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Conforming to the Norm
This makes perfect sense. If I''m not sure about something, I''ll check with someone else. But this is only when I''m not sure. The situation is quite different when I have unambiguous information, such as when I can clearly see the answer myself. Other people''s judgement should then have no effect - or at least that''s what Asch thought.
To test his theory he brought male undergraduates, one at a time, into a room with eight other people who were passed off as fellow participants (Asch, 1951). They were then shown three lines with another for comparison, similar to the figure above. Participants were asked to call out which line - A, B or C - was the same length as the reference line. This procedure was repeated 12 times with participants viewing variations of the above figure.
What the participants didn''t realise was that all the other people sat around the table were in on the game. They were all confederates who had been told by the experimenter to give the wrong answer. On half of the trials they called out the line that was too short, and on the other half the line that was too long.
The real experimental participant, who knew nothing of this, was actually the sixth to call out their answer after five other confederates of the experimenter had given the wrong answer.
The results were fascinating, and not at all what Asch had been expecting:
Intrigued as to why participants had gone along with the majority, Asch interviewed them after the experiment. Their answers are probably very familiar to all of us:
The findings of this study were so startling they inspired a number of psychology experts to investigate further. Here are a few of their findings:
A mixed blessing
The variations on the original theme go on and on, examining a number of possible experimental permutations, but the basic finding still remains solid. While there''s no surprise that we copy each other, it''s amazing that some people will conform despite the evidence from their own eyes. Imagine how much easier it is to encourage conformity when ambiguity levels are much higher, as they often are in everyday life.