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The Power of Conformity: The Asch Experiment

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Author: Peggy LaCerra, Ph.D.

How does conforming help us to survive? This project replicates a famous experiment conducted by social psychologist Solomon Asch in the 1950s, which reveals how easily people can be influenced by others, even to the point of not believing their own eyes. Compare your results to Asch's, and when discussing your results, try to understand the advantages and disadvantages of conforming.

Problem:

Why would humans have an evolved tendency to conform? What might be some disadvantages to conforming?

Materials:

  • Plain white paper, 8-1/2” x 11”
  • Black felt tip pen
  • Lined paper for data sheet.

Procedure:

  1. Create a data sheet by taking a piece of paper and creating seven columns. Label the first column “Subject #”, and the remaining columns Card 1 -> Card 6. Circle Card 2, 3 and 5.
  2. On the six sheets of paper, draw a line on the left side that is between 4” and 10” long, being certain to use a different line length for each card. On the same pieces of paper, draw three lines on the right side with one of the lines equaling the length of the line on the left and one of the other two lines being one inch longer and the other one inch shorter than the line on the left. (Note: Be sure to vary the position of the equal-length line (first, second or third) on each of the cards.)
  3. Recruit three friends to serve as your confederates--that is, people who are in on the experiment--and select one of them as the lead confederate. Instruct the lead confederate to name the correct line (the line on the right that matches the line on the left in length) on the first, fourth and sixth cards, and to name one of the other two incorrect lines on trials for cards two, three and five.
  4. Further instruct the lead confederate to respond quickly, as soon as possible after each card is shown to the group. Instruct the other candidates to mimic the lead’s response, taking turns, but responding as quickly as possible after the lead has offered his or her response.
  5. Recruit subjects (at least 10-15; 30 is best).
  6. Test subjects one at a time, bringing them into a room that has four chairs in a row. Have your confederates sitting the chairs, leaving one of the chairs in the middle empty for your subject.
  7. When your subject takes his or her seat, begin the experiment by showing the group the first card and asking them to name the line on the right that matches the line on the left in length. Be sure your confederates know what to do!
  8. Record the subjects answer for each card as either ‘C’ for ‘correct’, ‘IC’ for ‘incorrect’.
  9. Calculate the average percentage of correct answers for each card, and then calculate the average percentage of correct answers for cards 1, 4 and 6 vs. cards 2, 3 and 5.
  10. Create a bar graph for the average percentage of correct answers for the "conformity condition" (for cards 2, 3 and 5) and for the "normal condition" (for cards 1, 4 and 6).
  11. Write a discussion of the results.
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