Penny McArthur | Wed, 27 Nov 2019
Everyone has vast, varying beliefs covering topics of race, culture, superstitions, welfare, veganism, abortion – and the list goes on. From tiny everyday things, like when you like to wake up, to what you feel comfortable eating, to bigger issues like who you’re going to vote for, we all differ and even change our opinions on things with enough supporting evidence. I’m not here to change or question your long-held beliefs, I’m sure you’re glad to hear, but I am going to convince try and convince you to stick to them.
Like changing an answer last minute and getting it wrong, nothing is more uncomfortable than following along with something you don’t actually agree with, and nothing hurts more than the negative consequences that may follow.Children aren’t nice. We’ve all seen, been, or been on the wrong end of bullies at some point in our lives, and no doubt we regret it now. But did you regret it then? It’s often all too easy to laugh along when someone is made fun of, especially if you aren’t ‘technically’ involved, falling on the excuse of just being a spectator. Being witness to a crime and not coming forward, however, is still a crime. And is the social factor really a big enough influence to justify this behaviour when you could have just kept quiet?
Social pressure is a big topic in psychology, fuelling outrageous behaviour encouraged by drinking, drugs, even leading to partaking in riots such as that in London in 2011 where businesses were burned, buildings were looted, and people mugged. Almost 4000 people were arrested, over 600 of these, actually charged. All because of mob-mentality incited by few, giving rise to many – when many of these people would likely have preferred to stay home, have been safe, and may not have even known what they were behaving so atrociously for. They did it because they could. Because the size of the group meant individual consequences were far less significant then they would have been. Because they could hide behind a hood and go home to their families like nothing had happened.
Now, I’m not implying that every one of us would partake in anything so severe, but the idea is there, and it’s a relatable one. An experiment by Asch on conformity tested a group (all actors bar one) that were shown three lines (A, B and C), and asked to compare it to another line (D) and choose the one that was the same size. All of the actors prior to the participant said line C, when the answer was made to be very obviously B, and as a result the participant also said C, fully knowing he was wrong. When asked the same question alone however, he said B, thus showing the powerful effects of social pressure and the ultimate fear of social isolation.
I argue that this isn’t enough to disregard your morals and knowledge for. Yes, you may be wrong some of the time, but I at least prize those characters in movies and books that stand up against the crowd for what they believe in. And they are the people that are remembered. Not the sheep.