Conformity: How to Become Who You Want to Be

In the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments to investigate the power of social pressure.

At the start of each experiment, a participant entered a room with a group of strangers.

The subject didn’t know it, but these people were actors pretending to play other participants.

The group was then given a simple task.

First, they were shown one card with a single line on it and a second card with a series of lines.

Then, each person was asked to point out the line on the second card that was the same length as the line on the first card.

The Asch Conformity Experiments

Initially, there were some easy trials where the entire group agreed on the same line.

But after a few rounds, the actors would deliberately select what was obviously an incorrect answer.

The bewildered subject then had to decide whether to trust their own judgment or conform to the group.

Asch ran this experiment several times in many different ways, and what he found was that as he increased the number of actors, so did the conformity of the subject.

One or two other “participants” had little impact.

But as the number of actors increased to three, four, and all the way up to eight, the subject became more likely to give the same answer as everyone else.

Overall, 75 percent of participants gave an incorrect answer at least once.

In the control group, where there was no pressure to conform to actors, the same error rate was less than 1 percent.

How Could That Be?

Human beings are social creatures with a deep need for belonging.

The reward of being accepted is usually more significant than the reward of being accurate.

So, for the most part, we’d rather be wrong in a group than right by ourselves.

As a species, we are ill-equipped to live on our own, so the human mind has evolved to get along with others.

Because of that, we experience tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group.

And, as a result, we tend to conform to those around us.

It’s a very natural thing to do, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

But there can be severe downsides to this tendency.

If you’re not mindful of it, your intentions can get consistently overpowered by the prevailing group norms.

Consider, for Example, Sleeping Habits

Research shows that one-third of the American population is sleeping less than six hours per night.

As a result, at least 50 percent of the adult population is chronically sleep deprived.

Depriving yourself of sleep is a terrible decision.

Insufficient sleep ruins your health, performance, and well-being.

Still, this devastating trend is taking place throughout the industrialized world.

There’s a prevailing norm that sleep is a luxury rather than a necessity.

And as the people around you conform to it, you’ll likely do it, too.

The Takeaway

If something seems like the normal thing to do, you’ll gravitate toward it — regardless of the outcome.

So, to become who you want to be, you need to find the right social group.

Surround yourself with people who consistently make the choices you want to make, and the way they do things will soon become the way you do things.

This article is an excerpt from my book The Decision-Making Blueprint.

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