Conformity – asch

– Asch wanted to test informative and normative social influence and if people conform to a majority view

– Asch (1951) asked student volunteers to take part in a visual discrimination task but unbeknown to the volunteers all but one of the participants were confederates

– The purpose of the study was to see how the lone participants reacted to the confederate’s behaviour


– Lab Experiment

– The participants were 123 American male undergraduates.

– Each was tested individually in a group of 6-8 confederates.

– Asch tested conformity by showing participants two large white cards at a time.

– On one card was a ‘standard line’ and on the other card there were three ‘comparison lines’.

– One of three lines was the same length as the standard line and the other two were substantially different.

– The participant was asked which of the three lines matched the standard.

– On the first few trials the confederates gave the right answers but then they started making errors.

– All the confederates were instructed to give the same wrong answer.

– Altogether each participant took part in 18 trials and on 12 of the ‘critical’ trials the confederates gave the wrong answer.


– The participants conformed and gave the wrong answer 36.8% of the time.

– Overall 75% of participants conformed at least once.

– 25% of participant never conformed.

– When participants were interviewed afterwards they said they conformed to avoid rejection (Normative Social Influence)


– People conform for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group (normative influence) and because they believe the group is better informed than they are (informational influence).


– Asch was further interested in the conditions that might lead to an increase or a decrease in conformity.

– He investigated these by carrying out variations of his original procedure.


– He found that with three confederate’s conformity to the wrong answer rose by 31.8%.

– But the addition of further confederate’s made little difference.

– This suggests that a small majority is not sufficient for influence to be exerted but, at the other extreme, there is no need for a majority of more than three.


– He introduced a confederate who sometimes gave the correct answer and sometimes gave the wrong answer.

– The presence of this confederate led to reduced conformity of 25%.

– This is because the presence of a dissenter enabled the naïve participant to behave more independently.

– This suggests that the influence of the majority depends to some extent on the group being unanimous.


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

– He found that conformity increased under these conditions.

– This suggests that ISI plays a greater role when the task becomes harder.

– This is because the situation is more ambiguous, so we are more likely to look to other people for guidance and to assume that they are right and we are wrong.



Lack of Temporal Validity

– In 1980 Perrin and Spencer repeated Asch’s original study with engineering students in the UK.

– Only one student conformed in a total of 394 trials.

– This could be because when Asch carried out his research in the 1950’s people were generally more conformist as it was a social norm to conform at the time.

– But society has changed a great deal since then, and people are possibly less conformist today.

– This is a limitation of Asch’s research because it means that the Asch effect is not consistent over time and so is not a fundamental part of human behaviour.  

Artificial Situation

– Participants knew that they were in a research study and so may simply have gone along with the demands of the situation.

– Also, the members of the groups didn’t resemble groups that were part of everyday life.

– So, this is a limitation that decreases the external validity of the study.

Gender Bias

– Only men were tested by Asch.

– Other research suggests that women might be more conformist, possibly because they are more concerned about social relationships than men.

– Also, Asch’s study took place in the US which is an individualist culture and similar conformity studies that have took place in collectivist cultures show higher conformity rates.

– This shows that conformity levels are sometimes even higher than Asch found.

– Asch’s findings may only apply to American men because he didn’t take gender and culture differences into account.

– This shows that this research has beta biased and the results were applied to females even though they were not tested