2011. Vol.2, No.7, 661-664
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.27100
Conformity of Six-Year-Old Children in the Asch Experiment
without Using Confederates
Aiko Hanayama1, Kazuo Mori2
1Scientific Investigation Laboratory, Aomori Prefectural Police, Aomori, Japan;
2Institute of Engineering, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Tokyo, Japan.
Received July 25th, 2011; revised August 28th, 2011; accepted September 29th, 2011.
We investigated the conformity of young children without the use of confederates by utilizing the fMORI-Asch
paradigm. The Asch-equivalent tasks were presented by means of a presentation trick so that one participant ob-
served different stimuli than the other three, creating a minority-majority confrontation without using confeder-
ates. Ninety-six Japanese first graders (6 - 7 years old; 48 boys and 48 girls) participated in same-sex groups of
four. The response order was randomly assigned and the third responders observed the standard lines differently
from the other three children. The results showed that the minority children who had observed different stimuli
tended to make more error s th an the other three children. No gen d er differences were observed.
Keywords: Conformity, Group Conflict, Majority Influence, fM ORI Technique, Asch Line Judgment Tasks
Asch (1955, 1956, 1958) showed that a minority participant
often conformed to the responses of a unanimous majority ire-
spective of the fact that the majority’s choice seemed incorrect.
The majority participants in these experiments consisted of
confederates, who had been instructed to respond incorrectly on
several trials. The minority participant was a naïve participant.
Asch’s findings have been replicated using a number of differ-
ent manipulations (country, majority size, or gender), but not
with child participants (see Bond & Smith, 1996, for review).
The reason there were so few Asch experiments using child
participants seemed to stem from the difficulty of finding good
child confederates to serve as the majority. Crutchfield (1955)
developed an alternative experimental procedure in which each
participant sat separately in a cubicle. The experimenter then
fed participants information that presumably had come from the
other participants. In this way, the Crutchfield paradigm avoi-
ded the problem of using confederates. However, it has a dis-
advantage because it doesn’t allow face-to-face interaction
among participants.
Did children conform more than adults in the Asch experi-
ments? Little is known about this interesting question because
of the lack of literature on the conduct of those experiments
with child participants. However, there were findings in a re-
lated area in which the experimental results showed that child
witnesses were more susceptible to information given by others.
(See a review by Ceci and Bruck, 1993). Having reviewed in-
tensively the past 15 years of studies on child suggestibility,
Ceci and Bruck (1993) concluded that the younger the children,
the more susceptible they were.
Notable among the few studies that used child participants in
conformity experiments was Costanzo and Shaw (1966). They
avoided the problem of having young children act as confeder-
ates by using the Crutchfield paradigm. They examined con-
formity among four age groups of children and young adults (7
- 9, 11 - 13, 15 - 17, and 19 - 21 years old) and found that con-
formity was lowest for the youngest age group (7 - 9 years old),
increased to an asymptotic point for the 11-to-13-year-old
group, and decreased for the other two age groups. Costanzo
(1970) interpreted this result to mean that pre-school children
were enmeshed in family interaction and guided by parental
standards, whereas older children were influenced more by
those in their peer group as they moved into adolescence. This
interpretation did not contradict the findings of Ceci and Bruck
(1993): Young children tended to be susceptible to adults but
not to conform to members of their peer groups.
More recently, Walker and Andrade (1996) conducted a
genuine Asch-type experiment with 110 Australian boy par-
ticipants between ages 3 and 17. They placed one participant in
the position of minority against a wrong but unanimous major-
ity of three, comprising child confederates of the same age
group. Six line judgment tasks similar to those used in the
original Asch study were given, among which the fourth and
sixth ones were experimental wherein the effect of social pres-
sure was tested against the unanimous majority of wrong an-
swers. They found that the younger the participants were, the
more conformity occurred. Eighty-five percent of the children
aged 3 - 5 years conformed, 42% conformed in the 6 - 8
year-old group, 38% for 9-to-11-year-olds, 9% for those 12 - 14
years old, and none conformed among those aged 15 - 17.
Walker and Andrade (1996) excluded the explanation of the
poor performance of the 3-to-5-year-old participants being
attributable to simple errors or misunderstanding of the task
because only two of the 20 children in this age group made
errors in the practice trial. Instead, they interpreted the discrep-
ancy between their results and those resulting from preceding
studies such as Costanzo and Shaw (1966) to have come from
differences in task difficulty. Their Asch-like tasks were com-
posed of unambiguous stimuli, whereas the tasks used in Co-
stanzo and Shaw (1966) were somewhat more ambiguous.
But Walter and Andrade (1996) did not examine the most
plausible interpretation: did their confederates act naturally
enough to fool the other participants? It is possible to assume
that the ability to prevaricate develops as a person ages, and so
might the ability to detect dissimulation. If detecting ability
develops more sharply than pretending ability, then the likely-
hood of detection increases with age. Conflicting results among
various conformity studies may have stemmed from this crucial
interplay between the dissimulation ability of confederates and
the detection ability of participants.
