Many experts consider Solomon Elliot Asch to be one of the pioneers in social psychology. In this article we want to talk about his life and contributions to science.
He was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1907. When Asch was 13 years old, his family moved to New York, the United States. There the young man finished his studies in 1932 and received his doctorate. Over time, he became known for his original social psychology experiments. In particular, he tried to show what influence other people can have on a person’s behavior.
Asch was Max Wertheimer’s student while studying at Columbia University (New York, USA). This Gestalt psychology expert was a really big influence on him. It helped him to become interested in the phenomena of perception, thoughts and association.
“ Most social actions need to be understood in their environment and lose their meaning when isolated. No mistake in thinking about social facts is more serious than failure to recognize their place and function. “
Solomon Asch’s intellectual development
Solomon Asch worked for 19 years as a psychology professor at Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania, USA). During his time at the institution he developed a close relationship with Wolfgang Kohler, whom he always admired. His theories sparked his interest in research. They also served as the basis for his experiments. Asch became known worldwide through his experiments and his book on social psychology, which he published in 1952.
He revolutionized the study of the human mind. He also worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Massachusetts, USA) and the University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania). He also had a brief stint at Harvard University, Massachusetts, where he was supervising the doctoral thesis of the famous and controversial Stanley Milgram.
The Asch conformity experiments
In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments that would come to be known as the Asch Compliance Experiments. Their main purpose was to prove that man gives in to the group
One of his experiments looked like this: A group of seven to nine students was formed. All but one were accomplices of the researcher. The researcher introduced two lines to the students. Then he asked the students to point to the longer line. The correct answer was obvious. However, the accomplices began to choose the wrong option. This put immense pressure on the non-complicit. As a result, he responded to the statements of the others and decided against the logic that should have dictated a different answer.
Asch showed that many of the subjects agreed with the majority’s answers, even if they were obviously wrong. Asch wondered if the subjects who gave in to the “mob mentality” did so because they were really convinced of their answers. The answer to that question was no. He discovered that the number of people who followed up the majority’s response decreased significantly when they were allowed to submit their decision anonymously. So the influence affected the individual’s conscience and not his judgment.
Further aspects of the Asch conformity experiments
To complement the main experiment, Solomon Asch introduced a few more variations. One of them was, for example, that he introduced the group to a subject (also an accomplice) who had broken the consensus of the majority. Asch found that the presence of this person who disagreed with the consensus drastically reduced the number of subjects who subscribed to the false opinion of the majority.
While Asch’s experiments have been criticized, they opened up a different and original perspective on how a group can influence and condition us. Indeed, many consider him one of the most important psychologists in history.