Asch’s 1951 experiment: How our opinions are influenced by the people around us

In 1951, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted his famous psychological study known as the Asch Experiment. The study was designed to investigate group conformity and showed conclusively how easily our own opinions can be suppressed under the influence of majority opinion.

Asch's 1951 experiment: How our opinions are influenced by the people around us
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Description of the experiment

Asch used a group of fifty student volunteers who had been invited ostensibly for an eye test. Each volunteer was placed in a group of seven actors who were actually participants in the experiment. During the experiment, the participants were shown cards depicting vertical lines.

First they were shown a card with one line and then another card with three lines. The young people were then asked to determine which of these lines matched the size of the line on the first card. The answer was always obvious. The subject’s opinion was asked last. The procedure was repeated 18 times, and on 12 of these occasions the dummy participants gave the wrong answer.

Experimental results

At the beginning of the experiment, the fake actors deliberately called out the correct options, and the subjects gave the correct answers without difficulty. However, the actors then unanimously started to choose the deliberately wrong option. As a result, 75% of the students agreed with the majority’s incorrect opinion at least once, ignoring the obvious visual differences between the lines, while 25% of the participants never agreed.

Interestingly, when there were two people in the group, or when the members of the framed group began to disagree, the likelihood of making a mistake was reduced by a factor of four. This suggests that having a supporter, or at least one supporter, can significantly affect an individual’s ability to resist group influence.

Conclusions and implications of the experiment

Asch’s experiment confirms that people often show conformity and dependence on the opinion of the group they are in. Even when the group’s opinion contradicts our beliefs and common sense, we can feel extremely uncomfortable disagreeing with the majority.

The desire to fit in and the risk of being judged by others can suppress our inner voice and prevent us from asserting our own position. This phenomenon is particularly relevant in the context of social media and mass communication on the internet, where group opinions can have a significant impact on the individual.

Understanding the effects of conformity can help us to be more informed and critical in our decision-making. It also highlights the importance of developing critical thinking and the ability to construct one’s own position based on facts and common sense, regardless of group opinion.

Prepared by Mary Clair

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