Of Mind Reading and Conformity Studies …

August 29, 2009

“Lawyers are liars” I am pretty sure every lawyer seethes when they are stereotyped thus. I know, because as a Psychology student (studying doesn’t end with degrees, right?), I have often been asked, “So, can you read my mind? “I better not talk to you lest you find everything about me” and such. I have had quite enough of this misunderstanding, thank you very much. Freud humor doesn’t sit well with most psychologists too!

I don’t blame them for such lame comments because people can’t fathom what is it that we study. In fact, it is difficult to even begin explaining. So let me just dive in and begin with one of the most revered experiment in social psychology.

Dr. Solomon Asch  was a professor who revolutionalized the field of social psychology. One of his most noteworthy works are his Conformity Studies. He devised an experiment to measure the effects of social pressure on conformity. It goes as follows:

Dr Asch got groups of students to take a vision test. In each group, all but one were confederates of the experimenter. That is they posed as participants but knew the purposes of the experiment and were told to give answers in a certain manner. There was effectively just one participant in each group.

The experimenter showed every member in the group 2 cards: first one with a single line on it and the second one with 3 lines on it, one of it is identical to the line on the first card. The participants had to say aloud which one of the 3 lines matches the single line. This was done 18 times with varying lengths. The real participant was made to give his answer  the second last so that he will hear other’s answers before giving out his own. In the first two trials, the confederates and the participant give the obvious right answer. The participant is always at ease at this time. However from the third trial on, all the conferedates begin to give same wrong answers. In fact, among the 18 trials, all the confederates give same wrong answer for 12 trials. These are the critical trials because it is at this point, social pressure is being examined. How will the participant react? With him (all males in this experiment) being the last to answer and everyone else around him giving obvious incorrect answers, will he conform with the majority?

Dr Asch’s hypothesis ( a prediction/guess) at the time of drafting the experiment was that participant will not conform to the majority when it is obviously wrong. After noting results from several such groups, it was noted that participants conformed to atleast 37% of the critical trials, 25% did not conform to any critical trial, 75% conformed to atleast one critical trial and 5% conformed to all critical trials!!

This is a sneak peak into the wonderful world of Psychology. For more details on the above experiments, click here. If  you need still more, google “Solomon Asch Conformity Experiments”.

Now please do me a favour – Next time you see a psychology student/ practitioner, grill him/her about Solomon Asch’s experiment and he/she will hold you in high esteem!!! 🙂

PS: If you liked the above article and want more, please rate the post. To rate, click the title of the post and then click on the star according to how you liked the article. 1 for very boring to 5 for very interesting. Those of you lazy to comment, pretty please with cherries and sugar on top, rate!!

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11 Responses to “Of Mind Reading and Conformity Studies …”

  1. Ramesh said

    Oh – very nice and informative post thougthful train. Had no clue of this and was enlightened thanks to your post and the link. Yes, please, want more absolutely. My Net Nanny obviously does not allow voting, as it is a concept unheard of where I live. So can’t do on your form, but can I give you 4 stars please – and I give it without being influenced by any other vote as I can’t see it anyway ! And you know why not a 5 ? Just to induce you to write more to get 5 – there must be some psychology angle to it !!

    Now I am absolutely convinced you can read minds even if you haven’t seen a person. Remember business in the blood, theory Y, etc etc !!!

    Thanks so much Ramesh!! You have dangled the carrot and how can I not reach for more?? More similar post coming up! Thanks for the stars, I will put them in on your behalf! 🙂

  2. K said

    Very interesting! I absolutely love reading about psychology…the human mind is a fascinating thing…

    PS I like your new header…very pretty…

    Hi K! Welcome back here. 🙂 Yeah I agree with you on that the human mind is interesting too! 🙂 And thanks!

  3. drnarayannayak said

    That sure was an interesting information. In practice also we see in an argument most of us side with a group having larger no of persons or with some authoritative person or sometimes even with some one other than our own ,against one of our own, with the idea that we will be more comfortable with that group, even if we basically subscribe to the view.
    The old children,s story where an old man bought a goat and was going home and all the people confronted asking him where he was taking the stray dog, ultimately leaving the goat free is one based on this experiment probably.
    Thus this explains why some people opine with just opposite of what we expected them to normally.
    Any way it is anice topic you raised.

    Yeah, I remember the story. It is this theory that is in practise there! 🙂

  4. Savitha said

    Nice information,Ash!! Yes, social conformity really makes the biggest impact!! And I think that influences one’s decision to a larger extent–from the choice of profession, to anything as simple as getting a dress.Paulo Coelho has spoken of this like throwing salt in his book-the alchemist…And, We want more of these(have voted:))…

    Thanks so much Savi! 🙂 Even when we are not aware, we conform to a large extent. Maybe it is the equivalent of gravitational force! 😉 I will keep The Alchemist on my reading list – have heard its really good!

  5. ajcl said

    whoa.. lovely read cookie.. im bookmarking the link in this post to read in detail..

    Thanks Appu … When I was in college, my hostel mates used to read my Psychology text books for entertainment! 😉 Your comment reminded me of them. 🙂

  6. theishu said

    Nice way to stand up for what you studied 🙂

    Interesting stuff too, btw. Psychology was one of my courses, and I’ve just skimmed the surface.

    So will the next post be on Pavlov? 🙂

    Good to see you back Theishu! Thanks for the lovely comment. I intend to write more on psychology. 🙂 BTW, great cartoon debut you got there !! 🙂

  7. manchitra said

    Interesting read kukky. Long time since i commented . Having a hectic schedule. Any way shall wait for your interesting psy. posts.

    Thank you, Chitramausi. 🙂

  8. Shivya said

    Interesting experiment and results. Reminds me of my intro to psych class! I’d definitely love to read more psych-related posts 🙂

  9. […] I copied, my first weekender “non businessy” piece. I was reminded of it when reading a very nice post by The Thoughtful Train on Solomon Asch’s experiments on Conformity. I am no psychologist, but this came to mind on […]

  10. […] I copied, my first weekender “non businessy” piece. I was reminded of it when reading a very nice post by The Thoughtful Train on Solomon Asch’s experiments on Conformity. I am no psychologist, but this came to mind on […]

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