We are social creatures, we have family, close friends, people we know, and communicate with strangers all the time. We live in societies, we have laws and expectations.
Our behavior towards one another is regulated by others’ and our moral structure. When we want to make a choice, even something small as what color shoes should we get, we often ask friends and family for opinion.
How much does other people’s opinion actually affect our choices?
What is an opinion
An opinion is a highly subjective view on a topic. A person’s opinion is something that they express when they are asked a question about a topic, that might not require a fact. For instance, whether you like the color or size of the shirt that the person is wearing. There are few types of opinions:
- Public opinion – this is a category of agreeable viewpoints of a group of people. Public opinion is often used to describe a general viewpoint on a topic, that is of interest to society.
- Group opinion – this is a little more specific, as a group might be quite a lot smaller number of people. It refers to the aggregation of opinions of people.
- Scientific opinion – it represents opinions on a topic articulated by scientists and is published in journals or textbooks.
- Legal opinion – is a professional opinion, it is often given by an attorney to a person or client.
- Judicial opinion – is a type of opinion that is given by a judge or group of judges.
- Personal opinion – this is the individual person’s own viewpoint on a topic.
The Asch conformity studies
There are several studies, directed by Solomon Asch, a polish-american psychologist. He wanted to find out how much does other people’s opinion affect a person’s own opinion. They were developed in the 1950s.
Solomon Asch conducted the first study in 1951 in Swarthmore College. The study includeded groups of male college students, each of 8 people. Of all people, just 1 person was actually a participant, others were actors. The idea behind the study was to see the reaction of that individual when the group showed different opinion on a task.
Each student viewed a card with a line and then another one with three lines on it. They were labeled as A B and C. One of the three lines was the same length as the first one on the first card. Others were obviously of different length.
Each participant was asked to tell aloud which matched the length of the first card. Actors were told that they would have to respond a certain way. Most of the times they would unanimously chose one comparator. Sometimes they were told to pick wrong response, and sometimes to pick the correct answer.
The actual participant always was positioned so he had to respond to the question last.
The study consited of 18 trials. First two the actors and the person pick the obviously correct answer. The third trial, actors would give the same wrong answer. This was the same on 11 of the remaining 15 trials.
The aim was to see how many people would change their answers to agree with the 7 actors of the group.
When there was no pressure to agree with others of the group, the error rate was less than 1%. Around 63% responded correctly when there were actors. And 36% answered incorrectly. Just around 5% of the participants were always agreeing with the crow.
Overall 75% of people that were participating in the study, gave at least one incorrect answer of the 12 trials.
Does peoples’ opinion affect our own
As we can see from the Asch conformity experiments, there are definitely obvious agreement with the group’s opinion. The reasons, according to the participants of the study, were a mixture such as – self-doubt, desire to be normative and resolving perceived confusion.
Solomon Asch asked also one of the participants that denied to give the wrong answer, and he explained that at ties he had the feeling to just accept groups’ opinion. He also interviewed a person that agreed with the group 11 times out of 12. And he explained that was suspicious and suspected different answer but was not confident to go against the group.
We are social creatures, so it is only natural to try to be accepted and agree with others. More or less we try to be accepted by people, and if we see a big percentage of people having the same exact answer we are likely to consider that we might be missing some information, and would be best if we go along.
However, we also see that it is important to trust ourselves, even if many people are acting the same way and seemingly having the same opinion on something.