Thursday, December 27, 2007

Each of our Individual Voices Is More Important Than We've Realized

I just read a study which says that even one dissenting voice can give people permission to think for themselves. Specifically:
Solomon Asch, with experiments originally carried out in the 1950s and well-replicated since, highlighted a phenomenon now known as "conformity". In the classic experiment, a subject sees a puzzle like the one in the nearby diagram: Which of the lines A, B, and C is the same size as the line X? Take a moment to determine your own answer...


The gotcha is that the subject is seated alongside a number of other people looking at the diagram - seemingly other subjects, actually confederates of the experimenter. The other "subjects" in the experiment, one after the other, say that line C seems to be the same size as X. The real subject is seated next-to-last. How many people, placed in this situation, would say "C" - giving an obviously incorrect answer that agrees with the unanimous answer of the other subjects? What do you think the percentage would be?

Three-quarters of the subjects in Asch's experiment gave a "conforming" answer at least once. A third of the subjects conformed more than half the time.

Get it so far? People tend to defer to what the herd thinks.

But here's the good news:
Adding a single dissenter - just one other person who gives the correct answer, or even an incorrect answer that's different from the group's incorrect answer - reduces conformity very sharply, down to 5-10%.
Why is this important? Well, it means that one person who publicly speaks the truth can sway a group of people away from group-think.

If a group of people is leaning towards believing the government's version of 9/11, or believing the official mythos of the war on terror, or that the U.S. holds "free and fair elections", or that impeachment should "stay off the table", a single person who speaks the truth can help snap the group out of its trance.

There is an important point here regarding the web, as well. The above-cited article states that:
when subjects can respond in a way that will not be seen by the group, conformity also drops.
What does that mean? Well, on the web, many people post anonymously. The anonymity gives people permission to "respond in a way that will not be seen by the group". But most Americans still don't get their news from the web, or only go to mainstream corporate news sites.

Away from the keyboard, we are not very anonymous. So that is where the conformity dynamic -- and the need for courageous dissent -- is vital. It is doubly important that we apply the same hard-hitting truthtelling we do on the Internet in our face-to-face interactions; because it is there that dissent is urgently needed.

Bottom line: Each person's voice has the power to snap entire groups out of their coma of irrational group-think. So go forth and be a light of rationality and truth among the sleeping masses.


Blogger Roberto de Sonora said...

Thank You for this wonderful article. I felt I had an impact. Now I know!

I have penned articles on Ethanol that are based on alternatives few have been exposed to. It is very hard to overcome the programming set down by David Pimentel who Demonized Ethanol 30 yrs. ago.

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