conformity focus groups

Conformity in Focus Groups

Conformity is a type of social influence that elicits a change in belief or behaviour to fit in. We’ve all shown examples of conforming, whether that be agreeing with our friends that we also LOVE the new Beyoncé album (even though we secretly can’t stand it) or agreeing with our vegetarian colleagues that vegetarian food is our absolute FAVOURITE (even though we’ve been dreaming of a burger all day).

In the 1950’s Solomon Asch demonstrated conformity by asking participants to guess the measurement of a line drawn on a whiteboard. The participant was surrounded by a group of confederates who purposely said the wrong answer. In 75% of experiments, the participant conformed and gave the incorrect answer to fit in with the group majority.

Since then, this study has been replicated, modified and varied by countless researchers to identify factors that decrease conformity in groups. Decreasing conformity is particularly relevant to focus groups to prevent bias in responses.

Below I have outlined 4 main ways in which conformity in groups can be decreased and how we can apply these findings to focus groups:

  1. Conformity is less prevalent in a smaller group size (Asch, 1956). Therefore, qualitative researchers need to be wary when conducting research with large focus groups. More focus groups with less people may be advantageous over just one large focus group.
  2. Conformity is also reduced with the presence of an ally (Allen & Levine, 1968). Choosing groups of participants that share similar views may prevent individuals from feeling alone and thus staying quiet.
  3. Conformity is increased when an individual finds a task or topic difficult or confusing. Sherif (1935) explained this as an ‘autokinetic effect’, whereby individuals look to others for guidance in difficult situations. Making sure discussion topics are clear and easily understandable is therefore something to ensure in focus groups.
  4. Finally, conformity rates drop dramatically when participants give their answers in private. Participants in focus groups could therefore be encouraged to brainstorm ideas on paper before sharing with the group.

Following these simple steps could help diminish the effects of conformity in focus groups. ‘Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth’ - John F. Kennedy.

By Lizzie Simkin, Research Assistant


This entry was posted in Market research, tagged Focus Group, Qualitative, Consumer psychology and posted on April 28, 2017

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