Peer Pressure - An Experiment

How do obvious wrong decisions of the group affect the individual?

4 min read
Peer Pressure - An Experiment

Everyone has felt the effects of peer pressure at some point. Starting at school, where everyone wanted to be one of the "cool" kids, to the world of work, where those who think differently are smiled at and ignored.

The human bein is a herd animal, there is no question about it. In earlier times we would not have been able to survive alone in the wild. Our ancestors founded tribes, villages, cities and were able to survive over time and bring humanity to where we are today. For an individual this would have been impossible.

We have now arrived in the age of digitalization. But if you look around carefully, we could also call it the age of advertising and media consumption. Every individual owns a smartphone, because it's also completely incomprehensible why one shouldn't, right? Social media is still all the rage and anyone who doesn't know what's going on in the world at all times is labeled as ignorant. We force each other to keep up, and as if life wasn't hectic enough, we push ourselves even further. This leads to mental illnesses such as burnout or depression.

But are we doomed to always go with the flow? Do we always have to bow to the opinion of the group, which may not be our own? Not at all. However, it turns out to be extremely difficult to oppose the so-called mainstream, since every human being depends on the affection, praise and acceptance of other people. This is a basic need, and this need, like a primal instinct, makes us want to belong to the group and not be seen as an outsider.

Let's take a closer look at how strongly we are influenced by a group.

Asch's Experiment

In 1951, the psychologist Solomon Asch published an experiment that was intended to test group conformity, i.e. the integration of a person into a group and adaptation to it. It should show how strong the pressure of a group's opinion is on a person, even if he or she disagrees and the group's opinion is obviously wrong!

Die Vorbereitung sah wie folgt aus:

The test person was led into a room in which other test persons were located. She was told that the others are also taking the test. But what was kept from her was the fact that the other participants were part of the test and were supposed to give predefined answers.

The Ash Experiment Maps

Cards similar to this one were shown and all subjects were asked to say which line on the left card was the same length as the line on the right card. It can be noted that the difference is easily seen with the naked eye.

In the first few rounds, the people in the know gave their true assessment together with the respective test person in order to obtain comparison values with the "normal" group. With this structure, the subjects answered correctly in 99% of the cases.

In the subsequent test, the question of which line is the same length as the reference line was asked 18 times per run, i.e. per test person. The people who were in the know gave the wrong answer 12 times and the right answer 6 times at random, but all together, so that the test person would not become suspicious.


The results then caught the eye during the evaluation:
Of all the questions, 37% were answered incorrectly by the subjects. They bowed to the group's flawed opinion and ignored their own opinion.

Looking instead at the number of people influenced, 75% of the subjects gave at least 1 wrong answer and were influenced by the group. Of these, 5% always followed the group, as if they had no opinion of their own.

The remaining 25% refused to follow the group's obviously false statements.


The results show that we humans find it very difficult to turn against a group of other people, even when we fully believe in our own opinions. The larger the group that gives the wrong answer, the more difficult it is for the individual to defend himself against it.

However, it was noticed in further tests that it was easier for the test person to oppose the group if only one or two other people joined the "minority" and also gave a contradictory answer about the majority of the group.

If you don't always want to bow to the group, hopefully you are now able to recognize such a situation and can work on arguing your own opinion against that of many others. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should always play the troublemaker. However, it can definitely prove to be useful to question any (wrong) decisions made by the group present before something bad happens.

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