Ran across an interesting wikipedia entry on “Asch conformity experiments.” We learned about this in a class at Michigan State University in about 1970. Asch’s experiments began in 1951 and continued until at least 1956. Solomon E. Asch was born in Warsaw, Poland, on September 14, 1907, came to the U.S. in 1920 and received a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1932.
Prof. Asch set up groups of 7 or 8 participants, male college students, all but one of whom were “in on the joke,” as IFO puts it. A moderator would show cards with lines on them, one straight line on one card and three lines of varying lengths on the other, and ask which labelled line matched the sample line. There was a control test with just a single student being tested with no outside influences.
The in-group was instructed to answer correctly the first few times, then all name incorrect matches for the remainder of the test. Here are the chilling results:
In the control group, with no pressure to conform to confederates, the error rate was less than 1%. An examination of all critical trials in the experimental group revealed that one-third of all responses were incorrect. These incorrect responses often matched the incorrect response of the majority group (i.e., confederates). Overall, in the experimental group, 75% of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question while only 25% never gave an incorrect response.
To IFO, this says that about 75% of the American population is prepared to deny the evidence of their own senses to be in with the group – i.e., conformists. To her, this also means it is unlikely that the Libertarian Party will ever become a majority party.
We’d like to know how college women responded. How different ethnic groups of Americans responded. How different nationalities responded in their own nations. We’re going to look it up for ourselves – there are links in the Wikipedia article.
These results had a profound effect on IFO, though she didn’t realize right away. About 10 years later, whenever she was in a group of people saluting the American flag, she began to leave her hands at her sides. No hand over heart.
She had heard somewhere the incorrect notion that hand-over-heart had been instituted by F.D.R. in the 1930s and she considered it a way to indoctrinate the entire population into revering, or being pressured by social pressure to pretend to revere, The Omnipotent State, represented by the flag.
She told a wise, former hippie friend of hers what she was doing and why.
“Oh,” he replied. “Sort of moral pushups, eh?”
Right on target! Practicing to stand up for her beliefs in easy circumstances just in case a hard decision came her way on down the road. She is still doing this today. Guess what? It is still hard! That’s the power of social pressure!