Asch Conformity Experiment Revisited
The ‘Asch experiment’ is a key plank of ACT realm lore. So goes the story, back in the 1950s, a researcher named Asch proved that although people will conform like sheep in the face of group consensus, a lone voice of reason can break the spell of groupthink. In other words, if one person in a group stands up for the truth, then others will begin to do so, too.
It is easy to see why this idea appeals to many in the ACT realm, especially those who like a good fix of hopium: Change is only one truth-teller away!
I once fell for the Asch experiment meme myself, back in my more conspiratarded days. I now see things for what they are. A recent video by a popular YouTube ACTor prompted me to finally produce a video on the topic, and in this piece I will go into further detail about the Asch experiments, my previous beliefs, and the reality of the situation facing those with eyes to see.
By the end of this article you will have a better understanding of:
Why the Asch experiment meme is a load of nonsense
Why the original Asch experiment itself is of questionable value
How the scientific process actually works
Why modern academia is a joke (and why this fact is seldom discussed)
How you can use this information to improve your own life
2) My Previous Belief
3) How I See Things Today
4) Science and Academia
5) The Scientific Process
6) The Utility of Studies
7) The Asch Experiment – Sources
8) The ‘Real’ Asch Experiment
9) What The Asch Experiment Actually Says
10) Even The Experts Admit It
11) An Eye-Opening Discovery
12) The tl;dr
Recently I published a YouTube video entitled ‘Is the Asch Conformity Experiment a HOAX?’
JLB18127 – Is the Asch Conformity Experiment a HOAX? (12-Dec-2018)
I had become motivated to finally produce some content on this topic by a YouTube video I had watched earlier in the day. That video, by a YouTuber named ‘Black Pilled’, is entitled ‘How You Can Crack the Conformity’.
I first became familiar with ‘Black Pilled’ (BP) during my research into the NPC Meme earlier this year. I haven’t seen enough of BP’s material to comment on his overall content quality, but from what I have seen, his production values are pretty slick for a YouTuber, especially one in the ACT realm. The voice-over sounds semi-scripted (possibly even fully-scripted) and yet still conversational, and the video is cleverly edited with filters/effects over generic/stock footage.
For what it’s worth, BP has a Patreon which (at time of writing) has about 230 patrons and is apparently generating around $1,000/month. His YouTube account was created in September 2016 and has already amassed well over 100,000 subscribers. Every video on his channel has thousands of views, even the oldest videos on the account.
Those familiar with YouTube will know that these are suspicious numbers, but that is another topic for another day.
Anyhow, the general thrust of BP’s ‘Conformity’ video is that a single dissenting voice can encourage other people to break out of their conformity, with the implication being that a few people standing up for and speaking the truth can lead to a mass awakening. The idea presented is straightforward; if written in standard form it might look something like this:
People today are afraid to publicly dissent against social orthodoxy (e.g. political correctness) due to the natural conformity of humans.
A psychologist named Solomon Asch proved decades ago that people will go along with the majority like sheep, and are easily swayed by peer pressure, but Asch also showed that as soon as a fellow dissenting voice is present, others in the group will begin to think/act for themselves, and they too will dissent against the majority.
A lone truth-speaker today can be the one to break the mold and encourage other people around them to think/act independently of the herd, and then awareness/truth can spread.
If that were BP’s argument, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with it. However, his video seems to go further than that, implying (or even overtly claiming) that some kind of societal change can or will be effected by the audience of the video, if they begin publicly dissenting against the prevailing belief system in their ‘real lives’.
In other words, BP’s position seems to be something along the lines of, ‘if we keep spreading the truth, people will begin to wake up, so spread the word’.
2) My Previous Belief
What BP appears to be proposing is very similar my own position circa 2014. Those who go back and listen to the early episodes of my first podcast, the Australian Roundtable Podcast (ARP), might notice that I myself used to refer to the Asch experiment as evidence ‘that the truth can spread’. This was very early in my ACT realm journey; I had been heavily influenced by a 2014 YouTube video which is/was very similar to BP’s more recent one.
In early 2014, I was inspired by the YouTuber known as ‘StormCloudsGathering’ (SCG), who released several videos similar to the one above. It was due to SCG’s recommendation that I read Edward Bernays’ Propaganda, a book I still promote myself (see the Recommended Reading list of this website).
My first exposure to SCG’s work was via his video ‘The Road to World War 3‘, which had been suggested to me by a friend of a friend one day. It had a profound effect on me at the time. Soon I found myself watching through SCG’s entire back catalogue, impressed by his references to academic psychology, and energised by the idea that a lone voice (or a few regular people working together) can make a real difference to society.
