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Conformity: Solomon Asch's Study of Informational vs. Normative Conformity

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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

In 1951, social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted an experiment to study conformity and the effect of the group on individual decision-making. Learn about Solomon Asch's conformity study, the difference between informative and normative conformity, and the impact of Asch's experiment on psychology. Updated: 08/25/2021

Solomon Asch

How much do you trust your own judgment? How likely are you to go along with a group, even if you think they might not be right? You might think you know the answers to these questions, but you might be surprised when you're put in a situation where you have to make a choice between what you think and what the group around you believes.

Solomon Asch was a famous social psychologist who studied conformity, or the extent to which people go along with the larger group. In his most famous study, Asch put subjects in a situation where they had to choose between the opinion of a group and their own opinion. You might be surprised at the result.

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  • 0:05 Solomon Asch
  • 0:45 Conformity Study
  • 1:55 Informative vs.…
  • 3:09 Impact on Psychology
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Conformity Study

The study went like this: a participant came into the room with seven other people who the participant believed were also part of the study. In truth, the other people were confederates, or researchers who were pretending to be subjects.

Asch put two cards in front of the participant and the confederates. On one card was a line. The other card had three lines of different lengths. Everyone was asked which of the three lines was the same length as the line on the other card. Pretty straightforward, right?

But wait! Asch asked each person at the table to answer out loud, one at a time. Remember that all but one of the people there were really confederates. As they went around the table, each confederate gave the wrong answer. By the time they got to the real participant, he had already heard everyone else say an answer that was different from what he thought.

Believe it or not, most of the participants in the study gave the wrong answer. In fact, after doing the exercise several times with different cards, Asch found that about 75% of people changed their answer at least once to match the wrong answer given by the confederates.

Informative Vs. Normative Conformity

When asked why they gave the wrong answer, most people responded one of two ways: either they said that they had conformed because they thought that, because the others agreed, they must know something that the participant didn't, or they said that, even though they knew that it was the wrong answer, they went along because they didn't want to be made fun of.

The first answer is an example of informative conformity. Informative conformity is when people go along with a group because they think that the group must be right or must know something that they do not. This happens a lot when people are in a group with a powerful person, such as a boss or professor. When the boss starts saying something they disagree with, they think, 'Well, he's the boss, so he must be right,' or 'I guess my professor knows this better than I do.'

The other type of conformity is normative conformity. Normative conformity happens when people know the rest of the group is wrong but they go along anyways because they want to be liked or because they don't want to be made fun of. Think about peer pressure; when a group of people says that you should do something, you might go along just so that they won't make fun of you or call you names.

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