Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 77
Conformity/psychological theories: Solomon Asch (1951(1), 1955(2)) asked why we sometimes abandon our firmly held convictions and bring our attitudes and judgments in line with those of other people, even if we know that they are wrong and we are right. >Conformity/Asch.
Haslam I 80
As a further demonstration of the power of normative influence, Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard (1955)(3) created a situation in which participants could witness the (incorrect) responses of the majority but were allowed to record their own responses privately (thus eliminating fear of ridicule and, by extension, the power of normative influence). In this variant, the level of conformity plummeted (see also Abrams et al., 1990(4); Insko et al., 1983(5)).
Interestingly, however, conformity was not reduced to zero. For some participants, the power of the situation was enough to convince them that the majority answer was the correct answer after all. In other words, the study provides evidence not only of normative influence (i.e., ‘going along’ with others) but also of informational influence (i.e., being convinced by others).
Haslam I 81
Age/conformity: in a study that used a slightly different paradigm to Asch, Michael Walker and Maria Andrade (Walker and Andrade 1996)(6) found that the younger participants were, the more they conformed: conformity levels were 42% among 6- to 8-year-olds, 38% for 9- to 11-year-olds, and 9% for those 12 to 14 years old, but there was no conformity at all among those aged between 15 and 17.
Conformity/cultural differences: Looking at national differences in conformity in the Asch paradigm, Rod Bond and Peter Smith (1996)(7) conducted a statistical analysis in which they compared conformity levels across countries that promote individualism (e.g., the US) and countries that have a more collectivist orientation (e.g., Hong Kong).
Their analysis of 133 Asch line-judgment studies showed that conformity was higher in collectivist countries than in individualist countries, presumably because conformity is more valued in the former than the latter. Their study also revealed a robust effect whereby women were more likely to conform than men. Interestingly too, the researchers found that levels of conformity had dropped significantly over the decades, with conformity levels being relatively low in more recent studies.
Haslam I 82
(…) conformity of the form observed in Asch’s studies has been argued to underlie behaviours as diverse as going along with Nazi propaganda, succumbing to eating disorders such as bulimia (where people are not able to resist the majority pressure for thinness; Crandall, 1988)(8), and engaging in football hooliganism and other types of crowd violence (Le Bon, 1895)(9). >Conformity/Le Bon.
Haslam I 83
(…) is it really the case that conformity is a reflection of weakness and cowardice? (…) it is particularly revealing to read what participants said when asked after the study to elaborate on what it was that dictated their responses. (…) many of those who conformed spontaneously mentioned that they went along with the group because – even though they did not think the majority was right – they did not want to appear foolish or to be the odd one out. However, there were also other reasons why people conformed. Some mentioned they did not want to ‘spoil the study results’ (Asch 1955(2): p. 33).
Still others believed that the first person to call out the wrong response must have a visual impairment. When Confederates 2 and 3 also called out the wrong response, they simply concluded that these participants were conforming, possibly because they did not want to make the first person look like a fool.


1. Asch, S.E. (1951) ‘Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment’, in H. Guetzkow (ed.), Groups, Leadership and Men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press. pp. 177–90.
2. Asch, S.E. (1955) ‘Opinions and social pressure’, Scientific American, 193: 31–5.
3. Deutsch, M. and Gerard, H. (1955) ‘A study of normative and informational social influences upon individual judgment’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51: 629–36.
4. Abrams, D., Wetherell, M.S., Cochrane, S., Hogg, M.A. and Turner, J.C. (1990) ‘Knowing what to think by knowing who you are: Self-categorization and the nature of norm formation, conformity, and group polarization’, British Journal of Social Psychology, 29: 97–119.
5. Insko, C.A., Drenan, S., Solomon, M.R., Smith, R. and Wade, T.J. (1983) ‘Conformity as a function of the consistency of positive self-evaluation with being liked and being right’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19: 341–58.
6. Walker, M.B. and Andrade, M.G. (1996) ‘Conformity in the Asch task as a function of age’, Journal of Social Psychology, 136: 367–72.
7. Bond, R. and Smith, P. (1996) ‘Culture and conformity: A meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b, 1956) line judgment task’, Psychological Bulletin, 119: 111–37.
8. Crandall, C.S. (1988) ‘Social contagion of binge eating’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55: 588–98.
9. Le Bon, G. (1895) La Psychologie des foules (The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, 1982, Atlanta: Cherokee Publishing Company).


Matthew J. Hornsey and Jolanda Jetten, “Conformity. Revisiting Asch’s line-judgment studies”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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