Are you an independent thinker and courageous conversationalist?

Question: Which line in the box on the right is the same length as the line in the box on the left? A, B, or C?

The correct answer is obvious: C.

But that’s not the answer many people chose in an experiment conducted by social psychologist Solomon Asch.

Here’s what happened.

In 1956, Asch conducted a series of experiments in which he would invite eight people to participate in a simple “perceptual” task. The participants were shown the two boxes you just looked at. Each were then asked to say aloud which line in box two matched the length of the line in box one.  

But seven of the participants were actors and only one was the “subject.” Before the experiments began, the actors were told how to respond; the subject gave his own answer. The group was seated such that the subject always responded last. 

When all seven actors unanimously chose a wrong answer (A or B), 36.8% of the time, the subject agreed with their response, even though it was obviously the wrong answer. 

The experiments revealed the degree to which a person’s own opinions are influenced by those of groups. Asch found that people were willing to ignore reality and give an incorrect answer in order to conform to the rest of the group.  

At the conclusion of the experiments, participants were asked why they had gone along with the rest of the group. In most cases, the students stated that while they knew the rest of the group was wrong, they did not want to risk facing ridicule. A few of the participants suggested that they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers.

When asked his opinion regarding the study results, Asch said, “That intelligent, well-meaning, young people are willing to call white black is a matter of concern.”

This experiment exposes our vulnerability to peer pressure, groupthink, herd mentality, and tribal influence. It should prompt us to be independent thinkers and courageous conversationalists.  


12 Replies to “Are you an independent thinker and courageous conversationalist?”

  1. Thanks, Don. I really enjoy your blogs.

    I remember a story from a collection of moral stories in Sanskrit. A Hindu Brahman priest is returning home after buying a goat kid to offer as a sacrifice to his family deity. He is passing through a jungle area and is spotted by three cheaters. The cheaters do not want to harm the priest; their only intention is to get the goat. So, they devise a scheme. As the priest is merrily walking along on the jungle trail, holding the goat kid on his shoulders, one of the cheaters comes to him and tells, “Shame on you! You are a priest. A holy man! Are you not ashamed to carry this dog on your shoulder?” To which the priest replied, “Are you blind? Do you not see? This is not a dog, but a goat kid!” The cheater shakes his shoulders and quietly walks away.

    As the priest is walking along, now looking at the goat on his shoulder, wondering what the fellow told him, another cheater comes along and tells him the same thing. This time the priest looks at the kid and hesitantly responds, “No. This is not a dog. This is a goat”. The cheater shrugs his shoulders and walks away. Now the priest is really wondering. Repeatedly looking at the goat and not sure what he is carrying. And then the third cheater shows up telling him the same thing. Before anyone can see him in this defiled condition, the priest quickly throws away the dog, no, the kid, and runs away.

    The moral of this story is: When a lie is repeated several times, it does not become truth; but it does become easily acceptable and convincing. Today we live in a pluralistic, polytheistic, agnostic or atheistic culture and have been bombarded with all the lies from all the directions so that the very truth of God and His Word is questioned not only by people of other religions, but by some of the very people who are known by the name of Christ. We hear that all the roads lead to the same place. All religions are just different ways to reach God. One God, but people choose to worship Him in their own different ways. You can believe in anything as long as you are sincere.

    1. Immanuel, thanks for taking the time to respond and for sharing the parable. I like it. There’s a famous quote from the post-WW2 Nazi war trials in which (I think it was Goebbels) said, (I paraphrase) – “If you say a lie many times and speak with authority, eventually it will be believed.”

  2. Another reason why history must be such an important lesson for all of society, don’t you agree?
    But I wonder how else we can solve this problem. I don’t believe all these people are less intelligent. Maybe it is a lack of self-confidence or social skills?

    1. Roy, thanks for taking the time to respond. I think the answer is to train people (our children, team members) to learn to speak the truth in love. Supervisors need to give direct reports permission to speak candidly and not sanction them when they do. But ultimately each person must develop the skill of independent thinking.

  3. I took an alignment test for being a pilot. When the Major finished, he said, “Son, keep your feet on the ground and promised me you will never fly.”

    1. Now that…was a courageous conversation. I had a similar experiences when I started college. I wanted to be a voice major, but a kind and honest voice professor encouraged me to “rethink that decision.”

  4. The last 2 paragraphs say it all regarding many of the people in the our country today. They have made right wrong and wrong right.
    I do believe I just paraphrased something from some sacred book.
    I seem to remember the word Romans.
    In regards to how I would fare in the quiz, let me say that when I was national sales manager of a company, the CEO referred to the sales force as “Mendlik’s Mavericks”.
    Namely independent thinkers.
    Thanks for your patience with my answer.

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