- Polish-American Gestalt psychologist (1907-1996)
- Best-known for work on conformity
Perhaps his best-known experiment was the Asch conformity experiment.
- One “real” participant and other “confederates” (sometimes called stooges) were asked to choose which of 3 lines was the same length as a reference line.
- Confederates gave the wrong answer, and Asch found that majority of the time the real participant conformed to the wrong answer, at least part of the time.
- The experiment is often misrepresented in psychology textbooks, according to a 2015 survey by Richard Griggs:
- Most famously conducted at Swathmore College, but took place in at a variety of colleges
Origin from Childhood
Asch was inspired for his conformity experiment from his childhood, according to the New York Times:
After the initial experiment, Asch conducted a series of variations that involved varying the following variables:
- “Ununanimous” majorities.
- Withdrawal of a “true partner.”
- Late arrival of a “true partner.”
- “Compromise partner” (who answered with majority sometimes, correctly sometimes).
- Majority size.
- Asch was interested in how people form impressions of other people
Warm vs. Cold
- In one experiment, two groups of people were given the exact same list of traits about a person except one, cold vs. warm
- Group A: intelligent-skillful-industrious-warm-determined-practical-cautious
- Group B: intelligent-skillful-industrious-cold-determined-practical-cautious
- Group A tended to have more positive opinions than Group B
- Other words did not have this effect, so “cold” and “warm” are considered central characteristics and not peripheral characteristics
- Asch argued that readers interpret a quote based on the author
Outside of the wikipedia page on Asch, I could not find many references for the Lorge critique online, so if you see this in a quizbowl question, this may be a sign of bad writing. (Or perhaps the Wikipedia page cited the wrong paper.) The Wikipedia page on this topic cites the following paper, but the there is no mention of Jefferson or Lenin. Interesting, the paper asked participants to rank 10 professions based on intelligence; and later, the rankings of Hitler and Roosevelt were provided. The 10 professions are:
- Irving Lorge’s subjects rated a set of 50 quotations on a 5-point scale of “agreement” or “disagreement” with the statement.
- Quotes were followed by the names of two public people.
- Lorge’s main conclusions was that “an unchanged object of judgment undergoes a change of evaluation.”
- The prestige of the author was viewed as acting arbitrarily on the statement regardless of the content or merit of the statement.
- Asch reinterpreted Lorge’s findings and suggested that there was “a change in the object of judgment, rather than in the judgment of the object.”
Muzafer Sherif (article on him coming soon!) conducted an experiment, very similar to Lorge, in which he investigated how prestige affects the evaluation of literary materials
College students were asked to rank a set of prose passages according to their literary quality
Each passage also included the name of a well-known author
- However, all of the passages were actually written by the same author
- Participants rated the authors earlier in terms of their literary standing
- Sherif found that passages which were identified with highly acclaimed authors received higher rankings.
Asch suggested that Sherif’s results could be largely influenced from the environment of a laboratory experiment
- Because the experiment was designed to have each of the passages have very few differences between them, participants were faced with a dilemma when asked to distinguish between them
- The experimenter and other neighboring participants may appear to find the task obvious, so the participant attends to any clues that might help him make the decision
- In fear of looking ridiculous, the participant might now approach the task as, “Which of these am I expected to like and dislike?”
- With the only information that varies being the author, the participant might make conclusions about the quotes based on this one piece of information that varies.
- Asch was Stanley Milgram’s advisor at Princeton University
- Asch proposed with Sheldon Ebenholtz the idea that associations in the mind are formed symmetrically
- Order of things listed in free recall doesn’t correlate with the order they were learned