Evaluating Asch

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Developing Critical Thinking

On the May 2012 exam for Time Zone 2 there was the following essay question:

Evaluate research on conformity.

Many students did an excellent job of describing studies like Asch, Moscovici & Lage, Abrams and Sherif.  However, many students scored very low in critical thinking.  Why?

Many students have learned a very formulaic way to demonstrate that they can analyze and/or evaluate research.   Below are some of the examples of things that examiners see over and over again in student essays.

  • The study was done in a lab, therefore it was artificial.
  • The study was done in a lab, therefore it lacks ecological validity.
  • This is an experiment, therefore it shows a cause and effect relationship.
  • All extraneous variables were controlled.
  • The study was unethical.

These five comments were seen in many essays at the end of each paragraph which described a study, or they were stated one after the other in the final paragraph.

The goal of critical thinking is not to just memorize the strategies and list them in the essays.  The goal is for students to evaluate and/or analyze the specific studies which they are using as evidence to support their argument.  So, what should the above responses look like in a paragraph that looks at the classic Asch paradigm?

  • The task that the participants were asked to do, compare the lengths of lines out loud in front of a group of strangers that all disagreed with them, is highly artificial and does not represent a real life situation.
  • The study was done in a laboratory setting.  This means that the participants knew that they were being studied and this may have led to expectancy effects.  In addition to the artificiality of the task, this makes the experiment less likely to predict what will happen outside of the laboratory, making it low in ecological validity.
  • Because Asch manipulated an independent variable (the unanimity of the confederates) while measuring a dependent variable (whether the participant would conform), while attempting to keep other variables constant, a cause and effect relationship can be established.
  • Asch used a standardized procedure in order to make sure that the situation was well controlled.  (No experimenter can control ALL extraneous variables!)
  • The study made use of deception.  This is an important ethical consideration in the study.  At the end of the study, Asch debriefed the participants at the end of the study and revealed the deception.

Tags: exam, critical thinking, conformity, socio-cultural, ethics


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