Author Topic: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink  (Read 3457 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« on: August 19, 2008, 04:28:19 PM »
I realized the other day that I have never really seen much discussion here of the Asch experiment.  I went ahead and searched, and found that it was only mentioned a couple of times in the half million posts on the other forum, both times by Incarnadine, who does not appear to have joined on the new forum here.  So, I would like to quote from the article I linked to above and start a conversation about it.

Quote
Disturbance of the majority's unanimity had a striking effect. In this experiment the subject was given the support of a truthful partner - either another individual who did not know of the pre-arranged agreement among the rest of the group, or a person who was instructed to give correct answers throughout. The presence of a supporting partner depleted the majority of much of its power. Its pressure on the dissenting individual was reduced to one fourth: that is, subjects answered incorrectly only one fourth as often as under the pressure of a unanimous majority. The weakest persons did not yield as readily. Most interesting were the reactions to the partner. Generally the feeling toward him was one of warmth and closeness; he was credited with inspiring confidence. However, the subjects repudiated the suggestion that the partner decided them to be independent.

Was the partner's effect a consequence of his dissent, or was it related to his accuracy? We now introduced into the experimental group a person who was instructed to dissent from the majority but also to disagree with the subject. In some experiments the majority was always to choose the worst of the comparison lines and the instructed dissenter to pick the line that was closer to the length of the standard one; in others the majority was consistently intermediate and the dissenter most in error. In this manner we were able to study the relative influence of "compromising" and "extremist" dissenters.

Again the results are clear. When a moderate dissenter is present, the effect of the majority on the subject decreases by approximately one third, and extremes of yielding disappear. Moreover, most of the errors the subjects do make are moderate, rather than flagrant. In short, the dissenter largely controls the choice of errors. To this extent the subjects broke away from the majority even while bending to it.

On the other hand, when the dissenter always chose the line that was more flagrantly different from the standard, the results were of quite a different kind. The extremist dissenter produced a remarkable freeing of the subjects; their errors dropped to only 9 per cent. Furthermore, all the errors were of the moderate variety. We were able to conclude that dissent per se increased independence and moderated the errors that occurred, and that the direction of dissent exerted consistent effects.

Anyway, I'm not particularly interested in opening this with any statement of my own, so I'll wait to see what anyone else thinks about the excerpt.

Offline screwtape

  • The Great Red Dragon
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 12584
  • Darwins +704/-28
  • Gender: Male
  • Karma mooch
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2008, 03:10:44 PM »
I am not sure how to view this.  It could be looked at with the population at large, the theists being the group.  Or it could be looked at within just the forum members, with those supporting a debate style to combat theism as the group.

I think this is interesting and potentially valuable, but I will have to think about how to apply it practically.
Links:
Rules
Guides & Tutorials

What's true is already so. Owning up to it does not make it worse.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2008, 03:45:27 PM »
The key here is that the Asch experiment, on the one point, simply demonstrated something which many of us here already know.  Namely, that people can be pressured into saying something they don't think is right.  The apparent threshhold for that is 3 other people, which isn't hard to find in a world where upwards of 80% of the population claims theistic beliefs.  But a lone dissenter can wipe away three-quarters of that effect, even against much larger numbers.  It's an intriguingly powerful counterforce.  It takes three people to pull 36% of individuals, but a lone dissenter can switch back 27% (3/4ths) by themselves, even against much larger numbers.  I find this asymmetry very interesting.

Offline screwtape

  • The Great Red Dragon
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 12584
  • Darwins +704/-28
  • Gender: Male
  • Karma mooch
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2008, 05:41:09 PM »
I had some time and a few things occurred to me.

There are several levels to the way this can work.  One of them is if "aggressive" atheists are the "group" and gone golfing (for example) is the "partner", he can attribute the non-cohesion of an individual who is on the fence by contradicting the group.  The partner makes non-conformity easier and thus can break up group unity. That is the level on which works against us.

Where it works for us is we are a minority and so must find ways to act as the "partner". If you can seed the population with enough partners (atheists) who will contradict the group (theists) then we can disproportionately peel away those who are on the fence about god.

So that gives rise to two questions - how to eliminate the "gone golfings", and how to contrive or identify situations where atheists can be most effective as "partners".

The asymmetry is interesting.
Links:
Rules
Guides & Tutorials

What's true is already so. Owning up to it does not make it worse.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2008, 06:00:51 PM »
Excellent post, on both counts, and something I'd like to see you, in particular, expand upon, at your leisure and on inspiration, of course.

The other part I find interesting is how infrequently this experiment has come up in conversation here and on the last forum.  What I mean to say is that the implications of this set of experiments are dripping with relevance to our situation as atheists, in at least two very important ways, as you noted, and yet, they were only mentioned in two threads of over 22,000 at the old forum, and not once here.  Compare that with Pascal's Wager, which was mentioned in almost 500 threads on the old forum.  Of course, it wasn't always longtime forum members bringing it up and there's certainly a lot of theists that started those conversations with that argument.  However, I do think it reflects a LOT of focus on jawboning some abstract logical argumentation while we ignore the things WE could and should be talking about, as atheists.  Two times, and both were in passing and both were brought up by member "Incarnadine".  And even here now, you and I, here by ourselves.  I think it provides a very interesting window into our mentality and our focus and not a particularly pleasant or satisfactory one, to my mind.

