The ability of a single individual to influence the decision making structure of many has been in play for centuries past. The name given to this influence by various scholars and psychologists is peer/group pressure. The term refers to the situation whereby the voice of an individual affects the decisions made by others within a given group.
In the 1950s, a famous psychologist Solomon Asch conducted an experiment geared towards determining the extent to which pressure from a dominant individual affected the decisions made by other participants. In this critical analysis of the experiment, we shall focus on the various assumptions that surrounded the experiment.
Through the use of relevant literature, a detailed evaluation of the experiment shall be provided to validate or dismiss the conclusions reached through the Asch’s conformity experiment.
The study of individual conformity as a result of peer pressure has been in existence for many centuries but has only gained prominence in recent times. This can mostly to the experiment carried out in the 1950s by the famous psychologist Solomon Asch. The aim of this experiment was to gather valuable data pertaining to the reasons behind any act and behavior that was portrayed as a result of peer pressure (British Psychological Society, 2006).
The psychologist managed to do this by conducting interviews and studying a group of test subjects. The participants included seven confederate and one study subject. They were seated around a table such that they could not be suspicious. The participants were asked a series of simple questions and were expected to answer them aloud. These simple questioned would help the psychologist ascertain how group pressure influenced the answers provided by the subjects.
The results of the experiment were very interesting. They showed that the answers given could to a significant percentage be influenced by peer pressure. The participants that were not subjected to peer-pressure gave the correct answers to all but one question. On the other hand the participants surrounded by the people giving wrong answers, invariably gave more wrong answers.
Brain (2000) claims that at least 75% of the participants gave the wrong answer to at least one question. In as much as this would have been ruled out as an experimental error, it was enough to declare that peer pressure indeed can lead to conformity among groups. In summary, the experiment proved that one voice can undoubtedly influence other people into conformity.
Criticisms of the Asch experiment
Despite the progress made, there were criticisms directed towards the experiment. The first criticism was based on the age of the participants which reflected their level of experience in life related matters. As regarding to the experiment, the participants were all male subjects. In addition to this, they were all considerably young.
Critics under this argument state that older participants would have provided better findings since they are more mature and have experienced different life situations. These accompanied by the fact that older people have more mental strength meant that they could have held to their convictions as regarding to what they believed was the true answers to the questions provided (Weiten, 2009).
In addition to this, the participants were undergraduates and therefore more intelligent than the target population. This may have had an effect on the results. According to recent studies, women have been seen to be more conformist than their male counterparts. In addition to this, the experiment was conducted on American subjects.
However, there is documented (Eysenck, 2004) proof that individuals from collectivistic cultures (Africans) are more likely to conform than their counterparts from individualistic cultures (Americans). These factors shows that the results of the experiment were not conclusive as they overlooked other variables as mentioned above.
According to Hill (2001) the Asch conformity experiment had no ecological underpinnings. This simply means that the experiment and the findings could not apply in most real life situations. This is because the environment under which the experiment was conducted was controlled and there was no room for influence from other factors such as emotions, morals and personal perception.
Further on, the experiment was disregarded by the findings of concurrent experiments which showed that the level of conformity was minimal if the participants wrote down their answers. The findings revealed that the satisfaction of being anonymous reduced the fear of being judged thereby making peer pressure invalid.
Wren (1999) articulates that the experiments were done in the fifties. As such, experiments conducted in recent times cannot yield the same results. The author attributes his opinion to the fact that conformity was more prevalent in the fifties. During this period, McCarthyism was widespread and the educational system followed a strict chain of command. This is so different from today’s society where people exercise their rights and are less ignorant.
However, the proponents of the Asch experiment argue that unlike the sherif’s experiment conducted in 1935 was indefinite and can therefore be termed as the true test of conformity. In addition, they claim that the patterns utilized during the experiments have been used in other experiments and the experiment can therefore be termed as the ultimate guideline for doing further studies on conformity.
Group pressure has been seen as the most prevalent cause of social problems because it leads to group think. This simply means that individuals feel obligated to agree to a dominant decision within a group. This leads to a situation whereby other opinions are suppressed and alternative solutions are not fully analyzed.
The Asch experiment tried to determine the extent to which this is true. However, flaws and benefits have been documented as regarding to the validity of his experiment towards the research and studies of conformity. If the flaws are addressed and the benefits utilized, the experiment will remain to be the foundation of other studies not only at present times but also in future studies.
Brain, C. (2000). Advanced subsidiary psychology: approaches and methods. USA: Nelson Thornes.
British Psychological Society. (2006). The Psychologist. Britain: British Psychological Society.
Eysenck, T. (2004). Psychology: An International Perspective. USA: Taylor & Francis.
Hill, G. (2001). AS Level Psychology Through Diagrams. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weiten, W. (2009). Psychology: Themes and Variations. LA: Cengage Learning.
Wren, K. (1999). Social influences. CA: Routledge.