A few months later I began my own podcast, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I would subsequently learn that ‘War’ is in fact a Hoax, and the foundations on which I had built much of my own worldview up until that time were complete nonsense. SCG, one of the key figures who had inspired me to get into independent content creation, turned out to be a doom-pornographer, a fear merchant, a frown-clown. I can’t remember when I unsubbed from SCG but I do know that I stopped paying attention to him, and others of his ilk, a long time ago. I have no idea if SCG still believes we are about to enter ‘World War 3’ (or if indeed he ever really did believe it).
In any event, when I saw BP’s recent video, I was reminded of how I used to buy into this crap, and how I wanted to buy into this crap: if one man speaks out it can encourage more, this was proven by the Asch experiment, therefore we should all speak out and start the change! In the almost five years since SCG and others like him inspired me to get into ACT content creation myself, I have learned so much more about the creatures we call ‘humans’ and how this world really works.
Section summary: I used to believe in the Asch experiment meme (i.e. ‘science has proven that if one person speaks the truth, others will follow’). A recent video by an ACTor was the catalyst for me to finally produce some content on the topic, which forced me to do the research which I will share with you in this piece.
3) How I See Things Today
The long story short is that I was wrong and so are SCG, BP, and anybody else who still pushes the notion that the masses ever can, or ever will, think and act independently of the crowd. That is not what humans do. That is not how humans operate. That is not how the world works. There will be exceptions, of course. You’re reading the words of an exception right now, and this site is home to dozens of people who, for some reason, think (and in some instances act) quite independently from the masses around them.
However, I/we are the exceptions which prove the rule: outside of this website, there does not exist a single place — at least as far as I’m aware, and I’ve looked far and wide — where people can openly discuss the kinds of topics which we do, anonymously or with their ‘real name’, while being encouraged to (civilly) express genuine disagreement with host and guests alike.
The fact that somebody like myself is attacked and ganged up on even at places like Fakeologist is evidence of how herd-like the humans are, even on the fringe of the fringe. The natural state of the human is tribal, dogmatic, and defensive against those who challenge the orthodoxy of the group.
Any person who says anything which goes against the prevailing belief system of the group will be undermined, overtly and/or covertly, because the communal belief system is the immaterial bond between the humans involved, and they will defend it instinctively. In the presence of a crowd, whether that crowd is real or merely perceived, the human devolves to a level of behaviour no more civilised or intellectual than that of a chimpanzee.
This is how it is. This is the world we live in.
I have also come to learn how few people will ever take the time to look into the legitimacy of a supposed ‘scientific study’ for themselves. In fact, most people, even those who claim to value truth, will never seriously look into anything for themselves, often under the pretense that they are ‘too busy’ to do so.
The reality is that the ‘education system’ does not equip people with the scholarly skills or mental disposition to even seek out the original/source information, much less scrutinise and assess it independently for themselves. School is little more than an Epsilon factory, and it serves its actual purpose very, very well.
This is why some dude from Brisbane was the first person in the ACT realm to crack the Cavendish Experiment, to expose the 100th Monkey Myth and also the Monkey Ladder Banana experiment, and apparently the first person in the world to visit a holotype specimen dinosaur exhibit after having read the ‘scientific papers’ based on those specimens.
None of this would make sense if we lived in a world in which the masses were trained and encouraged to check the ‘science’ for themselves. It all makes perfect sense once you understand and appreciate the reality of this realm in which we live. Humans are not what we have been led to believe; humans are not what most of us, quite understandably, desperately want to believe.
Anyhow, for a long time I have been meaning to do my own thorough investigation of several other ‘scientific studies’ which I used to believe were legitimate, and in some cases, had even used as the basis for my own beliefs about related topics in the past. At the top of this list sat the Asch experiments, and BP’s recent video was the catalyst for me to finally do some serious digging.
Of course, one of the difficult tasks involved in this kind of research is tracking down the source material. Often the scientific papers sit behind paywalls, and to make things more complicated, the available material rarely provides comprehensive referencing. It can take three, four, even five or more steps, tracing through the papers/articles to find the original study in question.
In my recent Asch experiment video, I referred to an article written by Asch and published in Scientific American entitled ‘Opinions and Social Pressure‘. In my cursory research prior to creating the video, this was the closest thing I could find to an actual scientific study by Asch. Subsequently I have spent more time researching, and have found two separate Asch papers which are far more ‘scientific’ than the Scientific American article.
Section summary: Humans are not the intelligent creatures we have been led (and often want) to believe they are. I have learned this in the years since I first bought into the Asch experiment meme. There is no ‘mass awakening’ on the horizon because that would require the masses to be something they are simply not.
4) Science and Academia
A large percentage of the Membership of this website are educated professionals with college degrees. Most of these individuals will be well-versed in concepts related to the ‘scientific process’: ‘peer review’, ‘journal’, ‘publish or perish’, ‘replication crisis’, etc. Much of what is to follow in the next section will not be news to you.
