Monday 2012-11-26

(Solomon Asch) became famous in the 1950s, following experiments which showed that social pressure can make a person say something that is obviously incorrect.

This experiment was conducted using 123 male participants. Each participant was put into a group with 5 to 7 "confederates" (People who knew the true aims of the experiment, but were introduced as participants to the naive "real" participant). The participants were shown a card with a line on it, followed by another card with 3 lines on it labeled a, b, and c. The participants were then asked to say which line matched the line on the first card in length. Each line question was called a "trial". The "real" participant answered last or penultimately. For the first two trials, the subject would feel at ease in the experiment, as he and the other "participants" gave the obvious, correct answer. On the third trial, the confederates would start all giving the same wrong answer. There were 18 trials in total and the confederates answered incorrectly for 12 of them, these 12 were known as the "critical trials". The aim was to see whether the real participant would change his answer and respond in the same way as the confederates, despite it being the wrong answer.

Solomon Asch thought that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong, but the results showed that participants conformed to the majority on 37% of the critical trials. However, 25% of the participants did not conform on any trial. 75% conformed at least once, and 5% conformed every time.

Those population percentages seem like an evolutionarily stable strategy setup.

Also, it's apparent that none of the men were traders or aggressive Street types. What happens you put a trader in a position like this?

"Let me get this straight. You all say Line 1 is the same length as the Standard Line, right?"
"Absolutely!" + General assent.
"Hooboy. This one seems really close.... Hey, anyone got change for a fifty? No really, all this is making me wicked hungry."

Wallets come out. Trader figures out how much everyone has.
"Say. Anyone interested in a bet on which line is the same length?"
"Oh no, I never gamble." + General murmur of rejection.

"Well, since you all believe that Line 1 and the Standard Line are the same length, then I'll stack up 10 dollar bills to the top of line 1, and you stack up 10 dollar bills to top of the Standard Line, and then we'll swap, because they're the same length, right?"
"Umm...." + General WTF-do-we-do-now apprehension; either someone comes clean or the Trader will escalate.

In enforcing objective reality, Traders kill stupidity.

Any idea how well "not conforming" correlates with other social dominance traits (taking up lots of space, erect stance, aggressiveness/confidence, etc.). If this is an evolutionarily stable distribution, I would assume that the more conformant individuals would be closer to the bottom of the social hierarchy. Theo

Yeah, I viewed it as Leaders, Followers, Slaves. Having 1/4 people = Leaders means that dumb ideas get veto'd, 3/4 people = Followers means we get group cohesion/cooperation so the group actually gets stuff done. Not too sure about the Slaves, though. Detritus in the Bell Curve of Life, or necessary to group dynamics? -- Patrick

It looks like it's more of a smooth curve. That way, in any group (even one composed of a few followers and slaves), there are a few people who are the most dominant. Theo