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Critique of Solomon E. Asch’s “Opinions and Social Pressure”

Free Will vs. Peer Pressure
“Opinions and Social Pressure” was a study by Solomon Asch which looked into the relationship between intellectual judgements and social pressure. How does our non­conformity within a group affect our judgements as individuals? Asch attempted to answer the question by conducting a series of experiments. In these experiments, the subject was placed in a group, the members of which were shown a line­segment, they were then asked to identify among three other line­segments one that has the same length as the previous.

The answer was indisputably apparent to the naked eye, what was not apparent to the subject was that apart from himself, the rest of the group had previously been instructed by the conductor to give false answers, putting the subject on the spot of being a dissenter in an apparently straightforward question. Asch then concluded that dissenting from the majority did indeed affect the integrity of a person’s judgement. As an article, the content, organization and style of this publication all served very well to remind the audience of their vulnerability to alter their judgements according to public opinions without substantial reasons to do so, especially given the historical context. However, as a study, the

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process of deduction was not without problems. The content of “Opinions and Social Pressure” was effective in serving the purpose of reminding the audience of how our opinions can be influenced substantially by social pressures. During the 1950s, the hysteria of fear of communist influence infested the American society. This was known as the Red Scare. Anti­Soviet and Anti­Communist propagandas were eminent in the everyday lives of the Americans. Asch remarked the relevance of the article as he claimed “this question is especially pertinent in our day.” (Asch) Even though the implication was not explicit (perhaps the author was avoiding the possibility of being labeled a heretic himself), it is reasonable to assume that the “special pertinence” was referring to the general agitation against the communist influences. In regards to the language of the article, it was simple and easy to comprehend. Asch avoided using technical language and instead built up his ideas using common knowledge and effective one­sentence summaries for bigger, more complex ideas. For example, in the introduction, Asch referred to the common phenomena that “A child masters his ‘native’ dialect to the finest nuances”, and “a member of a tribe of cannibals accepts cannibalism as altogether fitting and proper” to point out how the values of each individual can be very different based on the social conditions in which we are immersed.

Moreover, when referring to other scholars and their ideas, Asch gave short and effective summaries for them. For example, as Asch referred to the French physician Jean Martin Charcot, Asch explained “Charcot believed that only hysterical patients could be fully hypnotized”, thus giving the audience an idea of Jean Martin Charcot’s views. Later in the paragraph, Asch referred to “Hyppolyte Bernheim and A. A. Liebault, who demonstrated that they could put most people under the hypnotic spell.” By using this technique, Asch effectively asserted himself authoritatively (as he referred to other scholars) without having to alienate the younger audience or audience who are unfamiliar with the doctrine of psychology.

Next, the organization of the article was very effective. “Opinions and Social Pressure” was a scientific publication which attempted to answer the hypothesis “peer pressure affects individual judgements” by conducting a scientific experiment, thus the article must follow a strict organization pattern of 6 stages that all scientific publication must do. Asch first defined the phenomenon (stage 1) by looking at earlier assumptions made on peer pressure and deemed that the assumptions have little grounds, “we should be skeptical, however, of the supposition that the power of social pressure necessarily implies uncritical submission to it.”(Asch) The suspicion lead him to suggest a hypothesis to be proven (stage 2) that social pressure influences our opinions. Asch then went on to describe the design of the experiment (stage 3), the actual performing and observing of the experiment (stage 4), analyzed the data (stage 5), then finally stating in the conclusion (stage 6) that peer pressure does indeed affect individuals in decision making.

Also, the style of the article was also effective for the purposes of this publication. As mentioned above, the article was scientific. Therefore, the tone of the article must be professional and unbiased. Throughout the article Asch presented himself as careful and impartial, with simple and straightforward sentence and paragraph structures to allow easy understanding. For example, in paragraph 2, 6, 14, 19, and 21, Asch opened the paragraphs with a question, and used the subsequent space to answer the aforementioned question. This allowed the audience to follow along easily with clear understanding of the author’s intentions as the article progresses into different stages of the experiment. Only in the last two paragraphs of the conclusion Asch’s tone turned from impartial to cautionary, in order to inform the readers what the experiment meant to us both personally and collectively as a society. This transition from a objective to a intimate voice added effectiveness to the article by relating the experiment closer to the everyday lives of the readers.

On the other hand, although Asch excelled at presenting his arguments in terms of format and style, there exists contradiction in Asch’s process of reasoning. From paragraphs 5­7, he first

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