However, the education system, at least in my country, does not equip high school graduates with a comprehensive understanding of how ‘science’ and academia actually work (in theory or in practise). I contend that this is deliberate: the majority of the masses (who do not attend university/college) will float through life blind to the nonsense that is academia/’science’, and the minority of people who do attend college/university (and thus learn about the system) will be encumbered by a financial/psychological incentive to believe in the system despite its obvious failings.
In the case of the ignorant masses, this means that appeals to authority (e.g. ‘scientists have discovered…’) can be very effective: the lemmings don’t understand how ridiculous modern academia really is, and often imagine ‘science’ to be some kind of virtuous, authentic pursuit of ‘truth’, carried out by noble men and women who dedicate their lives to improving our knowledge of the world.
On the flipside, those who do attend college have a financial/psychological incentive to believe in ‘science’: after all, if you had invested years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars into acquiring an academic certification, wouldn’t you prefer to believe that academia is legitimate? The other option is to accept that your piece of paper, which took years of your life and thousands of dollars to acquire, is effectively meaningless. If you end up working in academia (which is, believe it or not, the primary goal of many undergraduates, especially in the field of social science) then your entire paycheck depends on the academic industry, giving you even more reason to believe.
In other words, those who do not spend time in academia generally do not understand how it works, and those who do spend time in academia generally want to believe that the whole system is legitimate. Therefore it makes sense that people like myself are a relatively rare breed: we have acquired university degrees, and know how the ‘scientific process’ works, and what the academic industry is really all about, yet have no financial/psychological dependency on the system, and thus are both willing and able to openly ridicule it.
Academia could collapse tomorrow and it would not bother me in the slightest. I know full well that much of what I learned at uni is complete crap, especially the parts about ‘ancient history’. I don’t consider myself smarter or better than people who did not attend university simply by virtue of my degree. Of course, academia will not collapse any time soon, it is a key pillar of the overarching social structure of our time. But the point is, I understand what ‘science’ and academia are really all about, and I’m more than happy to share a frank assessment.
Section summary: Generally speaking, those who do not attend college/university will not understand how the system works, whereas those who do attend college/university have a financial/psychological reason to maintain belief in the system even though they may have witnessed the failings with their own eyes. In contrast, I know the system very well, and am more than happy to explain why it is a gigantic joke.
5) The Scientific Process
A scientific paper is typically written in a standard format, with an introduction, hypothesis, method, results, discussion, and conclusion. The basic idea of a scientific paper is that it will be presented as a replicatable attempt at learning something about the nature of the world. A scientific paper is therefore meant to convey the findings of the scientific study on which it is based.
The usual format is straightforward and will look something like this:
Introduction (‘here is what we are investigating an why’)
Review of Literature (‘here is what other researchers have found’)
Hypothesis (‘here is what we think will happen’)
Method (‘here is how we will test our hypothesis’)
Results (‘here is what happened’)
Discussion (‘here is what the results mean’)
Conclusion (‘here is what we make of the results and the investigation in general’)
A more detailed explanation of the scientific paper concept can be found here.
Terms such as ‘study’, ‘experiment’, ‘paper’, and ‘article’, are often used interchangeably, and they are all related. Basically, the idea is that a researcher (or group of researchers) will conduct a study, which may involve some experiments, and they will document the findings of their study in a paper, which be published as an article in a journal (or some other publication).
A ‘scientific journal’ is a periodical publication which will usually feature several papers/articles in each edition, from researchers across the world who specialise in the same field (e.g. psychology). For example, an edition of the American Journal of Psychology may feature an article from a group of researchers in London talking about some experiment on children with learning difficulties, followed by an article by a group of researchers in Auckland talking about the effectiveness of some new depression treatment, and so on and so forth.
In theory, a researcher (or group of researchers) will submit their paper to a journal, and the administrators of the journal will send the paper to one or more ‘peers’ to review the paper, and once the paper has been deemed worthy of publication, it will then be published in the journal. The researcher/group must pay a fee for the privilege of having their paper reviewed/published (and this fee is typically covered by the institution i.e. college of the researcher/group).
In academia, this is a key component of how performance is evaluated: institutions want their academics getting published as often as possible, and the more prestigious the journal, the better. The more often an institution’s academics are published in the top-ranking journals, the higher the institution will be ranked in various college rankings, and the more desirable the institution will be to prospective students, and hence the more they can charge students to attend.
This has led to the peer-review process becoming a gigantic scam in and of itself. Think about it logically:
If you are an academic, one of the key metrics by which your performance is measured by your employer (i.e. the university) is how often you get your articles published in journals.