Offline JTW

  • Reader
  • ******
  • Posts: 1983
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2008, 06:16:41 PM »
Wouldn't it work both ways at some point then?

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2008, 06:18:18 PM »
Of course, the experiment was about people being obviously wrong and using peer pressure to make other conform.  That's not precisely the situation the atheist community is facing internally.

Offline JTW

  • Reader
  • ******
  • Posts: 1983
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2008, 06:29:56 PM »
But you can't prove there isn't a God so how can atheists say theists are "absolutely wrong"

I can see it working strictly for atheists from an empirical standpoint and an issues standpoint but not ultimately the "big question" above.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2008, 06:42:25 PM »
It's not about "proof".  The subjects in the experiment weren't given rulers.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2008, 06:23:52 PM »
I'm bumping this because it is directly relevant to the situation of atheists, yet notably, the atheists here discuss it very little.  I find the lack of interest in these experiments by the forum community very concerning.

Offline Red McWilliams

  • Illuminati
  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 844
  • Darwins +1/-0
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2008, 09:38:02 AM »
I just saw this thread (thanks to screwtape for linking to it) and while I don't have much to add right now, I wanted to at least vote present.

screwtape highlights the relevant issues, in my mind, namely how to use this to our advantage without being hindered by the same effect.

Unfortunately, given the "independent" nature of most atheists, I'm concerned that the effect working against us is much more likely to occur.
Today I step into the shoes of a great man, a man by the name of Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.

Offline screwtape

  • The Great Red Dragon
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 12584
  • Darwins +704/-28
  • Gender: Male
  • Karma mooch
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2008, 10:07:51 AM »
My concern is more about how to apply the ideas outside of the controlled environment of the lab that it is the independent nature of atheists.  I think the lesson here may be the power and fragility of peer pressure, rather than the practical application of it.

It may be more useful to understand a couple of other things.  For example, what are the processes by which a person sheds long held beliefs?  What is the psychological profile of a religious person who became an atheist and vice versa?  What does psychology say about how to persuade others?
Links:
Rules
Guides & Tutorials

What's true is already so. Owning up to it does not make it worse.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2008, 10:53:48 AM »
screwtape highlights the relevant issues, in my mind, namely how to use this to our advantage without being hindered by the same effect.

Not sure what you mean by this, Red.  There are a number of "effects" teased out by this set of experiments.  Naturally, of course, I think we ARE being hindered by the "peer pressure" effect of the main experiment.  The effect I think we need to examine for potential usage ourselves is the assymmetry between the number it takes to create the peer pressure and the number it takes to break it.  If the concern is about our own unity being broken by dissenters, though I think that is a valid concern, that's not really anything this set of experiments deals with, because the key point is that the answer given by the group is clearly wrong.  Not arguable.  Wrong.  So while the effect of dissenters among us may be one that is a potentially serious one, since I don't think that anything that any atheists are proposed is out and out easily observable as blatantly incorrect, it's wrong to characterize such a situation as being the "same" effect.

Unfortunately, given the "independent" nature of most atheists, I'm concerned that the effect working against us is much more likely to occur.

Red, keeping in mind my caveats above, I think this actually suggests a new viewpoint.  Yes, atheists are often, by nature, independent.  However, if we put rationality first and unity first, simply as an intentional effort to overcome our nature which inhibits us from achieving greater success, we may be able to purvey this type of coldly rational perspective.  I think the atheist community could be driven in that direction.  Yes, my nature may be to be independent, but it is also in my nature to be rational.  Rational, given a common framework, ought to lead all in the same direction.  If it doesn't, then it's not really rational, is it?  We could decide to make independence our "streak" and rationality our "nature", instead of the other way around.  If we can observe from these experiments the value of unity, and we embrace rationality as our framework, we can intentionally overcome our irrational and self-destructive attachment to "independence" in favor of rationality.  Like I said, rationality isn't really independence at all.  If we agree that pain is bad, and I start hitting my hand with a hammer, rationality demands that I stop, while independence has no opinion.  Really, rationality and unity go hand in hand.  A pledge to true rationality IS a pledge to unity.  What might we be able to do to foster a greater emphasis on unity over independence, given the value of rationality?

Offline Red McWilliams

  • Illuminati
  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 844
  • Darwins +1/-0
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #13 on: September 05, 2008, 02:35:53 PM »
Not sure what you mean by this, Red.  There are a number of "effects" teased out by this set of experiments.  Naturally, of course, I think we ARE being hindered by the "peer pressure" effect of the main experiment.

Yes, I meant that our attempts to unify behind the a plan that incorporates the results of this study would be hindered by the peer pressure effect of dissenters.

