We’ve got yet another mystery of the mind revealed article in the loose today.
The two leading theories of conformity are that people look to the group because they’re unsure of what to do, and that people go along with the norm because they are afraid of being different, said Gregory Berns, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.”
That is not an explanation.
Perhaps we’ll find something of value in this article here:
Participants looked at projections of three-dimensional objects, and had to identify which shapes were similar. As with the new study in Neuron, participants tended to shift their opinion to the majority view, although in this case the problems had objectively correct answers. The effect was also more potent in this experiment because actors were in the room to simulate a group with a shared opinion, he said.
But brain images revealed participants were not lying just to fit in. Changes in the activation of the visual part of the brain suggest the group opinion actually changed participants’ perceptions of what they saw.
One reason behind conformity is that, in terms of human evolution, going against the group is not beneficial to survival, Berns said. There is a tremendous survival advantage to being in a community, he said.
This is your typical evolutionary psychology explanation. The brain shows this on fMRI because it helps people survive. Blah.
There’s little doubt that we all conform to the group. There’s little doubt that others opinions on things change our perceptions. There is a lot of doubt about the origin of such a phenomenon and whether it helps or hinders survival.
This particular aspect of behavior falls into the bigger bucket of how we learn, within and outside of a group. We get conditioned and reinforced and punished and all that. This applies to social behavior as well as to the process of developing that social behavior.
What I mean is that, perhaps this “groupthink” is simply conditioned. Perhaps the brain isn’t hardwired after all but becomes so after we condition group think behavior (don’t be different!). That’s a more plausible explanation than the mind is wired for community!
What stinks so much about these types of reports and experiments is they don’t abstract well at all. There are no first principles presented here. We get a collection of “in the brain we see this”, but nothing that applies to all sorts of different behavior. This is in the face of a lot of data and experimentation and field studies suggesting that learning is consistent in all sorts of situations and species. More specifically, if I say “we fear being different” how does that explain any other behavior other than in the context of this experiment? If i have to specify a rule like that for every behavior, i gain nothing by my research and really explain very little. And it isn’t the truth that we fear being different. If you have children you learn pretty quickly that we condition children to start “seeing differences”. and we condition the fear in our schools, media and homes. I’m not making a moral argument here. The fact is you have to learn which features you can differ on and be shown how to differentiate and attach value to those differences. Yes, a child can tell different colors and different face shapes and different voices. But they do not attach values to them like “oh, being different is something I should fear.” We shape that.
Maybe I’m wrong though. I don’t want to be different, ya know.