Have You Lost your Mind?

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Try to imagine yourself as a subject in an Asch experiment.http://www.simplypsychology.org/asch-conformity.html

You arrive at the lab together with seven other subjects for what is likely to be a boring experiment. Which line is equal in length to the standard line, pictured on the left? Things go smoothly for three or four trials. You wonder why psychologists do such strange experiments.

Then comes the first crucial trial. Dead simple. The answer is obviously line C. The first person says line B. You think, “What an idiot.” The second person says line B. You think, “Two of them!” The third person says line B. “What the hell! Is the lighting bad from that end of the row?” The fourth person says line B. You are beginning to fidget and to sweat. “Did I misunderstand the instructions?” The fifth person says line B. You struggle to understand what is happening. You feel isolated. “What do they see that I don’t see?” The sixth person says line B. It’s almost your turn. You fear that you are about to be viewed as a fool. By the time your turn arrives, the last thing on your mind is the length of those damn lines. What is happening? Have you lost your mind?

Our greatest distress arises not when we are socially isolated in terms of our views of religion or politics. The greatest distress arises when we find ourselves isolated in terms of very concrete, highly falsifiable, highly unambiguous properties of reality. For example: Is the paper white or black? Are we indoors or out of doors? Are there five people present, or eight?  Are we in profit or loss?

A shared social reality is the foundation of social behaviour.  People can behave socially with each other only to the extent that they share a view of reality.  If everyone around you claims that a piece of black paper appears white or that non-existent assets being sold are ‘real’, that is very disturbing.

It is bad enough when you are the only Left-leaning voter in a group of Right wing voters. But even then, you may be able to explain the discrepancy. But how would you explain the fact that seven people around you insist that a piece of black paper is white? Or that assets exist when they don’t?

This is often the dilemma facing an individual who wants to challenge the shared social reality or the whistleblower who is prepared to challenge a corrupted reality.  The sense of isolation, the price of independence, is a heightened and continued stress in contrast to yielding to the group.

Research shows that individuals yield to group pressure roughly a third of the time even in the face of unambiguous properties of reality. However, those same individuals, when tested without group members present, make judgments that are correct over 99% of the time.

So what’s going on? It appears that, most of the time we know what’s right and wrong, real or false.  While it’s socially normative behaviour to allow our experiences to be influenced by our peers it is not helpful to be directed by them. The challenge lies in negating our natural default of expectant isolation and distress by getting confederates on side. Research confirms that in the face of an otherwise unanimous majority if only a single confederate gives the correct answer, conformity vanishes. That single ally proves that you are not going crazy.

Recognise often-invisible social cues and your own personal patterns under stress in these challenging situations. Evidenced based training via Social Fitness modules empowers individuals with the skills to speak and act on their values and wisdom in the face of normal fear and discomfort from these situational pressures.

Let me entertrain you: http://www.speakout-speakup.org/#/training

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