The article that contains Asch’s experiment highlights the fragility of an individual to conform to the opinion of a majority even though it means going against the individual’s own basic perception. In order to demonstrate the power of conformity in groups, Solomon E. Asch conducted series of conformity experiments. In a particular experiment, Asch asked groups of students to participate in a “vision test”. The real scenario is that, all but one of the participants was confederates of the experimenter. Thus the study was really about how the remaining student will react to the confederates’ behavior and answers. Will he going to conform to what the majority says or will he stand on his own belief pattern and sense perceptions? Solomon E. Asch wanted to affirm the assumptions through this experiment that people often behave differently when they are alone by themselves or in the presence of others. Social influence and conformity is not always a good thing since conformity to social norms can also promote dangerous and risky behaviors.
1- What is Suggestibility`? How is this phenomenon related to social pressure?
The way the article defines it, suggestibility is initially coined as hypnosis or the extreme form of normal psychological process. People are more likely to be suggestible in a “monotonous reiteration of instructions”, that is conformity becomes automatic. They can be easily influenced or persuaded even without them experiencing it yet. They automatically accept what other people say or demand without critically thinking first whether it is right or wrong. Their judgment of rightness and wrongness of a particular idea is weak since they totally depend on others’ ideas or opinions. Apparently, young children have a higher level of suggestibility since they act on others’ ideas most of the time than older people.
Some adult people however chose to be suggestible in order to be in tune with others’ attitudes. For example, one easily follows the demands of another in order to please and in order to satisfy his or her expectations. Thus suggestibility may also be the result of wanting to fulfill social expectations for the sake of acquiring sense of belongingness.
2- Summarize the procedure and results of the Asch experiment. What conclusion does the writer draw from these results?
In a psychology experiment, there is only one real subject. This particular student was unaware that other students in the classroom are actually associates of the experimenter, and thus their behavior has been carefully scripted. Moreover, what he knows was that the experiment concerns people’s visuals judgment. The experimenter places two cards before the class. The card on the left contains only one vertical line while the card on the right contains three vertical lines of different lengths. The experimenter asked the class, one at a time, to choose which of the three lines on the right card matches the length of the line on the left card. Most of the participants gave the wrong answers even though the correct answer is obvious. The main subject to the experimenter’s surprise conformed on 4 of the 12 trials even though the correct answer is very evident. “The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black. This is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.” Upon him the experiment has brought him a difficulty; will he conform to the evidence of his senses or will he follow with the opinions of the majority? The more he finds himself in the minority or in isolation, the more he also finds himself in confusion.
3-To what extent did varying the size of the majority and its unanimity affect the experimental results?
“The instructed majority occasionally reports correctly in order to reduce the possibility that the naïve will suspect collusion against him”. In varying the size of the majority, the experiment is giving the subject the impression that the experiment is indeed credible to believe that it is about people’s visual judgment. Moreover, the experimenter arranged the real subject to be the next to the last person to announce his answer so that he would hear most of the confederates’ incorrect responses before giving his own. Apparently, people conform maybe because they don’t trust their own judgment enough, they want to be liked by the group and maybe because they believe the group is better informed than they are. In the unanimity, it was been discovered that when a person was confronted with a single individual who contradicted his answers, he swayed a little but still continue to answer independently and correctly in all the trials. But as the number of the oppositions was increasing, the level of pressure is also increasing. Apparently when he finds himself in the minority and when he finds himself isolated to the answers of the others, he will also likely to conform.
4- What distinction does Asch draw between consensus and conformity?
Consensus for the writer involves collaboration, that is a mutual agreement among the members of a given group or community. Consensus is therefore a collective thought from the independent minds of the members of the society. “Each individual should contribute independently out of his own experience and insight”. From those independent insights and ideas, members of the given community will make a general agreement in terms of decision making for the welfare and well being of the members of the society. Thus consensus by Asch has been put on the affirmative and positive light.
However, conformity pollutes the individual’s sense of independence in terms of thinking and feeling. As rational beings who have been given free will, the power of thinking and feeling must be exercised. Most of the time it is not healthy that people’s behaviors are influenced by other people since not other people’s behavior is always right and correct. One must exercise his or her own identity, judgment and standards even if it may threaten one’s sense of security within a group.
Asch, Solomon E. Opinions and Social Pressure. Retrieved on 23, March 2009 from