“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!!! 🙂

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