If you are a journal, your job involves taking money from people who want to get their articles published.
Sure, the journal is also supposed to take care of the ‘peer review process’, and ensure that each paper is peer-reviewed before publication, but is this really necessary? Not if your primary concern is simply to make money, and in every professional field, that is exactly what your primary concern truly lay: making money.
Why should ‘science’ be any different? Money makes the world go round.
And this is why academia is facing what is now referred to as the ‘reproducibility crisis’. Long story short, when researchers actually try to replicate the studies of others, they usually fail. It turns out that the studies cannot actually be replicated. Or, more accurately, when people try to replicate a study, they get very different findings to what is presented by the researchers of the original article.
This leads to the obvious inference that the original studies are in fact bullshit — which undermines the whole idea of the ‘scientific process’ in the first place.
This is an open secret in academia. Everybody knows. Even people outside of academia are aware: plenty of mainstream outlets have covered the ‘reproducibility crisis’. For example, the following is from a 2017 article in Forbes:
The “reproducibility crisis” is the name given to the situation that a large percentage, somewhere between 65% and 90%, of the academic literature is not reproducible. What this means is that if you take the methods of a given paper, and perform those methods in your own lab, between 65% and 90% of the time you won’t get the same findings.
In 2015 a group of psychology researchers attempted to replicate 100 psychological studies published in three high-ranking psychology journals. They determined that 39 of the 100 studies could be replicated with similar results to the original. 39 out of 100. As the researchers of that 2015 study put it:
Reproducibility is not well understood because the incentives for individual scientists prioritize novelty over replication.
In other words, why bother producing real studies, with with real findings, which can actually be replicated, when there is more money to be gained by simply making shit up and getting it published? Especially when, until relatively recently, nobody in academia was apparently bothering to check each others studies. The whole thing is a joke.
Whenever you hear somebody mention a ‘scientific study’, remember:
Academics themselves are fully aware that most studies cannot be replicated
Because the reported findings of most studies are in fact make-believe
Because ‘science’ and academia is, like all industries, about making money
And there is more money to be made in making up stories than in presenting real research
Because humans love stories
And almost nobody is double-checking anything anyway
Section Summary: The scientific process is straight-forward and makes sense, but few ‘scientists’/academics bother to follow it, because they do not need to. In fact, their jobs basically depend on making things up and submitting fanciful stories to journals in order to get published. This is an open secret in academia: everybody knows, nobody cares, because almost nobody is double-checking anything anyway. The whole thing is a gigantic joke.
6) The Utility of Studies
The previous section established that most scientific studies are in fact make-believe. The findings are, at best, exaggerated, and more often, somply made up. The ‘peers’ doing the ‘reviews’ do not exist. The entire system is one gigantic charade, and this is all an open secret in academia.
However, this does not mean that all scientific studies are make-believe. It merely means that many of them, perhaps even most of them, are make-believe. Therefore, any time somebody makes an appeal to a ‘scientific study’, if they have no corroborating evidence to support the alleged findings of an alleged study, then study itself ought to carry no weight in an intelligent person’s decision-making process (or belief system).
For example, if you read about a scientific study which supposedly found that people who like to run for recreation die younger than people who do not, would you believe it? Would it change your own behaviour?
What if, in your own experience in real life, you had noticed that people who liked to run seemed to live longer than other people? What if you had noticed a positive correlation between running and health, and you had also noticed a positive correlation between health and longevity? Would a scientific study claiming to have found the opposite of what you have found, cause you to change your mind or your behaviour?
In my cause, such a study would case me to reconsider my existing beliefs. What do I currently believe, and why do I believe it? What is my evidence and what is my logic? It would cause me to revisit the memories in my head of people I have known who are recreational runners: did any of them die young? Are any of them alive past the usual age of death? It would cause me to reconsider my logic: up until this point in time, I have always associated running with health; however, I would be open to the idea that running might somehow have deleterious long-term effects (e.g. stress on the heart, or more time spent outside where people could get hit by cars, etc).
In other words, when I read about an interesting or relevant scientific study, I generally do not simply accept or reject its findings. Instead I prefer to use it as the basis for reevaluating what I already believe. If I realise that my own evidence base might be limited (i.e. I just don’t know that many runners), or that my logic may need improvement (I have made associations which are not sound), then I set about remedying the situation. I try to find more information and more opinions on the matter to consider.
Oftentimes these studies, when tracked down and studied, provide useful ideas or explanations of claims. For example, the hypothetical ‘running causes earlier death’ study might point out that runners do actually live longer than non-runners, when you discount the people who die in hospital due to medical accidents after going in for treatment on worn knees. In other words, runners do ‘die younger’, but so much due to running, but due to wearing out their joints, leading to hospital visits in which doctors/nurses kills them due to incompetence.
