Conformity in Groups –> Dissention vs. Disagreement

I think has done a very good job of expressing some subtle aspects of group dynamics, starting with a brief description and analysis of Asch’s conformity studies and expanding to a discussion of the real difference — but socially rather undifferentiated behaviour — between ‘expressing concern’ and ‘disagreement’ in a group:

“The scary thing about Asch’s conformity experiments is that you can get many people to say black is white, if you put them in a room full of other people saying the same thing.  The hopeful thing about Asch’s conformity experiments is that a single dissenter tremendously drove down the rate of conformity, even if the dissenter was only giving a different wrong answer.  And the wearisome thing is that dissent was not learned over the course of the experiment — when the single dissenter started siding with the group, rates of conformity rose back up.”

Then concerning groupthink, and the difference between ‘expressing concern for’ and ‘disagreeing with’ the stated opinions, thoughts, plans of the group:

“I think the most important lesson to take away from Asch’s experiments is to distinguish ‘expressing concern’ from ‘disagreement’.  Raising a point that others haven’t voiced is not a promise to disagree with the group at the end of its discussion.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much difference socially between ‘expressing concerns’ and ‘disagreement’. A group of rationalists might agree to pretend there’s a difference, but it’s not how human beings are really wired.  Once you speak out, you’ve committed a socially irrevocable act; you’ve become the nail sticking up, the discord in the comfortable group harmony, and you can’t undo that.  Anyone insulted by a concern you expressed about their competence to successfully complete task XYZ, will probably hold just as much of a grudge afterward if you say ‘No problem, I’ll go along with the group’ at the end.

“Asch’s experiment shows that the power of dissent to inspire others is real.  Asch’s experiment shows that the power of conformity is real.  If everyone refrains from voicing their private doubts, that will indeed lead groups into madness.”


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