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Solomon Asch (1951)
BACKGROUND & AIMS: To determine whether a majority can influence a minority even
when the situation is unambiguous. Asch questioned the results of Muzafer Sherif
(1935) and other researchers exploring what would become termed informational influence
PROCEDURE (METHOD): Asch set up a situation in which 7 male student volunteers all
sat looking at a display. In turn, they had to say out loud which one of the three
lines A, B, or C was the same length as a given stimulus line X [see below]. All
but one of the participants were confederates of the experimenter, and on some ‘critical’
trials the confederates were instructed unanimously to give the same wrong answer
compared to performance in a control condition in which there were no confederates. In all 123 genuine participants were tested.
FINDINGS (RESULTS): On the 12 critical trials where the confederates gave the same
wrong answer, the genuine participants also gave the wrong answer on 36.8% of these
trials. This should be compared against an error rate of only 0.7% in the control
Many of the participants who had given wrong responses admitted they had yielded to majority influence because they didn’t want to stand out.
Individuals who gave only correct answers said either that they were confident in the accuracy of their own judgement or focused on doing the task as directed (ie: being accurate and correct).
CONCLUSIONS: A majority can influence a minority even in an unambiguous situation
in which the correct answer is obvious (as was shown by the almost perfect performance
in the control condition). Asch showed convincingly that group pressures to conform
in terms of majority influence are much stronger than had been thought previously.
However, on about 2/3 of the crucial trials, the genuine participant gave the correct
answer, so many people managed to resist majority influence.
The participants were perceived to be responding to what would be termed normative influence.
Graphic copyright © 2001 Psychology Press Ltd
Excerpt from a TV documentary replication of Asch’s experiment
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