Solomon Asch, pioneer of social psychology

Solomon Asch, pioneer of social psychology

Solomon Asch is considered one of the pioneers of social psychology, a field in which he concentrated his research. This Polish psychologist emigrated to the United States at the age of a few years and it is in this country that he finished his school and university studies.

He was born in Warsaw (Poland) in 1907. At the age of 13, his family moved to New York. It is there that Solomon Asch finishes his studies and obtains his doctorate in psychology in 1932. Over time, he became known for his original experiments in social psychology. In short, for having demonstrated the influence that others can have on our behavior.

While at Columbia University, Solomon Asch was advised by Max Wertheimer. This expert in Gestalt psychology had a profound impact on his training. In particular, it has generated a great deal of interest in the phenomena of perception, thought and association.

"Most social events should be understood in their environment and lose their meaning if they are isolated – no mistake in thinking about social facts is more serious than not seeing one's place and function."

-Salomon Asch-

The intellectual development of Solomon Asch

Solomon Asch worked as a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College for 19 years. This step allowed him to establish a strong relationship with Wolfgang Kohler, whom he has always admired. His theories sparked his interest in research and served as a basis for the experiments that made him famous.

Asch has gained enormous renown for such experiences and for the publication of his book, Social Psychology, in 1952. There, he captures the development of his research and the key concepts of his theory.

At the time, he revolutionized studies on the human mind. He has also worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. He also spent a brief time at Harvard University, where he directed the doctoral thesis of the very famous and controversial Stanley Milgram.

The experience of Asch

Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments known as the Asch experiment. This is a series of studies he conducted in 1951, the main objective of which was to prove that people bowed to the power of the group by adopting an attitude of conformity to it.

The experiment consisted essentially of forming a group of 7 to 9 students. All but one were accomplices of the investigator. They were presented with two lines and asked to designate the one that was the longest for them. The correct answer was very obvious, but the accomplices started to say that the wrong choice was correct. This made the assessed subject ("not an accomplice") feel strong pressure from the group to respond to what their logic told them.

Solomon Asch showed that a number of experimental subjects ended up adding to the majority response, despite the fact that it was clearly false. In addition, Asch really wondered if the subjects who followed the "rigged" general trial did so because they were convinced of the answer they gave. It was found that no: the number of people who pleaded guilty to the majority trial decreased considerably when they were allowed to express their decision in private. Thus, the influence was manifested above all on the conscience and not so much on the judgment.

Other aspects of the Asch experience

To complete the central study, Solomon Asch introduced some variations. The first change was to introduce a subject (also agreed or rigged) that would break the consensus of the majority. Asch found that the fact that a person had previously broken the consensus significantly reduced the number of experimental subjects who bent or complied with the majority's misconception.

Asch's experiences, although criticized, have provided a different and original view of how we can be influenced and conditioned by the majority. In fact, he is now considered one of the most important psychologists in history. Among his many awards, he notably received on Distinguished Award for Scientific Contributions from the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1967.

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