What factors influence conformity?

My explanation of conformity so far has been overly simplistic and I hope by now in this course you are learning to judge everything you read and you’ve realized that phrases like “we have a natural desire to be liked and accepted” are oversimplifications – they do not apply to everyone, naturally. Not all people conform and rates vary across individuals, social groups and cultures. So now that you have a basic understanding of what conformity is and some possible explanations for why it might happen we can now investigate further what factors influence the extent to which people will conform.

After first concluding that group pressure can influence conformity, Asch started manipulating particular variables in his experiments to see what factors may influence the rates of conformity and he found as he changed the characteristics of the group the conformity rates varied.

Group Size: Asch found that with just a pair (one confederate and one subject) the rates of conformity were quite low. This makes sense in that we’d trust our judgement (it’s important to remember how easy Asch’s line task is and that there’s 99% accuracy when done individually). It’s easy to pass over one person’s incorrect answers and perhaps just think they’re an idiot or perhaps they have poor eye-sight. However, when there were two confederates and one participant the rates of incorrect answers (Asch’s operational definition of conformity) dramatically increased. Suddenly the participant found themselves in the minority and their confidence to disagree with their peers seemingly plummeted.

Interestingly, there was not a positive correlation found with group size and conformity; that is to say, conformity rates didn’t rise along with the size of the group. In fact, as Asch increased the size of his groups the levels of conformity actually decreased. He found that the ideal group size for inducing conformity in his experiments was 3.

Critical thinking question: why might have conformity rates dropped as the group became larger?

Unanimity

Unanimity is the state of being unanimous – all group members are in agreement. In some variations of his original experiment, Asch wanted to see what would happen if he introduced a dissenter (in this context this is someone who goes against the group). Perhaps not surprisingly, when there was at least one other person in the group who didn’t conform to the wrong answer, the rates of conformity dropped.


Here we can see the Asch experiment.