Group Conformity

Much of our talk about individuality and free will is, in the end, just that, talk. Leave people to act freely and express their unique snowflake individuality, and chances are they will unquestioningly, and probably even subconsciously, conform to arbitrary and even ridiculous social norms, not only in terms of their behavior, but also in terms of their beliefs and their perceptions.

This was one of the fascinating and disturbing findings that the social psychologist Solomon Asch discovered in a series of meticulous experimental studies he conducted in the 1950's, and which have become classics of the discipline, both for their findings and, even more importantly, for the careful methods Asch employed as he carefully examined the impact of individual variables as he slowly and methodically altered his experimental setup one condition at a time. It was Asch's scientific and experimental approach to the study of psychological questions that would inspire other classics of the field, such as Stanley Milgram's experiments of obedience to authority, and Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison experiment.

And here's a hilarious example of just how powerfully (and quickly) we can be made to conform, even to completely arbitrary standards.

Imagine what would have happened to that poor chap if everyone suddenly faced in different directions...
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