Why do people adapt to society

Behavioral research : The seductive power of the crowd

People acting in a group can be prone to extremes. This applies to mass gatherings, think for example of the supporters of Donald Trump, who shouted “Lock her up” in chorus at election rallies, referring to Hillary Clinton. The fact that people make more extreme decisions together than alone, however, also occurs as an effect with experts in a field. “Examples of catastrophic decisions by highly skilled groups are the Bay of Pigs invasion and the last Iraq war. In the American military, this effect is known as incestuous amplification, ”says Daniel Richardson, an experimental psychologist at University College London.

Intelligent people are more influenced by the group

Richardson is an expert on the subject: he researches mass dynamics and human behavior in groups. What exactly happens in such gatherings? In principle, humans are gregarious animals, says Richardson: "We like to feel part of a group - and groups usually follow a leader." Most of them follow his opinion because it is extremely uncomfortable to be in the majority of a group contradict and be excluded from it.

It should come as a surprise that intelligent people are sometimes influenced by a group opinion even more than others. Yale professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues found this out in a mathematics experiment. Highly qualified test persons were more likely to misinterpret numbers if they contradicted their political views. In an experiment, the subjects were presented with a fictitious study on the effect of gun laws on the crime rate. The result: Mathematically savvy test subjects who were close to the Democrats achieved good results if the data supported their pro-gun law stance. You were wrong if the numbers said that loose gun laws drove crime rates down. It was the other way around for more Republican-minded test subjects.

The lock step paves the way to extreme behavior

So it is enough to feel part of a group for the behavior to be influenced by it. One explanation for the deadlock in the political dialogue in many countries: if the opinion is already established, we can hardly be convinced of the opposite.

Group dynamics can have even more extreme consequences. In a study by the University of Southern California, Scott Wiltermuth first made subjects walk around in a parking lot. Some should walk in lockstep with a scientist. This researcher then asked the study participants to throw woodlice into a filter for an experiment. The results are telling: Those who previously walked in lockstep killed an average of 54 percent more woodlice than the others.

“Of course you can say it's just woodlice, what's there?” Says Richardson. However, he sees a pattern in Wiltermuth's results that can also be applied to other areas: “Every army in the world is marching. There is no longer a strategic reason for it, no army marches against tanks, ”he explains. “But actions performed synchronously feel good, studies have shown - just like singing together or chanting. But they also mean that we are more inclined to follow people in authority and not question their orders. "

Group dynamics versus swarm intelligence

But aren't we talking about swarm intelligence? “This phenomenon does exist,” says Richardson. However, only under certain conditions, as an experiment showed 100 years ago: Villagers should estimate the weight of a cow. If everyone guessed individually, the mean of the estimated values ​​came close to the correct result. If, on the other hand, typed in the group, the results were wrong. Applied to today, this means: "If a group discussion takes place anonymously, for example via WhatsApp, there are no negative effects," says Richardson. In addition, everyone must have thought about it alone beforehand.

It would be worth considering - in professional life it might save us from brainstorming sessions. According to current research opinion, these are ineffective.

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