To address this possibility, Mori and Arai (2010) replicated
the original Asch experiment without using confederates.
Rather, they used a presentation trick (the fMORI Technique;
Mori, 2007) that allowed the presentation of two different vis-
ual stimuli without viewers’ noticing the duality. The results
showed that minority women conformed to the majority (al-
though men did not). A post-experimental questionnaire con-
firmed that no participant among either the minority or majority
viewers noticed the presentation trick. In short, the fMORI-
Asch paradigm reproduced the Asch experiments without using
In our experiment, we aimed to apply the same technique to
determine whether we could observe the conformity behavior
of young children under social pressure without the use of con-
federates. Following the findings of Ceci and Bruck (1993) and
Walter and Andrade (1996), we hypothesized that our young
subjects would conform more frequently than undergraduates
did in Mori and Arai (2010).
Ninety-six first-grade elementary school children (48 boys
and 48 girls) participated in same-sex groups of four. In order
to examine possible gender differences, we included both boys
and girls in our sample. All the participants were from a mu-
nicipal school in a middle-sized, somewhat rural city in Japan.
The socio-economic status of the subjects’ families varied
within a narrow middle-class range. We asked the class teach-
ers to make groups of children minimizing the within-group
differences as much as possible. Then we randomly assigned
the response order in each group.
Experimental Design
The study was a 2 (role: minority vs majority) × 2 (gender:
boys, girls) between-subjects factorial design. The dependant
variable was the frequency of errors during the six critical tasks
for each participant.
We used the same stimuli as in Mori and Arai (2010) in
which the same nine stimulus sets that Asch (1956) had used
were reproduced using Adobe Photoshop and projected on a
rear-projection screen. In Asch (1956) the standard line was
drawn in black on a white card and the three comparison lines
were drawn on another card placed about 1 m apart from the
first one. Our standard and comparison lines appeared on the
same screen about 1 m apart. The standard line appeared on the
left of the screen and was 5.08 to 25.40 cm long, or the same
length as on the cards in Asch (1956). The three comparison
lines were also replicated in the same length as those of Asch
Three of the nine stimulus sets were used for neutral trials in
which the same stimuli were presented to both the minority and
majority viewers. These neutral sets corresponded to the control
tasks of the Asch experiments in which the confederates an-
swered correctly. The remaining six sets were used in the criti-
cal tasks so that the minority viewer would observe the standard
lines differently from the other three majority viewers. In these
trials, the top part of the standard lines appeared in either green
or magenta so that the two groups of participants would see
them differently through polarizing sunglasses when the lines
were projected wi th the fMORI Technique (See Figure 1).
The same experimental apparatus as used in Mori and Arai
(2010) were set up in the multipurpose room of the elementary
school attended by the participants. The stimuli were presented
on PowerPoint slides with a personal computer (Apple iBook)
and projected by an LCD projector (EPSON ELP-730) onto a
rear screen made of plain ground glass (80 cm × 160 cm). The
rear screen was set about 1.4 m away from the projector. Four
chairs were placed in a row about 2 m apart on the other side of
the screen. Four pairs of polarizing sunglasses like those used
in Mori and Arai (2010) were provided. They all looked identi-
cal but in reality differed in the polarization: vertical vs hori-
zontal. Three identical pairs were used for the majority with
one different pair provided for the minority viewer. One pair of
polarizing sunglasses was placed on each chair before the par-
ticipants entered the experiment room. The minority partici-
pant’s sunglasses were placed on the third chair.
Post-Experimental Interview
Following the line judgment tasks, experiment assistants in-
terviewed the participants individually. The assistants were
undergraduates majoring in elementary school education and
educational psychology and were familiar with child inter-
viewing techniques. In this interview, the children were asked
whether they had noticed any anomaly in the images, and
whether they had detect ed a ny visual illusions during the tasks.
Participants were led by their class teacher into the experi-
ment room and were asked to take a seat in one of four chairs,
each with a pair of sunglasses on it. The seating order (response
order) was randomly assigned before the subjects entered the
experiment room. After they were seated with the sunglasses in
hand, a female experimenter (the first author) gave the same
general instructions as Asch (1956) did, saying:
“This is a task involving the discriminati on of lengths of li ne s.
In front of you is a screen. On the left of the screen there will be
one line, and on the right there will be three lines differing in
length; they are numbered 1, 2, and 3, in order. One of the three
lines at the right is equal to the standard line at the left. You
will decide in each case which of the three is equal in length to
the one on the left. You will state your judgment in terms of the
number of the line. There will be nine comparisons in all. As
the number of comparisons is few and the group small, I will
call upon each of you in turn to announce your judgments,
Figure 1.
An example stimulus used in the Asch equivalent task. The greenish
part at the top of the left line can or cannot be seen depending of the
types of polarizing sunglasses.
which I will record here on a prepared form. Since your seat
order was determined by draw before entering the laboratory,
you will give your answer in the seat order, from 1 to 4”.
