Do You Have Your Own Mind ?
April 28, 2022
Are you a person with your own mind, or are you someone very likely to be swayed by the opinions of others around you?
Solomon Eliot Asch (September 14, 1907 – February 20, 1996) was a Polish–American psychologist and pioneer in social psychology. In the year 1951, he designed a quirky little social experiment.
He showed a group of eight respondents the following image and asked them to identify which of the three lines from the second image(right) is the same length as the line on the left image.
Before you read further, take a moment to figure out which of the three lines on the right is the same length as the line on the left…
Coming back to the experiment- While the correct answer is line C, Solomon Asch established through the experiment that people who would otherwise be sure of their convictions could be “manipulated” into questioning their own instinct for the correct answer.
How did he do this?
Asch put a naïve participant in a room with seven confederates/stooges asking them to solve the above line judgment task. The confederates who were “plants” in the experiment agreed in advance on what their responses would be when presented with the line task. The real participant did not know this and was led to believe that the other seven confederates/ stooges were also real participants like them.
Each person in the room had to state aloud which comparison line (A, B, or C) was most like the target line. The answer was always obvious. The real participant sat at the end of the row and gave their answer last.
There were 18 trials in total, and the confederates gave the wrong answer on 12 trials (called the critical trials). Asch was interested to see if the real participant would conform to the majority view. This experiment was repeated with multiple groups of eight naive/stooges.
Seventy-six percent of the real test participants denied their own senses at least once, choosing either line A or B. And one-third of the time, across all the trials, the one who was actually being tested conformed to what the crowd(the other seven respondents) thought.
Solomon Asch established through the experiment that when in a group setting, individuals tend to provide responses that conform to the majority view, even if they believe something different. There could be various reasons for this- fear of disapproval, self-consciousness, and not wanting to stand out or be different.
As individuals, we experience this phenomenon often. Unfortunately, it feels easier to fit in with the crowd than to take a strong stand for your own beliefs.
At A Gut Level, We Know What We Want
I feel that in many of our day-to-day issues and challenges, we already know the answer or the right thing to do. But we just don’t want to admit to ourselves that “I know.” It feels hard to take the responsibility of knowing.
- Should I continue in the current role or take up the new role?
- Should I make the investment?
- Should I continue being in the relationship, or should I come out?
In many of these cases, we tend to seek advice from friends and colleagues first, somehow deluding ourselves that they know better. Then, we suppress that inner voice called “gut.” Perhaps, we want to absolve ourselves of the responsibility if something goes wrong. Because it feels easier to blame someone else if our decision turns out to be a dud.
The point of this social experiment is simple. As individuals, we are all susceptible to the bias of “groupthink,” even if we feel otherwise. Based on how confident and different others around us are, we abandon our own beliefs and instincts, trusting others to be right. Groups(particularly with people who appear very confident) have this insidious effect of influencing us to a point where we change our minds unconsciously.
You are your own best friend. Trust yourself and make your decisions.
There are no right or wrong decisions. There are only decisions, and there are outcomes that you may or may not like. However, if you look at all the decisions you have taken, the best ones are likely to be decisions you took on your own without the influence of others.