Aim: Sherif conducted an experiment with the aim of demonstrating that people conform to group norms when they are put in an ambiguous (i.e. unclear) situation.
Method: Sherif used a lab experiment to study conformity. He used the autokinetic effect – this is where a small spot of light (projected onto a screen) in a dark room will appear to move, even though it is still (i.e. it is a visual illusion).
It was discovered that when participants were individually tested their estimates on how far the light moved varied considerably (e.g. from 20cm to 80cm). The participants then repeated the experiment several days later and were then tested in groups of three. Sherif manipulated the composition of the group by putting together two people whose estimate of the light movement when alone was very similar, and one person whose estimate was very different. Each person in the group had to say aloud how far they thought the light had moved.
Results: Sherif found that over numerous estimates (trials) of the movement of light, the group converged to a common estimate. Those with high estimates lowered them and those with low estimates increased their judgements. A group norm was formed by members. Sherif said that this showed that people would always tend to conform. Rather than make individual judgments they tend to come to a group agreement.
Conclusion: The results show that when in an ambiguous situation (such as the autokinetic effect), a person will look to others (who know more / better) for guidance. They want to do the right thing but may lack the appropriate information. Observing others can provide this information.
Studies of conformity – Asch (1951)
Asch believed that the main problem with Sherif's (1935) conformity experiment was that there was no correct answer to the ambiguous autokinetic experiment. How could we be sure that a person conformed when there was no correct answer? Asch (1951) devised an experiment whereby there was an obvious answer to a line judgement task. If the participant gave the clearly incorrect answer it would be clear that this was due to group pressure.
Aim: Solomon Asch conducted an experiment to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform. He wanted to see whether individuals would change their own views to conform to the majority.
Procedure: Asch used a lab experiment to study conformity. 123 American male participants were recruited to take part in a ‘task of visual perception’. Using the line judgement task, Asch put a naive