The point here is that although ‘peer reviewed science’ is a joke, and many studies are make-believe, this does not mean that all studies are useless. Quite the contrary, scientific studies can still be terrific tools for the would-be deprogrammer, because they can act as a catalyst for reevaluation of the lines of code floating around in our minds. Rather than viewing them as binary true/false propositions, if you instead treat scientific studies as merely one more tool in your deprogramming toolbox, they can remain a useful element of your interaction with the world.
And, of course, if you ever want to convince an NPC to accept your proposition, you can simply cite a ‘scientific study’ which supports your claim. Appeals to scientific studies are very effective for convincing lemmings, if that is your goal. For example, if you are trying to advertise your service or product, then you might consider making an appeal to an alleged ‘scientific study’ which supposedly shows that your product/service makes people happier/smarter. You might be surprised by just how effective this is. And don’t worry, the lemmings will rarely try to trace down the study for themselves to check its methodology. After all, they are ‘too busy’.
Section Summary: Even though most studies are make-believe, they can still be useful tools for the budding deprogrammer, because they can help us to reflect on what we think we already know.
7) The ‘Asch Experiment’ – Sources
The Asch article in the Scientific American is not really a ‘scientific paper’, but more of an overview of an experiment which Asch claimed to have conducted previously. In the bibliography section of the piece, Asch cited only one actual study/paper, published in 1951. I managed to track down a pdf copy of that study:
‘Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgement’ in H Guetzkow (ed) Groups, leadership and men pp. 177-190 (1951) [pdf of 1952 reprint]
‘Groups, leadership and men’ is apparently a 1951 book, edited like something of a long-form scientific journal, but published in only one edition. Asch’s 1951 study was included as a chapter in that book.
So in attempting to look into the Asch experiment for myself, my results look like this:
Google ‘Asch experiment pdf’
-> 1955 Asch article in Scientific American
-> Find reference to 1951 study
-> Google ‘Asch experiment 1951 pdf’
-> Find 1951 Asch study in Groups, leadership and men
1955 Asch article in Scientific American [pdf]
-> The one I referred to in my recent YouTube video
-> Not really a scientific article because it does not follow the standard structure of one
-> More of a summary/overview, presented for the audience of Scientific American i.e. pop science
-> Cites only one actual study in its bibliography (see below)
1951 Asch study in Groups, leadership and men [pdf]
-> 15-page report of the actual study
What stood out to me upon reading through the 1951 study is that it appeared to refer to a different experiment to the one which Asch was discussing in his 1955 Scientific American article. For example, the 1955 article refers to a sample size of 123 subjects (the ‘subjects’ being the people who were fooled into thinking they were merely taking part in a simple vision test), whereas the 1951 study refers to a ‘critical group’ of 50 subjects.
In other words, the 1955 pop science article, and the 1951 study on which it is ostensibly based, provide significantly different sample sizes (127 vs 50), which led me to infer that they must be separate from one another. Therefore I continued my search.
Section Summary: In my recent YouTube video I referred to an article by Asch which was featured in Scientific American. That article was not intended to be ‘scientific’, but it was ostensibly based on an actual scientific study. When I tried to trace that study down (by following the bibliography in the article), I found what appeared to me to be a completely different study than the one being discussed in the Scientific American article.
8) The ‘Real’ Asch Experiment
Fortunately I continued my search and found a 1956 study by Asch:
1956 – ‘Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against unanimous majority’ in Psychological monographs: General and applied, 70(9), 1-70. [pdf]
This one seems to be based on the experiments discussed by Asch in his Scientific American article: same sample size, same group size, etc. In other words, even though the 1955 Scientific American article listed the 1951 study in the bibliography, it was this 1956 study to which he was referring. From this I infer that the chronology of proceedings was as follows:
1951: Asch conducts his original experiment
1955: Asch conducts a new version of his experiment
1955: Asch writes an article about the latest experiment for the Scientific American
1956: Asch’s article about the latest experiment is published by Psychological monographs
It can take time for a study to be published in a journal, because it has to go through the ‘peer review process’^, so the above chronology makes sense. The problem is that by including the original 1951 study in the bibliography of the Scientific American article, it can lead the earnest researcher on something of a wild goose chase.
^Obviously, the ‘peer review process’ is largely a joke, as is most of academia. It seems that many (most?) academic journals are little more than cash-for-publish businesses, and the ‘peers’ doing the ‘reviews’ are entirely make-believe. However, regardless of the value or ‘truth’ involved in any particular academic discipline, journal, or study, the ‘peer review process’ does exist, in the sense that it does take time for academics to get their articles published in journals.
