Have you ever felt absolutely certain about an answer to a question, only to find yourself wavering the next moment, accompanied by an unusual sensation of uncertainty and “weirdness”? Each day, we encounter numerous questions, and one aspect delved into by social psychology is the influence of others on our behaviour—a phenomenon termed conformity.

While the term conformity might be familiar, its precise meaning might elude many. In its simplest form, conformity denotes a shift in behaviour or mindset with the aim of “fitting in” with a group. In 1951, Solomon Asch designed a social experiment to investigate the extent to which group pressure could induce conformity in an individual.

A total of 50 undergraduate students participated in the experiment, having been pre-informed that they would undergo a vision test. Each participant entered a room with seven other individuals, where they were presented with 18 numbered cards. Their assigned task was to identify which numbered line matched the length of the line positioned furthest to the left.

Unbeknownst to the participants, the seven individuals in the room with them are actors assigned the task of consistently providing incorrect answers to 12 designated cards. The correct answer is invariably evident, as the genuine participant articulates their response last. In executing this seminal social experiment, it is established that instances of incorrect responses from the subjects can be attributed to the influence of group pressure.

The findings revealed that 75% of individuals concurred with the erroneous opinions, while only 25% refrained from displaying conformity at any point. To gauge the extent of group influence, Asch instituted a control group wherein each participant entered the room independently, undertaking the same task autonomously. In this scenario, a mere 1% of participants provided incorrect answers.

Post-experiment, a majority of participants asserted that they did not genuinely believe in the accuracy of the group’s responses. Instead, they opted to align with the group out of a fear of ridicule or being perceived as “peculiar.”

The pivotal question arising from this exploration is: What motivates participants to readily acquiesce?

The primary catalysts driving conformity can be distilled into two key factors:

  • A desire to fit in
  • The perception that the group possesses superior information

The experiment is repeated many times and the results are supported again and again each time. The conclusion is that group dynamics is one of the most powerful forces in human psychology, and we are social beings who subconsciously want to be liked and seek universal approval. We don’t want to be the ones who in one way or another cause discomfort in the environment and surroundings we are in, and that is exactly why we prefer to just join the group, even if we don’t believe what people say.