Herd Behavior

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Updated on Feb 11, 2012

Grade Level: 11th - 12th; Type: Social Science


In this experiment we will demonstrate the "power of conformity" using situations where individuals must decide to either go with the crowd or with their gut.

  • How do groups influence our decisions?
  • Does the majority influence our decisions?
  • How does age affect conformity?

Solomon Asch demonstrated that when asked an obvious question individuals would not conform to something that is incorrect. However, in a group setting where everyone answers incorrectly, individuals would conform and also answer incorrectly. A subject was placed with a group of people. This group is in on the experiment and their responses are scripted. When given a visual task group answered with an obviously incorrect answer. When it was the subject's turn to answer they could either go with the group or with the correct answer. In this experiments he found that 32% of the subjects conformed to the group and answered incorrectly. In this study we will demonstrate the power of conformity by modeling the Asch experiments and analyze the differences among age groups and genders?

  • 4+ Male Assistants
  • 4+ Female Assistants

Asch Experiment - you will need at least 4 male assistants and 4 female assistants. Get a larger group of assistants if you do not have to compromise your subject pool.

  1. Instruct your assistants on the specifics of this study. They will receive instructions on how they should answer the questions.
  2. Choose your subjects.
  3. Replicate Asch's line judgment (Figure 1) cards using poster board.

Figure 1. Solomon Ache vertical line perception task.

  1. The first set up divide the groups according to gender.
  2. Set up the study by seating the assistants in a row. The subject will sit on the end.
  3. Bring in the subject and explain the task. They are to answer the questions.
  4. Have the first assistant answer the first question correctly. Go down the line of assistants who all answer the first question correctly. Have the subject answer.
    1. Was it correct? Incorrect?
  5. For the following questions have the assistants answer incorrectly down the line then finally, have the subject answer.
    1. Correct or Incorrect?
  6. At around the 5th question throw in a variant. What happens if 1 assistant chooses the correct answer, against the crowd? Have one assistant answer correctly. When the subject answers what happens?
  7. In the 2nd set up have the subject placed with assistants from the opposite gender.
  8. Optional: What happens when you increase the population of the group? Have 2+ more additional assistants join in. How does a larger group influence an individual’s decision making?

In this experiment the subject will first answer a series of questions, based on visual perception (e.g. mental rotation, see figure 2) alone, write them down, and submit the answers.

Figure 2. Mental rotation tests to examine visual perception. In this task the subject must mentally manipulate the object in order to answer the questions. The first image (left) shows 4 shape configurations. The subject must determine which block configurations are the same when rotated. The second image (right) is a diagram of a piece of paper folded then cut. The subject must determine what this piece of paper will look like (A-E) once it is unfolded.

  1. Instruct your assistants on the specifics of the study. Give them the list of questions along with the answers.
  2. Have the subject join the group and be seated on the end, last seat.
  3. Go through the questions in order.
  4. Have the assistants answer correctly for the 1st question and incorrectly for the following questions. How does the subject answer? How does their vocal answer compare to their written answer?
  5. Have one assistant answer incorrectly. How does the subject answer? How does their vocal answer compare to their written answer?

Terms/Concepts: Conformity; Solomon Asch experiments; Stanley Milgram experiments; Social Norms


Melissa Bautista is a research scientist, freelance editor, and writer, with a focus in Neuroscience. She believes in establishing solid foundations in education through experience, creativity, and collaboration. She is fascinated by pedagogy and the concept of learning through living.

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