Solomon Asch conducted an experiment (1951) to investigate the extent to which social pressure from the majority can influence an individual to conform.
Experiments have shown how a person’s own opinion is influenced by the opinion of the group. Asch found that people are willing to ignore reality and give the wrong answer to fit in with the rest of the group.
The participants of the experiment (the subject as well as peers) were seated in a classroom and given a card with a simple vertical black line drawn on it. They were then given a second card with three lines of different lengths labeled “A”, “B”, and “C”. One line on the second card was the same length as the first, and the other two lines were longer and shorter.
Participants were asked to say aloud which line A, B, or C corresponded to the length of the line on the first card. In each case, accomplices answered first, and the real participant was seated so that he answered last. In some cases, the participants answered correctly, and in others – incorrectly.
Asch’s goal was to see whether participants would be driven to respond incorrectly when confederates did so, or whether their belief in their perception and correctness would outweigh the social pressure created by the responses of other group members.
Asch measured the number of times each participant agreed with the majority opinion. On average, about one-third (32%) of participants in this situation endorsed and agreed with the incorrect majority in the critical trials.
During the 12 critical trials, about 75% of participants agreed at least once, and 25% of participants never agreed. In the control group, where there was no pressure to answer confederates, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer.
The results of Asha’s experiment show how the behavior and expectations of others shape how we think and act every day, as what we observe among others teaches us what is normal and what is expected of us. The research findings also raise interesting questions and concerns about how knowledge is constructed and distributed, and how we can address social problems that arise from, among other things, conformity.