Quote
The effect I think we need to examine for potential usage ourselves is the assymmetry between the number it takes to create the peer pressure and the number it takes to break it.  If the concern is about our own unity being broken by dissenters, though I think that is a valid concern, that's not really anything this set of experiments deals with, because the key point is that the answer given by the group is clearly wrong.  Not arguable.  Wrong.  So while the effect of dissenters among us may be one that is a potentially serious one, since I don't think that anything that any atheists are proposed is out and out easily observable as blatantly incorrect, it's wrong to characterize such a situation as being the "same" effect.

Okay, I understand what you're saying.  I'll spend some more time with the actual study; I haven't read the whole thing.

Quote
Red, keeping in mind my caveats above, I think this actually suggests a new viewpoint.  Yes, atheists are often, by nature, independent.  However, if we put rationality first and unity first, simply as an intentional effort to overcome our nature which inhibits us from achieving greater success, we may be able to purvey this type of coldly rational perspective.  I think the atheist community could be driven in that direction.  Yes, my nature may be to be independent, but it is also in my nature to be rational.  Rational, given a common framework, ought to lead all in the same direction.  If it doesn't, then it's not really rational, is it?  We could decide to make independence our "streak" and rationality our "nature", instead of the other way around.  If we can observe from these experiments the value of unity, and we embrace rationality as our framework, we can intentionally overcome our irrational and self-destructive attachment to "independence" in favor of rationality.

I'd like to think that we could and would, but while there are a good number of atheists in the US, I'm beginning to question how many of them are actually rational.  If we weed out the irrational atheists, I'm afraid we may not have many people left. 

Quote
Like I said, rationality isn't really independence at all.

True, but if our experience here is anything, most people who claim to be rational value their independence and "freethought" much more than rationality.  Maybe it has something to do with being duped into groupthink for so long by religion?

Quote
What might we be able to do to foster a greater emphasis on unity over independence, given the value of rationality?

That's the big question, isn't it?  I'll ponder it for a while.
Today I step into the shoes of a great man, a man by the name of Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2008, 03:23:34 PM »
I'd like to think that we could and would, but while there are a good number of atheists in the US, I'm beginning to question how many of them are actually rational.  If we weed out the irrational atheists, I'm afraid we may not have many people left. 

Well, numbers was never going to be our strength starting off, was it?  In any case, the suggestion of the experiments is that we do not necessarily need numerical parity to have great effects.

Offline spider

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 510
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • ATT ambassador
    • Atheist Think Tank
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #15 on: September 08, 2008, 06:16:32 AM »
yeah I only just saw this thread and given what time it is, I must be a loser and bookmark rather than playing the pseudo-intellectual as I usually would love to.

I would be interested to see the flow-on effects.  Many theists would not be swayed by an atheist "partner".  However, the opinion of moderates, deconvertees and agnostic theists might have more value to them.  If those groups are influenced by "partner", then perhaps they can then influence some of those in the group above them (in terms of faithfulness or certainty) - at least to sympathising or moderating their own views, tempering it with a dash of rationality.  In other words, it might bring more and more people to the fence.   So I'd like to see if that's true.

I've heard imams try to justify heavy penalties for apostasy in a way that mimics this effect.  One that I watched on YouTube (yeah... I know... :-[ ) said that in the beginning, some people converted to Islam deliberately just to make a big show of deconverting, shaking the faith of other muslims.  To deter people from this, the death penalty was imposed, and Muslims are not permitted to deconvert.  So there seems to be measures in place to work against this.

We should then try not to even be on the radar of the real staunch ones, waiting for them to cycle through to somewhere closer to "the fence", or leaving them to the irrelevance of fringe extremism.  Oooh... but then the effect might work for them.   How can we keep it from being an equilibrium reaction of sorts? 

Arg... supposed to leave... must...  drag myself... away from... keyboard...  stop typing, spider...   you idiot.....

Offline screwtape

  • The Great Red Dragon
  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 12584
  • Darwins +704/-28
  • Gender: Male
  • Karma mooch
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #16 on: September 08, 2008, 08:33:05 AM »
Many theists would not be swayed by an atheist "partner".  However, the opinion of moderates, deconvertees and agnostic theists might have more value to them.  If those groups are influenced by "partner", then perhaps they can then influence some of those in the group above them (in terms of faithfulness or certainty) - at least to sympathising or moderating their own views, tempering it with a dash of rationality.  In other words, it might bring more and more people to the fence.   

If the theists of weak faith or moderate belief can be peeled off, that leaves only the extremists.  A religion of only the crazies is easy to marginalize. 

If Sam Harris is correct in his belief that the moderates protect the extremists, then removing the moderates makes the extremists vulnerable.
Links:
Rules
Guides & Tutorials

What's true is already so. Owning up to it does not make it worse.

Offline Davedave

  • Emergency Room
  • *******
  • Posts: 2995
  • Darwins +0/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • I'm back, hoes.
Re: Asch Experiment and Discussion of Groupthink
« Reply #17 on: September 08, 2008, 04:03:52 PM »
Many theists would not be swayed by an atheist "partner".

That may be dependent on context and the manner of partnership.  In any case, I think this set of experiments are a real first step into a rational investigation into religion.