Then, the experimenter double-checked whether they all
knew their answering order by asking them to reply in that
order. Finally, the experimenter instructed them to pay special
attention to the following three points.
1) Please be accurate as possible. You don’t have to answer
2) Please make the judgment all by yourself.
3) Please do not talk or react to the other participants and
stay quiet unless it is your turn to answer.
After all the instructions were given, the experimenter told
participants to put on the sunglasses to protect their eyes from
glare. Then the experimenter presented the line judgment trials
to the participants in the predetermined order. Each trial took
approximately 30 seconds.
In Mori and Arai (2010) the participants completed 18 trials,
the same nine-stimulus set twice, as those in Asch (1956).
However, we presented the nine-stimulus set only once because
the young child participants were expected to have much
shorter attention spans than adult participants. Of the nine-
stimulus set, three trials (1st, 2nd, and 5th) were neutral, with
all viewers seeing the same thing. In the remaining six trials
(3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th), the minority and majority par-
ticipants saw the standard lines in different lengths. After the
line judgment tasks were completed, participants were indi-
vidually interviewed and debriefed.
Results and Discussion
Manipulation Check
The post-experimental interview revealed that no child no-
ticed any anomaly during the tasks, a finding that fits with Mori
and Arai (2010). The children who wore the different type of
sunglasses and responded third made more errors than the other
three participants who wore the same type of sunglasses. This
response pattern clearly showed that a minority of one per-
formed differently from the other three who formed a majority
group. Thus, the fMORI-Asch experimental paradigm success-
fully created majority and minority viewers among naïve child
participants without intro du c i n g confeder a t e s .
Figure 2.
Average number of errors in response order (max. = 6; vertical lines
represent standard deviations). The third responders were the minority
The minority children made more errors than the other chil-
dren, indicating that they had tended to conform to the majority.
Unlike in the Asch experiments, the children in the majority
condition were not confederates in our study. They made errors
occasionally, as did the children in the minority. As in Mori and
Arai (2010), we examined the average number of errors of the
participants by order of response. (See Figure 2: the 3rd re-
sponders were the minority. The majority consisted of the 1st,
2nd, and 4th responders.).
The 2-way ANOVA clearly showed that the third responders
who wore the different type of polarizing sunglasses made
more errors (2.83 of 6 tasks; 47.2%) than the other three, who
performed in a similar way irrespective of the response order
(1.08, 0.92, and 1.21, for 1st, 2nd, and 4th responders, respect-
tively): F(3,88) = 11.22, p < .01. These results revealed that the
minority children erred more because they conformed to the
No Gender Differences
Unlike Mori and Arai (2010) we found no gender differences
in terms of error frequencies of the minority children under
social pressure (No main effect nor interaction with response
order, F(1,88) = 2.22, ns, and F(3,88) = 0.02, ns, respectively.). In
Mori and Arai (2010), a sizeable percentage of undergraduate
women in the minority situation showed conformity to the ma-
jority whereas almost no undergraduate men conformed, even
when they were in the minority under the social pressure of the
majority. In contrast, our 6 - 7 year-old boys showed levels of
conformity frequency similar to those of the girls of the same
Did Young Children Tend to Conform More than
The answer is yes, but only boys conformed more than adult
men. Young boys aged 6 - 7 tended to conform more often than
older men did. In Mori and Arai (2010), undergraduate men did
not conform even if they were in the minority position. How-
ever, the young boys in the present study did conform to the
majority when they were in the minority. As for women, we
found a similar pattern of conformity with young girls in the
present study as with undergraduate women in Mori and Arai
(2010). Minority young girls erred more often (3.0 of 6 tasks;
50.0%) than minority undergraduate women did (3.4 of 12
tasks; 28.6%). However, the overall error frequency of the child
participants was higher than that of the undergraduate partici-
pants. We assumed that the errors in the minority groups con-
sisted of conformity errors and simple perception errors that
also occurred in the majority groups. In other words, we could
estimate the net conformity error rates by extracting the error
rates of the majority groups from those of the minority groups.
The estimated conformity rate of young girls (50.0% – 21.3% =
28.7%) was almost equivalent to that of undergraduate women
(28.6% – 8.6% = 20.0%) in Mori & Arai (2010), while that of
boys (44.4% – 14.4% = 30.0%) was much higher than under-
graduate men (5.0% – 8.15% = –3.1%: the error rate of the
minority was lower than that of the majority man participants).
It suggests the interesting hypothesis that boys decrease con-
formity in the course of their development while girls retain a
similar conformity rate throughout their development. To ex-
amine this hypothesis, it would be desirable to conduct another
fMORI-Asch experiment using early adoles cent boys and girls.
This research was supported by a Grant-in-Aid from the
Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and
Technology (Grant No.16653054) to KM while the authors
were at Shinshu University. We thank all the pupils and teach-
ers in Wakatsuki Elementary School in Nagano City for their
cooperation in the conduct of this research. We are indebted to
Maryanne Garry for her constructive comments on the earlier
draft. We express our thanks to Rebecca Ann Marck for her
work in editing the English manuscript.
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