Anyhow, the 1956 study (dated by convention to the year it was published rather than the year it was apparently conducted) is far more comprehensive and scientific than the 1951 study. For one example, it includes a detailed explanation of how the subject sample was selected. In any truly scientific study, the sample selection is of paramount importance: who are the test subjects, and are they representative of the population? The 1951 study does not give an explanation of its subject selection. The 1956 study does: “white, male students aged 17-25, from three separate institutions” (none of which Asch was willing to name).
Asch states on page 5:
“…the degree of acquaintances with the majority was uncontrolled; it varied markedly from institution to institution, and also from person to person. In the first group the members of the majority were often acquaintances, and at times, friends of the critical subjects.”
In other words, the unsuspecting guy in each test who thought the whole thing was real (the ‘critical subject’) often knew and was even friends with the ‘confederates’ (the people pretending to get the wrong answer during the tests).
Now just imagine that for a moment. You are sitting in a room with a bunch of your college friends, and they all claim to see Line A and Line B as identical (even though they are clearly different lengths) because they were told to do so by an experimenter before you entered the room. Consistently they claim in unison to see something different to what you see.
Perhaps you go along with them, perhaps you go against them when you think they are wrong. Either way, once the experiment is over, you find out that they were all conspiring against you in a psychological experiment. Your own friends, conspiring together to fool you, all putting on a convincing performance.
Somehow I don’t think such an experiment would pass an ethics committee, which leads me to wonder about how Asch’s original experiment(s) could possibly be replicated today.
In any event, the 1956 study ought to be the primary source for any discussion about the Asch experiments. At a length of about 70 pages it is a lot to read, but will be worth the time of those seriously interested in the ‘Asch experiments’.
Section Summary: I spent time tracking down the original ‘Asch experiment’ and the 1956 article published in Psychological monographs is, for the purpose of this research, the primary source. It is more scientific than the 1951 study because, for one thing, it actually explains how the subjects were selected.
9) What The Asch Experiment Actually Says
The most important things I took away from the 1956 study are:
A) There was no ‘lone voice of reason’
-> All tests involved the confederates acting in unison.
-> The ‘lone voice of reason’ modification is from the 1951 study i.e. the unscientific one.
-> By ‘unscientific’ I am referring to that fact that the 1951 study provides no explanation of subject sampling, little explanation of method, a small sample size (50), etc.
B) The actors were unnatural
-> “The majority was instructed… not to look directly at (the subject) and to refrain from feigning surprise at his answers.” (pp 3-4)
-> In other words, the situation was completely unrealistic. Imagine a person giving answers which contradict the entire group, and yet nobody from the group even looking at him, let alone seeming surprised at him, or arguing with him about his responses. It is absurd.
C) The yielders were generally not fooled
-> “The shift from public to silent judgements markedly lowered the frequency of errors” and reduced overall error rate by about two thirds. (p 56)
-> In other words, even among those who yielded (gave incorrect answers in order to fit in with the group), most weren’t seriously doubting themselves, they were simply not willing to rock the boat in a public fashion.
D) The yielders knew they were being influenced
“A very few yielding subjects appeared unaware of the effect of the majority upon them.” (p 70)
-> The notion that the subjects were blindly following the group is not supported by this study. They were aware of what they were doing and how they were being influenced.
These are just the most interesting things I got from reading through the study. There are heaps of interesting tidbits in there, especially some of the responses given in the post-experiment interviews. When you get the time, I highly recommend reading through it for yourself — so long as you read it through the lens of, ‘this is a scientific study, it could all be make-believe’.
Section Summary: The actual Asch experiment is nothing like what ACTors try to portray it as: there was no lone voice of reason, the setting was completely unnatural, and the yielders were not fooled.
10) Experts Know The Asch Experiment is Misconstrued
If you take the time to dig into the scientific literature concerning the Asch experiments, you will find that there are several instances of academics who themselves debunk the Asch experiment meme. That is, papers have been written by university researchers who point out that the Asch experiment did not prove what many people claim that it proved. Specifically, these researchers have pointed out that psychology textbooks overplay the alleged conformity of the subjects, and downplay the level of dissent.
In one case, a group of academics from New York decided to investigate multiple psychology textbooks, from the 1950 through to 1984, to see how the Asch experiments were being portrayed across time. Here is what they wrote:
The evidence for this analysis consists of 99 accounts in social psychology textbooks published between 1953, following the appearance of [the Asch] study, and 1984. We asked whether these accounts were accurate, or whether, as we suspected, they minimized the role of independence and exaggerated that of conformity. We found that authors have often distorted Asch’s findings, and that this trend has increased substantially with time: they have increasingly accentuated the role of conformity and underestimated that of independence.
