September 14, 2007

Today in the History of Psychology

Today, in 1907, one of the most famous pioneers in social psychology was born. The man that I am speaking of, and who is pictured to the right, is of course Solomon Asch. Like many in his day, Asch was trained as a gestalt psychologist. (An approach that advocates that the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts." For instance, the brain cannot be defined just by its seperate parts, but by how each acts on each other simultaneously).

Asch studied many aspects of social behavior including impression formation, and even wrote one of the first influential social psychology text books, simply called, Social Psychology (1952). But what he is probably most famous for is a set of experiments he conducted in the 1950's on the topic of conformity.

In his experiments, participants viewed a picture of a line and were to compare this line to a separate set of lines to see which best resembled the first (pictured below):
All participants were confederates (basically fake participants/actors) except one. Before being asked which line correctly resembled the first, the confederates were instructed to give an incorrect answer. The confederates and one participant were all seated in a classroom, where the one participant occupied the last seat. And they were instructed to announce their answer aloud, with the real participant answering last. When the confederates were unanimous in their incorrect judgments, most real participants felt discomfort from the answer they thought was right and the answer that they heard the confederates say. Most of the participants caved under the social pressure, leaving only about 29% of his subjects who refused to "join the bogus majority." Of course if the confederates were not unanimous in their incorrect judgments, then most participants would give the correct answer.

This experiment had some interesting implications for the power of conformity in social groups and has laid the groundwork for the famous obedience experiments by Stanley Milgram.

Happy Birthday Solomon Asch!

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