Solomon Asch . . . . became famous in the 1950s, following experiments which showed that social pressure can make a person say something that is obviously incorrect.
This experiment was conducted using 123 male participants. Each participant was put into a group with 5 to 7 “confederates” (People who knew the true aims of the experiment, but were introduced as participants to the naive “real” participant). The participants were shown a card with a line on it, followed by another card with 3 lines on it labeled a, b, and c. The participants were then asked to say which line matched the line on the first card in length. Each line question was called a “trial”. The “real” participant answered last or penultimately. For the first two trials, the subject would feel at ease in the experiment, as he and the other “participants” gave the obvious, correct answer. On the third trial, the confederates would start all giving the same wrong answer. There were 18 trials in total and the confederates answered incorrectly for 12 of them, these 12 were known as the “critical trials”. The aim was to see whether the real participant would change his answer and respond in the same way as the confederates, despite it being the wrong answer.
Solomon Asch thought that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong, but the results showed that participants conformed to the majority on 37% of the critical trials. However, 25% of the participants did not conform on any trial. 75% conformed at least once, and 5% conformed every time.
Kenworthey Bilz and Janice Nadler have posted their manuscript “Law, Psychology & Morality.” (forthcoming in Moral Cognition and Decision Making (D. Medin, L. Skitka, C. W. Bauman, & D. Bartels, eds., Academic Press, 2009)) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.
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In a democratic society, law is an important means to express, manipulate, and enforce moral codes. Demonstrating empirically that law can achieve moral goals is difficult. Nevertheless, public interest groups spend considerable energy and resources to change the law with the goal of changing not only morally-laden behaviors, but also morally-laden cognitions and emotions. Additionally, even when there is little reason to believe that a change in law will lead to changes in behavior or attitudes, groups see the law as a form of moral capital that they wish to own, to make a statement about society. Examples include gay sodomy laws, abortion laws, and Prohibition. In this Chapter, we explore the possible mechanisms by which law can influence attitudes and behavior. To this end, we consider informational and group influence of law on attitudes, as well as the effects of salience, coordination, and social meaning on behavior, and the behavioral backlash that can result from a mismatch between law and community attitudes. Finally, we describe two lines of psychological research – symbolic politics and group identity – that can help explain how people use the law, or the legal system, to effect expressive goals.