A professor from the University of Florida decided to try the same thing, but instead focus on recently-published psychology textbooks. Here’s what happened:
[The] new assessment of 20 such books published or re-issued in the last few years finds the conformity narrative dominates stronger than ever – just one book reported the larger percentage of participant responses that defied majority opinion, compared with 14 of them that reported the smaller percentage of responses that were swayed by the crowd…
Comparing the results from this new contemporary analysis with the analysis of textbook coverage from the 50s to the 80s, shows an increasingly biased portrayal of the Asch studies. The mischaracterisation of Asch’s work as demonstrative of people’s readiness to conform has not waned, it has become more entrenched.
It is important to note that these researchers are taking issue with how the Asch experiment is reported in textbooks, rather than the Asch experiment itself. Remember that in the original Asch experiments, even if taken on face value, five times as many subjects consistently defied the group (25%) as consistently yielded to the group (5%). They show that psychology textbooks tend to overplay the supposed power of conformity in the experiment, and underplay the independence.
Section Summary: Academics themselves have shown that psychology textbooks misconstrue the Asch experiments, and that this problem has gotten progressively worse over time.
11) An Eye-Opening Discovery
While doing my research for this piece, I stumbled upon a 2010 Asch experiment replication conducted by researchers in Japan. The findings of this study are, in my opinion, far more profound than the purported findings of the original Asch experiment. In a moment I will explain why this is my opinion, but first, here is a link to the study:
‘No need to fake it: replication of the Asch experiment without confederates’ International Journal of Psychology, October 2010. [here]
The pdf is only twelve pages long so you have time to check it out for yourself right now. Chances are, you will have more fun reading through it and connecting the dots in your own mind, than if I simply tell you what stands out to me about this study.
The basics of the Japanese study are as follows: In order to avoid the problems associated with the use of confederates (people who are in on the ruse and have to act as though they are regular people who see the ‘wrong’ line), the researchers used a technique involving polarized glasses and images to display different lines to different members of the same test at the same time.
In groups of four people per test, three of the subjects would be given identical glasses (and therefore see the same line and thus give the same answer), while one person would be given a different set of glasses which would lead them to literally see a different line than the other three people, and thus be the odd one out. You can read more about this polarized glasses technique here.
None of the test subjects in each group of four knew that the glasses were polarized, or that one of them had a dodgy set of glasses. All four subjects were therefore unaware that one of them was literally seeing different lines. As far as they knew, everybody was seeing the same thing. Effectively, that one person with the dodgy glasses in each group would be the real target of each test, even though none of the four individuals involved in each test was ‘in on it’.
This method meant that in each test, the group consensus would be real, because the three people claiming to see one line were truly seeing that line — as opposed to the original experiment in which the group consensus was fake, because everybody in the room except for the test subject was an actor, pretending to see the wrong line.
This way, there could be no bias from the actors, because there were no actors. There was just four people in a room giving their answers as to which line they saw, and in each instance, one person was seeing the ‘wrong’ line. Would the ‘wrong’ individual openly state that they were seeing something different to the other three people in the room? Or would they yield to the power of the group and literally deny their own eyes?
In the next section I will tell you the main things I noticed when reading through the 12-page study, but I encourage you to read the study for yourself before proceeding. It truly is more fun this way 🙂 Once again, here is a link to the Japanese study in question: link.
Section Summary: A group of researchers in Japan replicated the Asch experiment concept with an ingenious new method (polarised glasses), which circumvented the obvious problems of the original Asch experiment. This way, nobody in the test group was an actor, and the group consensus was real.
12) The tl;dr
The two main things I noticed about the Japanese study are as follows:
i) It doesn’t matter if the majority is not unanimous
See page 8. Sometimes the ‘majority’ made actual errors: that is, some one of the three people with identical glasses would make an honest mistake and report seeing the wrong line. This would mean that the majority would only be a majority of two people (rather than a unanimous consensus), and yet even in these instances, the error rate of the test subject (the person with the dodgy glasses) remained the same, at ~18%.
In other words, it didn’t matter if the test subject was outnumbered three to one, or if there was another ‘dissenting voice’ in the group: the test subject would make an incorrect call at the same rate. This blows the entire point of the Asch experiment, as presented by ACT realm content creators, including my former self, out of the water!
Remember that the entire point of citing the Asch experiments, for people like Black Pilled, and for people like my former self, is to provide evidence for the claim that a lone voice of dissent can be enough to cause other people to break out of group conformity. The Japanese researchers found that this was simply not the case: even when the group majority was broken by accident, the person with the dodgy glasses still yielded to the majority just as often as when all three people in the majority agreed with one another.
The lone voice of dissent did nothing!
