The Power of Conformity

This vin­tage stunt from a 1962 episode of Can­did Cam­era makes for a good laugh. But it also cap­tures some­thing impor­tant about human psy­chol­o­gy — some­thing that social psy­chol­o­gist Philip Zim­bar­do, famous for his Stan­ford Prison Exper­i­ment, describes on a web­site relat­ed to his 2007 book The Lucifer Effect: Under­stand­ing How Good Peo­ple Turn Evil. He writes:

One of the most pop­u­lar sce­nar­ios in the long his­to­ry of Alan Fun­t’s inge­nious Can­did Cam­era pro­grams is “Face The Rear.” An ele­va­tor is rigged so that after an unsus­pect­ing per­son enters, four Can­did Cam­era staff enter, and one by one they all face the rear. The doors close and then reopen; now reveal­ing that the pas­sen­ger had con­formed and is now also fac­ing the rear. Doors close and reopen, and every­one is fac­ing side­ways, and then face the oth­er way. We laugh that these peo­ple are manip­u­lat­ed like pup­pets on invis­i­ble strings, but this sce­nario makes us aware of the num­ber of sit­u­a­tions in which we mind­less­ly fol­low the dic­tates of group norms and sit­u­a­tion­al forces.

Often times, the mind­less sub­mis­sion to group norms has entire­ly innocu­ous results. But, in oth­er cas­es, it can lead to “good peo­ple engag­ing in evil actions.” Wit­ness what hap­pened with­in the con­trolled envi­ron­ment of the Stan­ford Prison Exper­i­ment. Or, worse, the dev­as­tat­ing abus­es at Abu Ghraib, which brought oth­er­wise aver­age peo­ple to com­mit atro­cious acts. For more read The Lucifer Effect.

H/T Sci­ence Dump

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