Elucidating Experiments: Asch’s Configural Model


Noted social psychologists, Solomon Asch’s configural model was developed in 1946 as criticism of cognitive algebra. Cognitive algebra is a model of social psychology that proposes that impression formation – the way in which we form impressions and attribute characteristics to people –  is processed through an assignment of values to traits. Basically, we attribute traits with positive or negative numbers, varying in numerical value according to a variable of factors. These factors include the type of relationship we wish to instigate (friend, co-worker, etc.), what other attributes are present, contexts such as occupation and also personal biases (as in we think being caring is more important than being intelligent). Research suggests that weighted averaging is the most reliable model for cognitive algebra. In the most simple terms, this involves integrating the value of all these traits into one number. If his number is largely positive we know that person is very approachable. If this number is largely negative, we know to avoid that person. This suggests a holistic or gestalt impression of a person is more important that individual traits. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense; certain traits or physical attributes rise alarm bells to avoid that person.

Asch surmised that our impressions of other’s are formed by far more complex rules. We we form impressions of people, certain central traits are disproportionately influential in impression formation. Asch stressed that these central traits allows us to efficiently organise and summarise lots of information about a person into one overarching trait. To prove this hypothesis, Asch conducted an experiment in 1946 in which he provided participants with a hypothetical word lists. One list included the word ‘warm’ and the other ‘cold.’  Participants given the list including ‘warm’ were more likely to see the person as generous, happy and altruistic even though all the other words in the two lists were identical.  The words polite and blunt were substituted for warm and cold without the same effects; suggesting that warm and cold are central traits. Not only that but the experiment is consistent with Asch’s hypothesis that central traits do exist.



Carlson, Neil R., G. Neil. Martin, and William Buskist. “15.” Psychology. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2004. N. pag. Print.