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Social conformity - How likely are you to bend under peer pressure?

How likely are you to change your opinion about something when the mass around you have a different opinion about it? Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t like a person when you met him individually but end up liking the same person when he was introduced to you by your friend who thinks that the person is cool to hang out with? How often have your opinion been changed about a thing after you realize that everyone around you thinks otherwise? As one expert in teen violence put it, “The stupidest creature to ever walk the face of the earth is an adolescent boy in the company of his peers”. You might have noticed that your speed limit varies according to the passenger you have on the backseat of your car. If this isn’t the case of change of behavior due to peer pressure, then I don’t know what is?

To understand the effect of peer pressure and social conformity let us look at an experiment conducted by Solomon Asch in 1951 to check the extent to which the people would conform under the application of social pressure by the majority group. The Experiment is famously known in the world of psychology as “Asch’s Experiment”.

The experiment:

(The subjects are told that this is a visual perception experiment and they are not told beforehand that it is an experiment to check the effect of peer pressure and social conformity)

The experiment consists of a board with 4 lines drawn on it. One of the four lines is the target line and the subject is asked to state aloud which among the other three lines (A, B, and C) is most likely the target line. The answer is always obvious. There were a total of 18 trials (i.e. a total of 18 boards with lines drawn on them). A subject is placed with 7 confederates (people hired to facilitate the experiment) who have agreed in advance what their answers would be. The subject is not aware of this. In a total of 18 trials, the confederates gave the wrong answers to 12 of them. The purpose of this experiment was to check if the subject will conform to the obviously wrong opinion of the majority.

The results:

When this experiment was conducted without the confederates placed with the participants, less than 1% of the participants gave the wrong answer. Whereas with the confederates, on average one third (32%) of participants placed in this situation completely went along with the obviously wrong answers of the majority. Throughout 12 trials (where confederated purposely gave the wrong answer), 75% of the participants complied at least once with the opinion of the majority and 25% participants never complied.

The conclusion:

The most startling fact here was that even when the answers were completely obvious, almost 3/4th of the people still complied at least once with the wrong opinion of the majority. Imagine the power of peer pressure and social conformity in the case of uncertainty where we don’t have a clear opinion about something (Social Proof under uncertainity). As Elliot Aaronson puts it “We are social animals, we don’t want to go against the dynamics of the group which might make us feel left out from the group.” Which side do you think you would have been in, 75% or 25%?


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