Asch Conformity Replication

Solomon AschIt is often thought that “old” experiments — especially in topics like social psychology — may not reveal very much about how people would behave today. Today’s people, the story is often told, are more sophisticated than the lock-step dupes of times past. This “explanation” is often repeated even in the face of modern replications showing that people are as just as likely, for instance, to give severe electrical shocks to strangers as they were back in the early 1960s (here). And we have recently seen all too clearly that people in the “real world” will still follow orders to torture others.

This whole line of research was really begun back in the 1950s by Solomon Asch, who showed that people will often give obviously wrong answers to a questions about the relative lengths of a small set of lines if their answers are preceded by a number of other “subjects” (actually confederates) all giving the same wrong answers. Many assume that it was the enforced conformity of 1950s America that caused this astonishing result, but a new replication by Anthony Pratkanis (U. Californian, Santa Cruz) shows that today’s students act much the same as Asch’s of over a half-century ago. A short report on the replication has been posted on You Tube, where you can also find a re-enactment (at least I think it is a re-enactment, rather than a 1970s replication) of the original study on You Tube as well.

Tip o’ the hat to Mind Hacks and The Situationist for alerting me to this.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.