As a social psychologist, Asch decided to study about group conformity. In his experiment, he brought one participant at a time to a room with five other students. The thing here is that those five other students had agreed in advance with the experimenter that they would give a wrong answer on purpose in certain rows…
It’s a simple situation. In the room, the participants are asked one at a time out loud which line: A, B or C matches the one in the left.
The procedure is done several times with different cards but always with the same logic. The real participant is usually the last one answering.
Imagine you’re the participant. The answer seems obvious, right? But everybody right before you is answering a clearly wrong answer in a perfect concordance. What do you do when your turn arrives? Do you stick with your right answer or do you conform with the group?
Guess what? One-third of the real participants got conformed with the clearly wrong answer. This means you have around 33% of chances to let yourself go under social influence.
Social influence happens when someone is influenced by others to think or to do something that in other circumstance wouldn’t do. This process can come alive through different forms:
- Normalization: when behaviors and ways of thinking turn natural in a group, becoming the pattern of “what’s normal and abnormal”;
- Obedience: changing behaviors to respond to an authority;
- Nonconformity: disobedience by criticism or censure by no longer rely on what’s socially accepted;
- Conformity: when you change your behavior and attitudes in order to fit in.
Why do people conform?
Deutsch & Gerald identified two main reasons to explain why people conform.
The first one has to do with informal influence. It usually happens when people lack information about the best thing to do. Instead of making decisions by looking for information and to think for their own, they look for what others in a similar situation are doing and follow it. It seems very comfortable, but will others also know what they are doing?
The second reason identified is regarding normative influence. Here, the main goal of conformity is to avoid punishments. So you just follow the social rules and obey to avoid conflicts even when you do not agree with the norm. If you follow the same line of thoughts with the others, it might be easier to be accepted in the group.
All this research and experiments show us the incredible power of social influence that everybody is unconsciously exposed every day, even when it happens with complete strangers. Compliance is easy and makes us comfortable. It’s important to be aware of it and keep it in mind in order to avoid certain negative outcomes.