Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 77
Conformity/Asch: 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.
Haslam I 78
In his experiments he created a situation in which various features of the task and the social context made it extremely difficult to resist conformity pressure despite it being very clear that conforming would mean giving an incorrect response.
Experiment/Asch: in his line-judgment studies the participant finds himself within a group of others [who are no real participants but assistants to the experimenter, which the participant does not know]. Cards with lines of different lengths are shown and the group is asked to judge whether the lines are equal or different in length. After a while all of the group except the real participant judge in a obviously wrong way. >Method/Asch.
Haslam I 79
The results show that it is fairly difficult to withstand conforming in such contexts, even though it is clear that the majority is wrong. (…) the task was indeed incredibly easy. On this basis, Asch remarked that ‘whereas in ordinary circumstances, individuals matching the lines will make mistakes less than 1 percent of the time, under group pressure, the minority subjects swung to acceptance of the misleading majority’s wrong judgments in 36.8 percent of the selections’ (Asch, 1955(2): 32–3).
Haslam I 80
In one variant of the line-judgment study, Asch inverted the typical paradigm. This time there was just one confederate who was instructed to call out the wrong answer and the confederate was surrounded by several true participants. Here the (unfortunate) confederate was openly and loudly ridiculed. For other studies see >Conformity/psychological theories.
Haslam I 81
Asch also examined to what extent conformity would be affected by the extent to which the majority was unanimous. Results of these studies were even more striking. When there was one other individual who failed to conform to the incorrect majority response (either a confederate or another naïve participant), conformity dropped dramatically.
Other studies examined conformity when the dissenter disagreed not only with the majority but also with the participant (i.e., still giving an obviously wrong answer, but a different one to the majority). Here conformity to the majority giving the wrong answer was relatively low (occurring on only 9% of critical trials). This led Asch to conclude that what undermined conformity was not the direction of dissent (i.e., whether the dissenter was right or wrong), but the fact that dissent had occurred at all.
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.
Non-conformity/Asch: Asch himself also considered in detail the responses of those who resisted majority pressure, those responses are less often summarized in social psychological textbooks. So what exactly did those who resisted say? Asch reports two classes of individuals:
a )those who were confident of their own judgment and appeared to respond without much consideration of the majority, and
b) those who believed that the majority may be correct, but could not stop themselves calling out what they saw.
Haslam I 84
Conformity/Hornsey/Jetten: [in the studies] it becomes clear that people were actively trying to make sense of the situation by developing different theories as to why the majority was giving these obviously wrong responses. Participants did not sit back and simply let the majority overwhelm them. Rather, they were critically engaged and tried actively to make sense of the situation in order to develop a theory that would allow them to resolve the highly dissonant experience of contradiction between what they were seeing and how the majority was responding. Cf. >Cognitive dissonance/Festinger, >Cognitive dissonance/psychological theories. See also >Conformity/psychological theories, >Conformity/cultural psychology, >Majorities/Asch, >Resistance/Hornsey.
Haslam I 88
Social pressure/Asch: We should be skeptical, however, of the supposition that the power of social pressure necessarily implies uncritical submission to it: Independence and the capacity to rise above group passion are also open to human beings. (Asch 1955(2): 32)
Haslam I 89
Hornsey: Nevertheless, it seems that only one-half of Asch’s message has survived and that the other part has been largely forgotten. His message and purpose has thus been transformed over the years: so that rather than trying to understand the interplay between independence and conformity, consumers of his work have focused solely on people’s inclination to conform. >Resistance/Hornsey, >Majority/Hornsey.


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.


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.
Asch, Solomon E.
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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