On Peer Pressure and Conformity

If you are unfamiliar with Solomon Asch’s experiment on conformity, allow me to shed some light; it has, after all, proved a major contributor to studies on the subject and its associated psychological processes. It remains both influential and relevant to this day. When you consider the issue of peer pressure today, for instance, a look at the experiment should give some pause for thought. Asch conducted his experiment in 1951 and it highlighted, in the eyes of many, an undeniable truth of modern society.

The purpose of Asch’s study was to examine how social pressure would weigh on one’s decision to conform, and the way he went about it was really quite simple; whilst 8 participants were present in the experiment, 7 of them were there simply to act as a decoy, to make the one real participant, the subject, feel that they were all in it together, that they were all being tested. Of course, the fake participants were all in agreement as to the answers they would give each time.

Each person in the room had to state out loud which line from such and such on the right suited the “target” line on the left. The people in the room were also strategically seated in order for the subject to be the person in the corner, and therefore the last one to respond. The answer was always obvious. However, quite a considerable number of subjects conformed.

Asch conducted 18 trials, 12 of which were to be the critical ones, in which the confederates gave wrong answers. In these 12 trials, an average of 32% of the subjects conformed and went along with the wrong answers of the confederates. Overall, over the 12 trials, 75% of the subjects conformed at least once, while only 25% of them never conformed.

‘How is this relevant to me?’ you may ask. Well, think back to instances where you were under pressure to follow the group’s decisions and agree with the majority’s opinions, either in school or away from its premises. Peer pressure and the desire to belong and be part of a group can lead to unwanted consequences when taken seriously. A large number of teens struggle each year because they are not popular with their classmates and because no matter what they do, they never fit in. Social media can exacerbate this problem either by portraying one’s life as the opposite of what it really is, as a fake reflection of the user’s real desires; or by allowing people to share opinions in a way that diminishes another’s ideas and thoughts. Freedom of speech is a great privilege, but it can also be a dangerous one in the hands of those too desperate to belong.

In my humble opinion, it’s never easy to be a rebel or to avoid the trends and currents of our society. However, if you truly think about it, where will you be if you conform and where could you be if you follow your gut and dare to stand out from the crowd?

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Pola is an avid reader and passionate about anything education related. She is an English teacher and has taught students from diverse backgrounds, both privately and in the classroom. Her studies in English Language and Literature and International and Comparative Education have provided her with the necessary skills and knowledge to further pursue matters related to education - and to write for OOL.

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