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Have you ever gone along with a group even though you had your doubts? You're not alone: Research shows unanimous decisions aren't always actually unanimous.

Hosted by: Brit Garner
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Sources:
https://www.lucs.lu.se/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Asch-1955-Opinions-and-Social-Pressure.pdf
http://cynlibsoc.com/clsology/pdf/people-will-conform.pdf
https://jvwr-ojs-utexas.tdl.org/jvwr/index.php/jvwr/article/view/7002/6308
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232423600_Culture_and_Conformity_A_Meta-Analysis_of_Studies_Using_Asch%27s_1952b_1956_Line_Judgment_Task
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bert_Hodges/publication/7343325_A_Nonconformist_Account_of_the_Asch_Experiments_Values_Pragmatics_and_Moral_Dilemmas/links/543684e20cf2dc341db354fc/A-Nonconformist-Account-of-the-Asch-Experiments-Values-Pragmatics-and-Moral-Dilemmas.pdf
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Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Free_3D_Business_Men_Marching_Concept.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_McCarthy.jpg
https://www.flickr.com/photos/93416311@N00/2326789003
We’ve all done something kind of weird to fit in.

Maybe you’ve lied about who you voted for or pretended you’d read a certain book when you actually hadn’t. Or maybe, you’ve done something kind of like the participants in psychologist.

Solomon Asch’s famous studies of conformity in the 1950s, and agreed that something was true even though you knew it wasn’t. Conformity is the tendency to change your beliefs or behaviors to match those around you or in your culture. Experimenters before Asch had looked at this phenomenon in cases where there was ambiguity or no right answer to a particular problem.

But Asch wanted to know what would happen when the participant could clearly see that one answer was the right answer. Would they still agree with a group that was obviously making a mistake? To test this, Asch asked groups of six to eight people to look at three vertical lines of different heights.

For each trial, a new line would appear, called the standard line, and the people in the group were then asked which of the three original lines was the same height as the standard line. The trick, though, was that in each of the 123 groups in the experiment, only one person was actually a subject in the experiment. The rest were confederates: pretend subjects in cahoots with Asch, who had already agreed on what their answers would be for each trial.

For the first couple of trials, the confederates would pick the line that actually matched, so the subject wouldn’t be suspicious. But then, on 12 of the 18 trials each subject completed, they picked an answer that was clearly wrong. The subject, who was last to pick, had to decide: Should they say the name of the line they knew was right, or go with what everyone else picked?

The results were kind of alarming. 37% of the time, the subjects just went with everybody else, even though the line the group had picked was clearly not the same height as the standard line. For comparison, when a control group looked at the lines, the subjects were able to accurately match the heights 99% of the time. It’s kind of hard to believe, right?

You might like to think you wouldn’t conform, but 75% of subjects went along with the group at least once. Yikes. Asch thought so, too.

He pointed out that it was pretty concerning that a bunch of intelligent, well-meaning people had essentially just been convinced to call white black. But the truth is, you probably do this kind of stuff all the time. Haven’t you ever been one of the last people to join a standing ovation, because, well, they weren’t that great, but it seems silly not to stand up and clap with everyone else?

Or maybe you’ve watched a teacher explain something wrong at the front of a classroom, but not wanted to say something, because everyone else was just nodding along. The good news, though, is that there is plenty of evidence that we’re not just a bunch of lemmings. Asch’s experiments have been replicated and expanded upon since the 1950s, using different age groups, different genders, and different cultures.

And the results of all these studies seem to suggest that—at least in the U. S.— the conformity effect has gotten weaker in recent years. Asch’s studies were conducted during the 1950s, a time when McCarthyism was at its height and fitting in was a pretty high priority.

Today, on the whole, expressing your own thoughts and opinions has become a much more important part of our culture. This idea that culture can influence your willingness to conform is backed up by cross-cultural studies, too. In cultures that tend to prioritize the needs of the group more, like in Japan, rates of conformity were much higher than in more individualistic cultures, like in the U.

S. And even Asch’s original experiments weren’t all gloom and doom— they also suggested that there are times when people will go against their tendency to conform. For instance, Asch found that there was a lot of variability in whether or not individual people conformed.

A quarter of the subjects were what he called “yielding,” which meant that they conformed most of the time. Another quarter were “independent”—those were the people who never conformed. But about half the participants fell somewhere in between: they might have conformed once in awhile, but they would usually stick to their guns.

Asch also found that the number of people in the majority group doesn’t matter as much as the number of people in the minority. Adding more than three confederates didn’t make people more or less likely to conform. But!

A single defector among the confederates was enough to completely wipe out the conformity effect. They didn’t even have to agree with the subject, they just had to have a different opinion from the majority. And even if that defector later left the experiment?

Just knowing that someone else disagreed with the majority was enough to keep the subject from conforming. So, giving a standing ovation when you don’t really think the performance deserves it might not be that big a deal. But these studies suggest that when something seems a bit off, it might be worth speaking up.

It could be kinda scary, but you also might find out that other people agree with you … they just didn’t want to say so. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych. To learn more about how other people’s opinions can affect your own, check out our video about groupthink.

And to learn about all kinds of weird things our brains do, you can go to youtube.com/scishowpsych and subscribe!