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Essay – Solomon Asch

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    Solomon Asch

    Solomon Asch was a social psychologist way back in the 1950s, which is even before my parents were born. Asch conducted a famous experiment on the effects of peer pressure on a person. What he found was that a person had a “tendency to conform, even it means to go against the person’s basic perceptions”. The web page also said that people “are swayed by the masses against our deepest feelings and convictions”. 1 These experiments that Asch created developed the theory of conformism, which says that a person will go along with the group, especially in a crisis.

    But it was really started in the early 1900s, back before my grandparents were born, when social psychology was born. The studies, usually using college students, were asked about their choices about stuff. Then they were asked about their choices again, only this time they were told what other college students were choosing. This is what they found out: When “confronted with opinions contrary to their own, many subjects apparently shifted their judgments in the direction of the views of the majorities or experts”. 3

    Next, this is what Asch did. He got eight students to take a test. However, seven of the students were called “confederates” because they knew what was going on, like insiders. All eight students were given a test with lines on a piece of paper and were asked to match them up. I attached one of the tests. At first, all eight, including the seven insiders, answered correctly because it is a very easy test. But then the second time some of the seven insiders intentionally gave the wrong answer. And on the third time taking the test, all seven insiders gave the same wrong answer.

    The goal was to see if the real student, the eighth person who was the only one who didn’t know what was going on, would also change his answer just to go along with the others. Asch hypothesized that most people would not conform to something so obviously wrong. As my parents say, they wouldn’t be influenced by peer pressure. Here’s what he found out. “Results indicate that one cohort has virtually no influence and two cohorts have only a small
    influence. When three or more cohorts are present, the tendency to conform increases only modestly. The maximum effect occurs with four cohorts. Adding additional cohorts does not produce a stronger effect.” 4 His test concluded that 32 percent of the time people would give an incorrect answer to an easy question if half of their peers gave that answer. That seems pretty incredible to me.

    This is not a blind study, because Asch knew who the insiders were. And it wasn’t double blind, because most of the participants knew what they were doing too. The experimental condition group would be just the one, real student. The control condition group would be the seven insiders because they are different because they were told how to answer. I know this because I read the definition: Control Condition (control group): During many experiments, researchers often include treatment groups (the groups that are given the treatment/IV) and a control group, which is identical to the treatment group in every single way except that the control group does not get the treatment/IV. In this way, the researcher can study effect(s) of the treatment thoroughly. For example, if I am studying the effects of 2 different pain medications of headaches, I may give people who have headaches (the treatment groups) either Tylenol or Bayer (these are the levels of the IV). I can then wait one hour and ask participants to rate the level of pain they are experiencing. If the amount of pain in one group goes down significantly more than the other, I may conclude that one medication is more effective than the other in reducing headache pain. However, I can’t say that either are more effective than giving nothing at all. Maybe there was a placebo effect, and simply getting a pill made people believe their pain was reduced. So, I could include another group – a control group – which is treated and exposed to everything the other groups are except that they are given a placebo (maybe a sugar pill) instead of either Tylenol or Bayer. (Also see Experimental Condition). 5

    I looked up independent and dependent variables. Here is the definition: “In an experiment there are two variables; the Independent Variable (IV) and the Dependent Variable (DV). In the most basic sense, you need two variables because as a researcher, you want to be able to examine if something (a drug, a therapy, a teaching technique, whatever) has an effect on some participant (person, people, animals, etc.). To accomplish this, you need to have something to examine (and manipulate — this is the IV); some variable of interest, as well as something to measure the effect the IV has (this is the DV). Therefore, we can define the independent variable as the experimental variable or variable that is manipulated by the research and has some effect on the DV. If there is a change or effect, we may conclude that the IV affected the DV. The ultimate here is to establish that the IV caused the change in the DV (this is the magical “cause-effect”). As a quick example, if you want to study the effect of drinking 12 ounces of beer before an exam on exam performance, the beer would be the IV (we may have one treatment group whose participants drink the beer and one control group who does not drink the beer); the performance on the exam would be the DV.” 6 So, in our case, the lying students would be the independent variable and the performance on the test would be the dependent variable. Another possibility is that the real student is the dependent variable.

    I also looked up confounding variable. Here is the definition: “A Confounding Variable is an extraneous variable whose presence affects the variables being studied so that the results you get do not reflect the actual relationship between the variables under investigation. When conducting an experiment, the basic question that any experimenter is asking is: “How does A affect B?” where A is the probable cause, and B is the effect. Any manipulation of A is expected to result in a change in the effect. 

For example, you want to study whether bottle-feeding (Cause) is related to an increased risk of diarrhea in infants (Effect). It would seem logical that bottle-fed infants are more prone to diarrhea since water and the bottle could get contaminated, milk could go bad, etc. But if you were to conduct this study, you would learn that bottle-fed infants are less likely to develop diarrhea than breast-fed infants. It would seem that bottle-feeding actually protected against the illness. But in truth, you would have missed a very important confounding variable – mother’s education. If you take mother’s education into account, you would learn that better-educated mothers are more likely to bottle-feed their infants, who are also less likely to develop diarrhea due to better hygienic practices of the mothers.

