Solomon Asch

  • Polish-American Gestalt psychologist (1907-1996)
  • Best-known for work on conformity

Conformity Experiments
Asch conformity experiment. Source:

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:
1 of 20 major texts reporting that most participant-responses defied majority opinion. No text mentioned that 95% of subjects defied the majority at least once. Nineteen of the 20 books made no mention of Asch’s interview data in which many participants said they were certain all along that the actors were wrong. This portrayal of the Asch studies was suggested to fit with social psychology narratives of situationism, obedience and conformity, to the neglect of recognition of disobedience of immoral commands (e.g., disobedience shown by participants in Milgram Studies), desire for fair treatment (e.g., resistance to tyranny shown by many participants in the Stanford prison studies) and self-determination.
  • 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:

He saw his grandmother pour an extra glass of wine and asked whom it was for. For the prophet Elijah, an uncle told him. “Will he really take a sip?” the boy asked. “Oh, yes,” the uncle replied. “You just watch when the time comes.” Filled with the sense of suggestion and expectation, the boy thought he saw the level of wine in the cup drop just a bit.


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.


Impression Formation

  • 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

Prestige Suggestion

  • Asch argued that readers interpret a quote based on the author

Lorge Critique


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:

  1. Accountancy
  2. Business
  3. Dentistry
  4. Engineering
  5. Journalism
  6. Law
  7. Medicine
  8. Music
  9. Politics
  10. Teaching
  • 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.”

Sherif Critique

  • 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