Conformity Psychology :Asch conformity experiment in world war scenario

After the end of World War II lot of research was conducted on conformity and people who had done horrific things and killed millions of people. Psychologists conduct research on conformity. It was estimated that a total of 75 million people were killed in World War II including 40 million civilians. But why do some people do massive massacres and genocide? 

Why power full men killed so many people despite they know it was wrong to kill someone. A common statement was found ‘I was just following orders. Now it’s sort of not my fault, or it’s not my responsibility that I did these horrific things ‘. But why do they follow unethical orders and kill millions of people?


Introduction of Human nature 

Every one of us lives within a complex social structure. We are social creatures and influence each other. A human child spends a lot of years to mature fully and it really means that right from birth we are very dependent on other people. Especially our primary caregivers.

So we’re very social creatures and that affects the way we interact with everything and it affects our mind in very profound ways. We want to be close to other people. The use of social a platform like Facebook, what’s an app, Instagram are just a few examples that we want to remain in our social circle.

We live in this social world and socially interact. We’re sharing ideas, we’re sharing views. We’re having influences on one another and we’re trying to impress one another. That is who we are at our core. We can work with others, manipulate others. 

Is conformity part of human nature?

Psychologist Stanley Milgram was fascinated by how Hitler got that control over a bunch of people? 

Milgram conducted an experiment just as a sort of historical kind. He invited people into the experiment and lured them to pay. Each person that participates will be paid $4.00 plus $.50 for car fare for approximately one hour’s time.

His team was looking for ordinary people: factory workers, businessmen, professional people, telephone workers, white-collar workers. Basically anybody between the age of 20 and 50 not including high school and college students. Confederate which is acting on behalf of psychologist act like a Learner and play a role too.

The real subject should act as a teacher arrived at the lab, and they arrived at about the same time as another individual. This other individual said they had also answered this ad. So, from the teacher’s perspective, they were both participants, arriving in a lab to do an experiment. 

Very early in the experiment, Stanley Milgram repeated some of these issues, that this will be an experiment about memory and learning. He said one of you will play the role of teacher. One of you will play the role of learner, and let’s flip a coin do something random-looking to decide who is which.

But that part was rigged. So the real subject was always made by the teacher and the confederate was always made the learner.  

Stanley said this was going to work, is that they were going to be assessing the power of electric shock to enhance learning. Early in the experiment, they brought both subjects, but especially the learner into a separate room, and they sat in front of a terminal that had some buttons to indicate responses.

Electrical current was delivered to them. The real teacher was allowed to feel the electrical current too, to get a sense of what a very light current felt like. The learner would get all tied up with this electrical apparatus and then the teacher would come to sit in a separate room where they could speak to the learner, and they could hear the learner, but they couldn’t actually see the learner.

Stanley would give the teacher a set of questions. The teacher was to ask each question one at a time to the learner and give them multiple choices. So it was a multiple-choice type test. If the learner got it right, they proceed to the next question, but if the learner got it wrong. 

The teacher has to press a button that delivered an electrical shock to the learner and they were also supposed to turn up the amount of shock. So each time a person got an answer wrong the amount of shock they experienced went up, and this would happen over the tests. So every wrong answer, they get shocked, now in reality no shocks were being delivered. But the teacher didn’t know that they were given.

When the teacher press button, the learner would start saying, that’s really painful. That really hurts I don’t want to do this anymore. Stanley Milgram would just tell the teacher, just keep going, and it’s part of the experiment you have to keep going. The experiment requires you to continue.

If the subject continued teacher went to higher and higher current intensity, and the learner got even more extreme. Learners start saying I don’t feel good, I don’t want to do this, Let me out, and they would be pounding on the wall at some point. But Stanley would say keep going, keep going the experiment requires you to continue. 

If the subject kept going, then at some point the learner make no response no voice. Milgram would say is, no answer is a wrong answer. So if they don’t respond shock them, and turn it up ask the next question and keep going. Milgram said gently all commands, he wasn’t yelling at them. He was just telling them in a very authoritative way, you must continue. 

Result of experiment

Results were shocking, in fact, a large number of subjects went to the maximum shock level even though the learner complained, even though the learner banged on the wall, even though the learner went silent. They kept going rich to the maximum level, 65% of participants nearly two out of three reached to maximum shock level. Seem to have this willingness to harm another person, if an authority figure is looking over our shoulder and telling them to do so. Why teacher give a shock to the maximum level? 

The notion is that we transfer responsibility for our behavior to them. If somebody tells us, then it’s their fault and somehow, we don’t feel as personally culpable. We don’t feel the same amount of guilt, and the same amount of inhibition. When it’s somebody else’s fault when we can blame somebody else. A lot of them were not upset. They were in a weird way thankful.

Psychologists conducted a similar experiment on human behavior. In the experiment they recruited some homogenous boys divided them into two groups. A temporary cell was made and one group needed to act as a prison and the other assigned the role of the police. Both groups dressed as police and prison. In prison, situation psychologists create a big divide between how these people look and act.

Some prisoners started wearing their prison outfits and think as like a prison and this became a fashion and when they left prison they took that fashion with them. Some policemen also acted like authorities the treated prison participants like real prisoners.

Asch conformity experiment

They command prison, punish them and abuse them. This experiment throws light on human behavior. We obey orders and roles assigned by society to us irrespective of ethical or moral value.

Another experiment was conducted by Solomon, in which all student participants and confederates (working on behalf of the researcher) lined up at a table. Solomon Asch says is, I’m going to show you some lines and then I’m going to show you three other lines and you need to just tell me which of these A, B or C is the same length as the first line that I showed.

However, here’s the hitch, as participants were answering, they would consistently pick another one but the first person (confederates) confidently said a different line. After answering confederates many participants changed their decision and later agree with confederates. Asch called this conformity.

Solomon took participants aside, the real subjects and he told them about the experiment and he said, you know, they were just playing along but you answered the same thing as they did, you picked B, why? And he found out that people would give one of two different answers to that for the most part.

Some of them said I really started to doubt my senses, I thought it was C to me but when everyone else said B, I changed my mind and go with the majority.


We have the individuation we want to stand out sometimes. But in some situations when we know everyone else is wrong and we are right, it is difficult to stand out. There is strong pressure of conformity on us. We can sometimes follow the herd even when we think the herd’s going the wrong way. The context where people are following authority puts pressure on us but if you feel it’s wrong then it’s very important to speak up because the model you set when others see it makes them more likely to speak up as well.

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