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Solomon E. Asch's "Opinions and Social Pressure"

Written By Admin on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 | 9:35 AM




In the 1950s the social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a famous experiment that highlighted the weakness of the person in a mass society when he is confronted with the differing opinion of a majority, and the tendency to conform even if this means to go against the person's basic perceptions. He demonstrated that na├»ve subjects could be induced to answer incorrectly by implicit social pressure. These are also known as the “Asch Paradigm”.
The basic design of Asch’s study consisted of groups of seven to nine male college students seated in a classroom for a ‘psychological experiment in visual judgment’. The experimenter told them that they would be comparing the length of lines and he showed them two white cards below. The card on the left was the standard line to be judged and the card on the right shows the three comparison lines.
The participants were asked to give their judgment aloud and they did so in the order in which they were
seated. There was only one participant in each group and the rest were confederates of the experimenters. The real participant sat one from the end of a row, so all but one of the confederates gave answers before them. On certain pre-arranged trails the confederates were told to give the same incorrect answers. The researchers were interested to find out the response of the one participant to this majority opinion.
Each series of line judgments had 18 trials, and on 12 of these, the majority gave unanimous incorrect answers. On these 12 unanimous incorrect trials around 75% of the 123 participants went along with the majority at least once. Under the pressure of the group, the participants accepted the judgment of the majority on 36.8% of the trials.
There were, however, considerable individual differences, with about 25% of the participants never agreeing with the majority, while some other participants agreed with the majority most of the time.
After the study many of the non-conformers said that they had confidence in their own
judgment and had a capacity to recover from doubt. Others saw it as a deficiency in themselves and tried to merge with the majority to cover up.
A number of variations of the study were carried out and it was found relationship between group size and conformity.
Variables that increased and decreased conformity in Asch’s experiment were group composition, unanimity, prior commitment, self esteem, cultural differences, and task difficulty/complexity.
Result of research: social pressure can make a person say something that is obviously incorrect.
Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to be liked by the group and because they believe the group is better informed than they are.
The deeper and more troubling questions about conformity arise in everyday real world (e.g. school-life, work life) contexts. People would rather conform than go against the group. Since people are evolutionarily tuned to be social animals, the perceived benefit of belonging to the group should outweigh the benefit of disagreement.

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