The Power Of Conformity
If you doubt the extent to which we rely on or are influenced by society consider the following psychological studies into conformity.
Asche gave a group of 7-9 participants a number of questions, such as;
Is the line on one card the same as line A, B or C on another card.
It was set up so that the answer was fairly clear and simple. Initially the groups answered correctly for a few rounds. Here’s where the experiment gets to be fun. All but one of the participants are in on the secret that this is not really a perceptual test as advertised. They all begin to answer incorrectly. The individual being studied is therefore always last, or second from last.
Film of the experiment shows the participant shaking his head and looking at his fellow group members in utter disbelief, yet when it comes round to his turn to answer he goes along with the group. Instead of trusting his own judgement, he instead conforms and trusts their judgement. 3 out of every 4 participants conformed to varying extents.
Remember this was in tests where the answer was clearly wrong. After the experiment participants gave their reasons for conforming. Some didn’t want to upset the experimenter, some figured they must have made an obscure mistake and others began to question their judgements ‘were their eyes playing tricks on them’ or ‘were seeing things differently where they are sitting’. Another reason given was that they didn’t want to be different from the others.
Do you see any similarity between those findings and decisions and possible views or beliefs you’ve dismissed because they don’t fit in with what everyone else sees?
Asch’s experiment has been carried out with many twists. One of the most interesting discoveries was the finding that there is almost no difference, in terms of influence, between 3 people in agreement and say twelve. With one other person there is almost no influence, two some, but three increases influence a great deal.
How does this relate to your life?
In a group of friends are you swayed, even unconsciously, to conform?
We each perceive reality through our perceptual filters. These relate to our individual construction of reality. This is why five people each have a different explanation of a single event. Hence the notorious unreliability of eye witness testimony.
From this individual construction of reality we develop our own best response to a situation. However when we become aware this differs from ‘what is normal’ we begin to doubt our judgement.