Let me rephrase the above because it is crucial to the overall thrust of this piece. In the original Asch experiment, so goes the ACT version of the story, if even just one of the confederates (actors) was told to give the correct answer, then the test subject (the guy not in on the ruse) would be more likely to give his honest answer, because he would see somebody else’s dissent against the group consensus as a green light to dissent against the group as well.
In the Japanese recreation, sometimes a member of the majority group would accidentally give the ‘wrong’ answer, breaking the group consensus in the process. These people were effectively — although completely unintentionally — playing the role the ‘lone voice of dissent’. Did this lead the test subject (the person with the dodgy glasses i.e. the person seeing the ‘wrong’ line) to dissent against the group consensus themselves? No! They still yielded to the group just as often.
If we apply this finding to the general population, the way that the ACT realm promoters of the Asch experiments imply that we should, then the takeaway is obvious: it doesn’t matter if you (or any other lone person) goes against the crowd and speaks the truth, because the lemmings will still go with consensus just as often as they would if you kept your mouth shut. The lone voice of dissent makes no difference to the group!
ii) Women conformed, men did not
The authors of the study put it plainly:
“The response-order analysis revealed clear sex differences… [the women] who wore the different type of polarizing sunglasses made errors three times more often… The results clearly showed that the minority women erred more because they conformed to the majority…”
“…our study also produced two different results: there was no conformity among minority men… Why women conformed more than men is an interesting research question.”
The table on page 7 is illuminating:
Of ten men given the dodgy glasses, seven gave the correct answer (and thus went against the majority) every single time. That is, seven of the ten made no errors, even though this meant they were in the minority of the group for each test. Of sixteen women given dodgy glasses, only three gave the correct answer every time, and five gave the incorrect answer five time or more!
Obviously these are very small sample sizes: just ten men and sixteen women. And the subjects are all from one place: a single university in Japan. This is hardly ‘representative’ of the general population, especially the general population of places like Australia or the US or Europe. The authors of the study mention this in the Discussion section of their paper, and suggest some cultural norms which may be at play to explain why the women and men showed such different results.
Is this one study with a sample size of 26 Japanese university students ‘proof’ that women conform more than men? Of course not. However, it is the only study of its kind which I could find when looking into the Asch experiments. The polarised glasses concept is a very clever improvement on the original study method. It eliminates the problems associated with actors playing the role of confederates, and allows a more ‘pure’ (for want of a better term) analysis of the power of peer pressure.
So where are the recreations? That is supposed to be the entire point of ‘peer-reviewed science’: studies are meant to be conducted and recorded in such a way as to allow other people to try the same experiment, to see if they get the same results. The Japanese researchers involved in this 2010 study devised an ingenious method for recreating the Asch experiment, so why aren’t we seeing it replicated in social science and psychology departments around the world?
I searched for a recreation of the Japanese study. The only thing I found was another study by the same principal author, Kazuo Mori, who in 2011 tested Japanese children instead of Japanese university students. That is, the same guy who performed the 2010 Japanese study on university students, then carried out a similar study in 2011 with school students. You can see the 2011 study here.
The 2011 study involved 96 children and found that the boys and girls conformed to the group at about the same rate as one another. Interestingly, the rate of conformity for boys and girls in the 2011 study was about the same as the rate of conformity for women in the 2010 study. This led Mori to suggest that children of both sexes are swayed by group consensus, but boys basically ‘grow out of it’ as they get older and stop conforming by the time they are adults, whereas girls do not grow out of it, instead remaining prone to conformity throughout their life.
In Section 6 of this piece I explained what I consider to be the utility of scientific studies: they can help us to reconsider what we think we already know. Mori’s studies have found that children and women tend to conform, grown men tend not to conform. This got me thinking about my own experiences in life, and what I have observed with my own eyes. In future work I will go into more detail about this.
For now, I would suggest that you might benefit from reflecting on this notion: is it possible that women are more likely to conform than men? Is there abundant evidence staring us in the face that this is the case? If the evidence, when fully considered, did indeed point in this direction, would we be able and willing to accept this fact of reality? And then, how might we incorporate this understanding into a more effective and meaningful interaction with the world around us?
Section Summary: The main things I noticed about the Japanese recreation of the Asch study are: (1) it completely dispels the ‘lone dissenter helps others dissent’ notion, and (2) the researcher found that children and women tend to conform, men tend not to. Also noteworthy is that nobody seems to be trying to recreate the Japanese version of study. Why not?
Coming soon. Somehow this piece got to 8,000 words. It took two weeks longer than I planned. I promised myself I would publish it tonight before going to bed. Well the Sections are all finished. I will come back and finish the Conclusion and Credits tomorrow. What a wild ride. The god-damned ACT realm. What have you done to me? What have I done to myself? What A Time To Be Alive. A-hee-hee, wooh, shamone-ah.