A new variation on the Asch conformity experiment was recently published. The experiment was performed in Japan and used polarizing glasses to show different lines to different people in the same room, so that the subjects had to disagree with others they actually knew, and who genuinely believed that they were answering correctly. The study found that women conformed by giving a wrong answer about a third of the time, but men did not.

Learned about this via Ben Goldacre's blog.

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8 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:07 AM

Interesting. That's a clever solution to the confederate problem.

Personally, I know I'm never quite prepared to discard the possibility that I am completely out of my mind and/or physics might behave in a drastically unexpected way any moment. Obviously I don't assign this a high probability, but higher than average, I think. So in situations where everyone else seems to agree about something that seems wrong to me--especially something arbitrary/trivial, as it would almost necessarily be in an ethical test situation--it wouldn't take much to get me to assume that I'm simply the one who's wrong.

Upvoted for reporting the numerical effect. I remember being really impressed by the original Asch experiment, and then floored when I found out it was only 30% of the subjects who caved into peer pressure.


I'm a little surprised nobody has commented on the sex difference yet. Any ideas about its significance? We can only speculate, of course, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

I agree with Relsqui that, absent any reason to believe I have better-than-average ability to judge the length of lines, it would be quite rational to doubt myself in this situation, or to suspect (accurately) that I was being tricked. Still, it seems like the most helpful thing would not be to agree with everyone else, but to say "I am confused, because to me this line looks longer."

That's assuming we really wanted to determine which line was longer, though. If it's a test and I'll be rewarded for giving the correct answer, it becomes much trickier.

The experiment was performed in Japan...

That explains at least part of the sex difference right there. Japanese cultural attitudes about assertive women are justifiably notorious.


Up voted, however this is pointing out the obvious.

I think the real awkwardness is that people assume that a sex difference would exist even if the experiment was repeated in say Sweden. Sure there is still a cultural factor even there but I think most people here have a hunch a small tendency in this direction would exist in any culture even if it was masked by other factors.

I'll go out on a limb and say that perhaps women are more conscious of what other people think of them than men. Thus they tend to conform in behaviour to expectations a bit more.

To back this (in my opinion small effect) I won't got into any evo psych "just because" explanation but will stick to the empirically measurable different proportions of people who are non-neurotypical among the sexes.

I'm a little surprised nobody has commented on the sex difference yet. Any ideas about its significance? We can only speculate, of course, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

Probably because they didn't want to get negative karma for appearing misogynistic.


Oh noes, negative karma!

In all seriousness, I guess if "women are dumb" is the best we can do, I'm glad nobody spoke up, but we do have people here who are capable of saying smart things about sex differences, and I wouldn't expect them to get voted down. If you find you get voted down a lot when you talk about women, you should at least consider the possibility you aren't saying things that are as smart as you thought.

I'm just offering an explanation as to the lack of response on that topic; I don't think I've been voted down on that subject largely because I've taken care to avoid it; I don't want to get banned for trolling. That sort of thing's happened to me before.

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