conformist
- this is a limitation of the Asch’s effect as it shows the ‘Asch effect’ is not consistent across time, and so is not an enduring feature of human behaviour


Explain how artificial situation and task is a limitation of Asch’s research

- participants knew they were in an experiment and may have simply gone along with the demands of the situations (demand characteristics)
- the task of identifying lines was relatively trivial and therefore there was no real reason to conform. Also, even though the naïve participants were part of a ‘group’, it did not really resemble groups that we are a part of in everyday life
- this is a significant limitation as it means that the findings do not generalise to everyday situations I.e. lack of ecological validity, especially where the consequences of conformity might be more important, and where we interact with others in a group in a much more direct way


Explain how Beta bias is a limitation of Asch’s baseline study?

- limitation of Asch’s research is that they only apply to certain groups of people- for example, only men were tested demonstrating androcentric research with an element of beta bias as Asch assumed the findings could be generalised to both men and women
- other research suggests that women might be even more conformist as they are more concerned about social relationships and being accepted than men are
- furthermore, the men in Asch’s study were American (individualist culture)
- but similar studies conducted in collectivist cultures have Fiume conformity rates are higher still- which makes sense as such cultures as more orientated to group needs
- gender and culture bias therefore a limitation of Asch’s research as his findings cannot be applied to both men and women and individualistic and collectivist cultures


Explain how ethical issues associated with Asch’s baseline study are a limitation of his study?

- the naïve participants were deceived because they thought that other people involved in the procedure (the confederates) were also genuine participants like themselves
- element of deception goes against BPS code of ethics
- however cost-benefit ratio should be considered as in this scenario, there were benefits to research in highlighting people’s susceptibility to group conformity and the variables that affect conformity
- so it could be argued that the benefits gained from the study outweigh the ethical cost