The Asch Conformity Experiments, conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s, demonstrated the power of conformity in groups and showed that even simple objective facts cannot withstand the distorting pressure of group influence.
In the experiments, groups of students were asked to participate in a vision test. In reality, all but one of the participants were confederates (collaborators with the experimenter who only pretended to be participants). The study was really about how the remaining student would react to the others’ behavior.
The participants of the experiment (the subject as well as the confederates) were seated in a classroom and were asked a variety of questions about an image placed in front of them (see image). They were asked how long line A was, which line was longer than the other, which lines were the same length, etc. The group was told to answer each question out loud in front of the rest of the group, with the confederates always answering before the subjects and always giving the same answers as the others. They answered a few of the questions correctly, but then began providing incorrect responses.
What Asch found was that one-third of the subjects gave the same wrong answers as the confederates at least half the time. Forty percent gave some wrong answers, and only one-fourth gave correct answers in defiance of the pressure to conform to the wrong answers.
The Asch experiments have been repeated many times over the years with students and non-students, old and young, and in groups of different sizes and different settings. The results are consistently the same with one-third to one-half of the participants making a judgment contrary to fact, yet in conformity with the group, demonstrating the strong power of social influences .
Andersen, M.L. and Taylor, H.F. (2009). Sociology: The Essentials. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.