How many times have we heard that someone doesn’t have a personality because they end up doing the exact same thing as their group of friends. Psychology, a staunch enemy of lazy and simple explanations, has over the last century examined the influence of the group on the individual.
Probably the most popular and influential studies in this regard are those conducted Solomon Asch’s investigations.
This social psychologist studied the phenomenon of conformity, which is the tendency of the individual to modify his response to an object by bringing it closer to that object. expressed by a majority of individuals within a group, Using an experimental situation. Do you think you could have resisted group pressure in this same situation?
Context before Asch
Asch isn’t the first to investigate social compliance within a group. There were others like Sheriff who, twenty years earlier, had studied her using ambiguous stimuli. He formed groups of three in a dark room with a single point of light projected on a wall. This point appears to move due to body movement, but not having any reference points creates the illusion that the point is moving on its own. These three participants should give an estimate of how much the point is moving.
Two of the participants are placed because they only give similar estimates, while the third estimates differently. The result is that the latter on his estimates to those of his other two companions, since the stimulus is ambiguous. Thus, in the face of uncertainty, the individual he tends to use the opinion of the majority. In this sense, Asch takes this study as a starting point and goes further by using an unambiguous stimulus.
Another precursor of Asch’s experiments is Leon Festinger’s theory. According to Festinger, judgments must rest on a basis on which their validity rests. When it comes to judgments about physical reality, to give a valid answer it suffices to examine the object. This means that the individual does not need to know the response of others to know if his own response is valid, unless it is social judgments.
Asch, who thinks that the phenomenon of conformity also occurs in the face of objective physical stimuli, and that The sheriff does not address these stimuli because that of his experiences is ambiguous, Designs its own research in this line.
In the original experiment, Asch forms a group made up of a student and several collaborators of the researcher pretending to be subjects. The task is for the researcher to present a sheet with three horizontal bars of different sizes printed, and each subject should say aloud which one is larger. The coworkers are ready to react correctly in the first few tries, but as the situation progresses they start to err and point to a bar which is clearly not the highest.
The subject who does not know what is going on starts to answer correctly, as he thinks, but as the others insist on pointing the wrong bar, their answers start to be the same as those of the others. Thus, we conclude that the phenomenon of conformity is observable in situations where the stimulus on which a judgment must be made is objective.
When interviewing subjects who had lived the experience, they explained that if they knew for sure what the correct answer was, they molded themselves to the expectations of others for fear of being ridiculed in some way. Some of them even they declared thinking the answers were really correct.
Not content with this result, Asch conducted similar experiments with minor modifications to see how it was possible to break away from the conformance of responses. Under the same paradigm, he introduced a series of variations which showed very interesting results.
Under one of the conditions, he introduced an “ally” into the group. Apart from the subject who knows nothing, another subject or researcher is introduced who must give the correct answers independently of the others. We observe that when the subject sees that he is not the only one to think differently from others, compliance decreases considerably. One way or another, the presence of another dissenting opinion validates his own.
However, when this ally is withdrawn halfway through the experiment, the subject again experiences the effects of compliance. Although during the first half of the experiment he managed to resist social pressure, when it loses its source of validation, it regains the majority opinion as a guide.
He also noted that the more people in the group, the stronger the compliance. In small groups, minority opinion is not under as much pressure to change as when three or four more people are added. Other factors such as writing the response down instead of saying it out loud and exposing yourself to criticism or ridicule, explicitly or not, promote resistance to conformism.
Why does compliance occur?
Early explanations considered that social influence occurs through imitation of the behavior of others, which in turn was based on processes of suggestion and contagion that occur in group contexts. Such contexts are considered facilitate the transmission and dissemination of ideas, And imitation allows the individual to transform into social.
However, from Asch’s experiments, conformity is explained by the asymmetry between the target and the source of influence. The subject or target recognizes the power of a source (a majority, for example) and depends on it to get the right information in ambiguous situations and know what rules to follow to maintain a positive relationship with others.
When we talk about the subject focusing on the opinion of the majority to maintain a response adapted to reality because the situation is ambiguous, we are talking about information dependence. On the other hand, when we say that the subject fixes on the opinion of the majority to know what is the behavior to follow to get approval from othersWe are talking about regulatory dependency.
Thus, while in Sheriff’s experiments, information dependence is more present because the stimuli are ambiguous, in Asch’s experiments, the influence is more of a normative type. Although the subject knows for sure the correct information, he obtains information from the rest of the group about the group approved response and acts consistently with it.