One possibility that had to be considered at the outset was that Norwegians and Frenchmen differ in their capacity for discriminating tonal lengths and that this led to the greater number of errors made by Norwegians in the group situation. We were able to show, however, by giving each subject a tone-discrimination test, that there was no difference in the level of discrimination of students in the two countries.
In both of the first two conformity experiments the subjects were required to do more than decide an issue in the face of unanimous opposition: they were also required to announce that decision openly for all to hear (or so the subject thought). Thus the act had the character of a public statement. We all recognize that the most obvious forms of conformity are the public ones. For example, when prevailing standards of dress or conduct are breached, the reaction is usually immediate and critical. So we decided we had better see if the Norwegians conformed more only under public conditions, when they had to declare their answers aloud. Accordingly, we undertook an experiment in both countries in which the subject was allowed to record his answers on paper rather than announce them to the group. The experiments were performed with a new group of 20 Norwegian and 20 French students.
When the requirement of a public response was eliminated, the amount of conformity dropped considerably in both countries. But for the third time the French subjects were more independent than the Norwegians. In Paris students went along with the group on 34 per cent of the critical trials. In Oslo the figure was close to 50 per cent. Therefore elimination of the requirement of a public response reduced conformity 14 percentage points in France but only 6 percentage points in Norway.
It is very puzzling that the Norwegians so often voted with the group, even when given a secret ballot. One possible interpretation is that the average Norwegian, for whatever reason, believes that his private action will ultimately become known to others. Interviews conducted among the Norwegians offer some indirect evidence for this conjecture. In spite of the assurances that the responses would be privately analyzed, one subject said he feared that because he had disagreed too often the experimenter would assemble the group and discuss the disagreements with them.
Another Norwegian subject, who had agreed with the group 12 out of 16 times, offered this explanation: "In the world now, you have to be not too much in opposition. In high school I was more independent than now. It's the modern way of life that you have to agree a little more. If you go around opposing, you might be looked upon as bad. Maybe this had an influence." He was then asked, "Even though you were answering in private?" and he replied, "Yes. I tried to put myself in a public situation, even though I was sitting in the booth in private."
A fourth experiment was designed to test the sensitivity of Norwegian and French subjects to a further aspect of group opinion. What would happen if subjects were exposed to overt and audible criticism from the conspiratorial group? It seemed reasonable to expect a higher degree of conformity under these conditions. On the other hand, active criticism might conceivably lead to a greater show of independence. Moreover, the Norwegians might react one way and the French another. Some of my associates speculated that audible criticism would merely serve to annoy the French subjects and make them stubborn and more resistant to the influence of the group.
To test these notions we recorded a number of appropriate reactions that we could switch on whenever the subject gave a response that contradicted the majority. The first sanction, in both Norway and France, was merely a slight snicker by a member of the majority. The other sanctions were more severe. In Norway they were based on the sentence "Skal du stikke deg ut?" which may be translated: "Are you trying to show off?" Roughly equivalent sentences were used with the French group. In Paris, when the subject opposed the group, he might hear through his headphones:
"Voulez-vous vous faire remarquer?" ("Trying to be conspicuous?")