Blog Psychology Pt 4: Peer Pressure

So social psychologists have conducted a number of interesting experiments on the influence of groups on individuals. In one of my favourites, they had a group of people at a table and asked them a very simple question: which line on the right matches the line on the left?

A number of groups were assembled, and asked the same set of 18 questions, similar to the above. In each group, one person was a research subject, unaware of the experiment, and all of the others were plants or research participants. The research participants were instructed to give the same wrong answer most of the time, so that the research subject would have to choose between giving the right answer against the group, or going with the group and giving the same wrong answer everyone else did.

In the control condition, there were no groups: a single research subject was asked the same set of questions. These subjects got less than 1% of the questions wrong.

In the groups, the research subjects were far more likely to give the wrong answer. 75% of them changed their answer to the wrong answer at least once. Morevoer, some of them actually come to believe the incorrect answer was correct. It wasn’t just that they gave the wrong answer to go along with the group, but that their minds actually changed to accept the incorrect answer.

People don’t just go along with something they know is wrong, when a large group surrounding them claims it is true.

They may come to actually believe it.

You’re not an exception–something we’ll come back to in Part 5–and neither am I. By objective measures (and yes, there are objective measures–we’ll get to those in part 5 too) I’m less susceptible to peer pressure than most people. But it still happens. When it seems like everyone around us is singing from the same song sheet, it can be very hard to sing your own song. It’s easier to either stay quiet or sing along with the rest. But it’s precisely because peer pressure is so influential (and well beyond middle school) that it’s so important to try to speak the truth, or your own truth, especially when the majority says otherwise.

In order for the conversation to change, someone has to say it first.

For most of our evolutionary history, being accepted as part of the tribe was key to our survival. Despite many centuries of western Individualist tradition, no man is an island; and even the staunchest libertarian could not actually accomplish all of the tasks needed for survival without assistance. We’re super-social highly cooperative other-oriented tribal primates, basically, and feeling like we belong is a key psychological need. So of course it feels like shit to be the one person in a group to stand up and say, “Actually, I think women are men’s equals,” and “No, racism isn’t funny,” and “I do support gay marriage” and “I’ve had an abortion,” and yes even, “actually, I think that latest indie pattern/sewing book/fabric line kind of sucks.”

Unlike the first four examples (potentially), standing up in the SBC isn’t going to kill you. So you may as well practice it.

And bloggers, you may want to drop the claim that you aren’t being influenced by your sponsorship arrangements or that it’s a personal attack for anyone to question you or your sponsors. We’ve got to start embracing the idea that it’s ok to have public conflict and disagreement, because this is how things change–when people know that it’s safe to disagree with the group without exclusion or expulsion, then they will.

That was oddly hyperbolic for a series on sponsored blogging, I’ll admit, but I’m going to let it stand.

10 thoughts on “Blog Psychology Pt 4: Peer Pressure”

  1. I’m curious – what is gained by dropping the seemingly-rote verbiage “all the opinions are my own” or similar? Without it, I feel like skeptics will continue believing that sponsored/free-stuff posts aren’t completely credible, and others will still view them as regular blog content. And is it in any way a legal requirement to include that language?

    1. I’m not totally sure. There is no such legal requirement here in Canada, from what I can tell, so the discussion that I’ve seen on the legal ramifications is entirely American. That said, “All opinions are my own” appears not to be required; all you have to say is that the content is sponsored. I suppose people are worried that if they don’t elaborate on the sponsorship arrangement (i.e., “I got some free stuff but they didn’t tell me what to write,” which is what the “opinions are my own” language seems to boil down to) that people will complain that the posts are just ads, as in, ads written by the company. I can see why bloggers with sponsorship arrangements would want to make it clear that they did in fact write the post in question, and the sponsoring company had no editorial role in it. But they hardly need to have an editorial role to influence the content of the post, assuming the product/service isn’t total shit. It’s still going to be a very cheap advertisement that will almost certainly be positive and be targeted towards a self-selected and receptive audience.

  2. I’ve been following so many sewing blogs that I don’t really have time for other kinds of reads. Your psychology series is like a breath of fresh air in my blog roll. Thanks!

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