The Asch Conformity Experiments

What These Experiments Say About Group Behavior

Asch's experiments tested conformity in groups
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The Asch conformity experiments were a series of psychological experiments conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s. The experiments revealed the degree to which a person's own opinions are influenced by those of a group. Asch found that people were willing to ignore reality and give an incorrect answer in order to conform to the rest of the group.

What Is Conformity?

Do you think of yourself as a conformist or a non-conformist? Most people believe that they are non-conformist enough to stand up to a group when they know they are right, but conformist enough to blend in with the rest of their peers.

Research suggests that people are often much more prone to conform than they believe they might be.

Imagine yourself in this situation: You've signed up to participate in a psychology experiment in which you are asked to complete a vision test.

Seated in a room with the other participants, you are shown a line segment and then asked to choose the matching line from a group of three segments of different lengths.

The experimenter asks each participant individually to select the matching line segment. On some occasions, everyone in the group chooses the correct line, but occasionally, the other participants unanimously declare that a different line is actually the correct match.

So what do you do when the experimenter asks you which line is the right match? Do you go with your initial response, or do you choose to conform to the rest of the group?

Conformity in Psychology

In psychological terms, conformity refers to an individual's tendency to follow the unspoken rules or behaviors of the social group to which they belong. Researchers have long been been curious about the degree to which people follow or rebel against social norms.

Asch was interested in looking at how pressure from a group could lead people to conform, even when they knew that the rest of the group was wrong. The purpose of the Asch conformity experiment was to demonstrate the power of conformity in groups.

Methodology of Asch's Experiments

Asch's experiments involved having people who were in on the experiment pretend to be regular participants alongside those who were actual, unaware subjects of the study. Those that were in on the experiment would behave in certain ways to see if their actions had an influence on the actual experimental participants.

In each experiment, a naive student participant was placed in a room with several other confederates who were in on the experiment. The subjects were told that they were taking part in a "vision test." All told, a total of 50 students were part of Asch’s experimental condition.

The confederates were all told what their responses would be when the line task was presented. The naive participant, however, had no inkling that the other students were not real participants. After the line task was presented, each student verbally announced which line (either 1, 2, or 3) matched the target line.

Critical Trials

There were 18 different trials in the experimental condition, and the confederates gave incorrect responses in 12 of them, which Asch referred to as the "critical trials." The purpose of these critical trials was to see if the participants would change their answer in order to conform to how the others in the group responded.

During the first part of the procedure, the confederates answered the questions correctly. However, they eventually began providing incorrect answers based on how they had been instructed by the experimenters.

Control Condition

The study also included 37 participants in a control condition. In order to ensure that the average person could accurately gauge the length of the lines, the control group was asked to individually write down the correct match. According to these results, participants were very accurate in their line judgments, choosing the correct answer 99% of the time.

Results of the Asch Conformity Experiments

Nearly 75% of the participants in the conformity experiments went along with the rest of the group at least one time.

After combining the trials, the results indicated that participants conformed to the incorrect group answer approximately one-third of the time.

The experiments also looked at the effect that the number of people present in the group had on conformity. When just one confederate was present, there was virtually no impact on participants' answers. The presence of two confederates had only a tiny effect. The level of conformity seen with three or more confederates was far more significant.

Asch also found that having one of the confederates give the correct answer while the rest of the confederates gave the incorrect answer dramatically lowered conformity. In this situation, just 5% to 10% of the participants conformed to the rest of the group (depending on how often the ally answered correctly). Later studies have also supported this finding, suggesting that having social support is an important tool in combating conformity.

Factors That Influence Conformity

At the conclusion of the Asch experiments, participants were asked why they had gone along with the rest of the group. In most cases, the students stated that while they knew the rest of the group was wrong, they did not want to risk facing ridicule. A few of the participants suggested that they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers.

These results suggest that conformity can be influenced both by a need to fit in and a belief that other people are smarter or better informed.

Given the level of conformity seen in Asch's experiments, conformity can be even stronger in real-life situations where stimuli are more ambiguous or more difficult to judge.

Asch went on to conduct further experiments in order to determine which factors influenced how and when people conform. He found that:

  • Conformity tends to increase when more people are present. However, there is little change once the group size goes beyond four or five people.
  • Conformity also increases when the task becomes more difficult. In the face of uncertainty, people turn to others for information about how to respond.
  • Conformity increases when other members of the group are of a higher social status. When people view the others in the group as more powerful, influential, or knowledgeable than themselves, they are more likely to go along with the group.
  • Conformity tends to decrease, however, when people are able to respond privately. Research has also shown that conformity decreases if people have support from at least one other individual in a group.

Criticisms of the Asch Conformity Experiments

One of the major criticisms of Asch's conformity experiments centers on the reasons why participants choose to conform. According to some critics, individuals may have actually been motivated to avoid conflict, rather than an actual desire to conform to the rest of the group.

Another criticism is that the results of the experiment in the lab may not generalize to real-world situations.

Many social psychology experts believe that while real-world situations may not be as clear-cut as they are in the lab, the actual social pressure to conform is probably much greater, which can dramatically increase conformist behaviors.

A Word From Verywell

The Asch conformity experiments are among the most famous in psychology's history and have inspired a wealth of additional research on conformity and group behavior. This research has provided important insight into how, why, and when people conform and the effects of social pressure on behavior.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Asch SE. Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied. 1956;70(9):1-70. doi:10.1037/h0093718

  2. Morgan TJH, Laland KN, Harris PL. The development of adaptive conformity in young children: effects of uncertainty and consensus. Dev Sci. 2015;18(4):511-524. doi:10.1111/desc.12231

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.