    In other words, mother’s education is related to both the Cause and the Effect. Not only did the Confounding Variable suppress the effect of bottle-feeding, it even appeared to reverse it – confounding results, indeed! This example illustrates the importance of identifying and controlling for possible Confounding Variables in any research study. A thorough review of available literature should help you do this.” 7 So in our case I don’t really see a real confounding variable.

    In my opinion, even though I’m surprised that the real student caved in when he saw the answers of the others on something so easy, in some ways I’m not because I see it every day, especially here at school. We do make decisions sometimes because of our friends. Most people like to fit in and be liked. It’s hard to stand up even when we know what is right. As a Christ follower, I see this all the time. So in my opinion this study probably can be generalized throughout the population.

    5. 6. 7.

    Stanley Milgram

    Stanley Milgram was a Yale University psychologist who did social psychology experiments in the 1960s. Just like Solomon Asch, he was doing them before my parents were even born. Wikipedia says that his experiments “measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience”. 1 In other words, he studied what happens when people are faced with an authority figure who is forcing them to do something that is against what they believe in.

    Milgram started his experiments in 1961, close to when Adolf Eichmann’s trial began in Jerusalem. Eichmann was a Nazi war criminal so Milgram created his experiment to help answer the question: In the Holocaust, was it just Eichmann or was it Eichmann and his accomplices that acted with mutual intent? In other words, did Eichmann and his accomplices all believe in the Holocaust and work together toward the cause of killing the Jews? Or did the accomplices disagree with Eichmann, but in spite of their personal beliefs, were they willing to just follow the orders of Eichmann, who was their authority figure?

    Here’s what he did. Kind of like Solomon Asch, he had an insider, or a confederate as they say. The insider would play the role of the learner. The real person in the experiment, who didn’t know what was going on, was the teacher. The learner and the teacher were put in separate rooms. The teacher would ask the learner a question and then give him four answers, like multiple choice. The learner then pushed a button for the answer he thought was right. If he was wrong, then the teacher would give him an electric shock. The more he missed, the more electric shock he got. The voltage increased each time. There was noise from the shock, and the learner made noise by screaming and banging on the wall. But remember, in reality, the learner was not getting shocked, he was just acting, but the teacher thought it was for real. If the teacher wanted to quit, the authority person would tell them this, which I copied from Wikipedia: 1. Continue.

    2. The experiment requires you to continue.
    3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
    4. You have no other choice you must go on. 2

    Before they started, Milgram asked his senior students at Yale how they thought it would go down. On average, they thought 1.2 percent would actually go all the way through number 4, which they thought was a 450 volt shock. He also asked his professor friends and they thought the same thing,
    not very many would go through with it.

    When he did the experiment, 65 percent of the teachers went all the way to number 4 giving the 450 volt shock. Wow. Some didn’t like it and wanted to back out, but as they were instructed to continue and keep going, 26 of the 40 went all the way. Other doctors did similar experiments later and all had about the same results.

    This study is not blind or double blind. Both the authority person and the learner know what’s going on. The teacher is the experimental condition group and the learner is the control group. The independent variable is the learner, the insider that is acting. The dependent variable is the performance on the test. Just like before, I guess the real teacher could be the dependent variable too.

    As I was doing the research, I read that one guy figured it out because he was Jewish and another guy figured it out because he was an electrical engineer and was freaked out event when they told him it wasn’t really hurting them. So confounding variables could be their family background or their education that made them quit.

    Yes I think the results can be generalized throughout the population. When I was reading this, I read about a guy who disagreed with the experiment. He said this: “that people have learned that when experts tell them something is all right, it probably is, even if it doesn’t seem so”. 3 I think people trust people. I trust my teachers and parents even when sometimes it doesn’t seem right. A Few Good Men is one of my favorite movies. The guy in the movie obeys his orders and a private dies. At the end, he doesn’t understand when he gets booted out of the Marines because he thinks he was just following orders. This seems the same to me. People trust that other people, especially experts or teachers, wouldn’t lie to them or do anything harmful to anybody.

    As far as the APA, based on their rules, I think Asch would’ve been OK. However, I think Milgram would’ve been in trouble. He was a little bit over the line with the concealment. But he was really, really over the line with the individual’s freedom to decline. The authority guy makes them keep going four times even when they want to quit. That can’t be within the rules. 4

    Methodological requirements of a study may make the use of concealment or deception necessary. Before conducting such a study, the investigator has a special responsibility to (1) determine whether the use of such techniques is justified by the study’s prospective scientific, educational, or applied value; (2) determine whether alternative procedures are available that do not use concealment or deception; and (3) ensure that the participants are provided with sufficient explanation as soon as possible.

    The investigator respects the individual’s freedom to decline to participate in or to withdraw from the research at any time. The obligation to protect this freedom requires careful thought and consideration when the investigator is in a position of authority or influence over the participant. Such positions of authority include, but are not limited to, situations in which research participation is required as part of employment or in which the participant is a student, client, or employee of the investigator.

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