Recently while researching about group dynamics among people, I stumbled upon a decades old set of psychological experiments conducted by Solomon Asch in 1951. These pathbreaking experiments show how societal pressure causes a person to conform.
Conformity (spelled as [kuh n-fawr-mi-tee]) is defined by dictionary.com as an action in accordance with prevailing social standards, attitudes and practises. Solomon Asch’s experimental procedure was very simple. Collect a set of ‘confederates or actors’ in a room with a real test participant who doesn’t know that the others are playing according to a set script. A vision test is presented to the room where the actors answer incorrectly on purpose. It was found that this action caused the participant to conform and begin answering incorrectly. In about 18 trials conducted by Asch, the confederates gave incorrect answers to about 12 trials. 75% of the participants conformed to the majority view over a series of experiments. Most of them confessed later that they did not believe in their answers that they provided. But they instead went with the group for the fear of being ridiculed or being thought of as “peculiar”. Solomon while analyzing the participant results mentioned that there are two reasons why people conform:
- Normative influence: Because they want to fit in the group
- Informative influence: Because they believe that the group is better informed than they are
Does the above statements ring a bell to you? Growing up in India or the Middle East, I have seen countless times how I was forced to adapt to a set thinking that was developed or defined by someone unknown to me. In an example of normative influence, you had to do what you were told to do in order to ‘fit into the crowd and have a better life’. The Indian education system prepared students in such a way that while wearing uniforms to the school, you were considered equal in a class of 40 or something. You had to study the same materials, memorize them and spit them out in examinations. The system assumed that everyone had the same abilities and the society always encouraged those who could memorize the given subject matter and score exceptional marks in the exams. Those who did not have any ability to memorize but were proficient in other skills were derided and humiliated till they fit or adapted themselves into the system that was created over the years and was one that was meant for subservience. This meritocracy was designed for individuals till they reach adulthood. One was then asked to find ‘government jobs’ or ‘private jobs’ where he/she worked, later married and lived happily ever after. The system (in an example of informative influence) ensured that you were ‘conformed’ and ‘designed’ to be a well-paid and industrious servant.
I would like to believe that many of my readers have watched the movie The Prestige. If you recollect, you can find how the team members of the magician ensured that the trick played to the script by infiltrating the audience and participating in it. If you remember the tale of Good Friday, one can clearly see how the Sanhedrin clearly infiltrated the crowd with their supporters and conformed them into demanding for Barabbas instead of Jesus. Think about how the Christian Church destroyed any remnants of science or rational thought for centuries by conforming people who may think different to be silent, threatening them with excommunication to even being burnt alive in a stake. Think about how day by day the moderate Muslim community is being asked to conform to acts of violence done because of the skewed definition of their religion by a few retards. Think about how the media shapes up or ‘manages’ public opinion by keeping people conformed to their definition of what is right and just. There are countless examples such as these. Think for a moment about yourself, who is being asked to conform to a lacklustre career and mediocre life due to societal or family pressures and think where you would be if you actually begin to have a different vision or objective for your life.
Last month this blog marked a major milestone when I published its 100th post. I have been blogging since 2007, showcasing various lessons that I have learnt cruising through adulthood. The vision for this blog is the same. It is to provide you my dear reader with the encouragement to have your own opinion and not conform to what a group, society or organization thinks about you. I would like to leave the reader with a famous Apple ad which outlined their vision.
Concluding, I would like to urge my readers to always ‘think different’, ‘never settle’ and ‘not to conform’.