Would you believe that at every waking moment of your life, your mind is being manipulated or controlled in one way or another? Not necessarily
always by someone you know either. Social media, online news content, the things you see and hear in traditional media, advertisements, conversations
we see and hear at work or in our personal lives. They’re all some form of manipulation or mind control, and most of the time, it’s happening without
you even realizing it. Even what you’re about to read throughout the next chapters in this book could be a form of “manipulation” that influences
your thoughts to a certain extent.
Why though, is the human mind so susceptible to manipulation? Could it be that our mind is full of what is known as “loopholes”? Let’s take a look at
the Solomon Asch experiment which was conducted in 1957. This experiment on conformity was carried out by Asch in a series of
psychological tests to reveal the degree to which an individual’s opinions could be influenced by that of a group of people. The results, Asch
discovered, were that with the right amount of peer pressure, people were willing to ignore the facts or reality that was in front of them and resort to
giving a false or incorrect response just to conform to the rest of the group.
Before that, here’s a quick question….
Do you see yourself as someone who is a non-conformist? Or a conformist?
Most people believe that they can be just the right amount of nonconformist to stand up against others when they know they are right about
something. A conformist, however, would prefer to blend in with the group. While most tend to believe they’re non-conformist, research would suggest
otherwise, and that people might be more prone to conformity than they initially think.
Here’s a quick test. Imagine you’re now part of a psychology experiment with a group of several other people. Everyone is taking the same test
where you’re shown a series of oddly shapes images and asked what you can see when you look at the image. On some occasions, some participants
unanimously declare they can see the exact same image, but when you look at the picture, you’re seeing something entirely different. You’re the only
one who’s seeing it too. Every other participant in the room has the same unified answer. What would you do? Do you stand by what you can see?
Or do you go ahead and declare the same answer the other participants are giving?
That’s precisely what the Asch conformity experiments aimed to discover.
Conformity, which is a person’s tendency to go along with the unspoken behavior or rules of a social group that they are a part of. Asch set out to
discover with his experiments if people could be pressured into conforming, even if they knew that everyone else in the group was wrong. Asch main
purpose of his experiment was to demonstrate just how powerful conformity could be in a group.
When Asch carried out his experiment, there were participants who were “in” on what was going on and pretending to be like all the other
participants, along with those who were really unaware of what was taking place.
Those who knew what was going on would behave in certain ways, and the aim was to see if their behavior was going to have any influence on
the other participants. In each experiment that was carried out, there would be one naive participant who was placed with a group of the “aware”
participants. There were 50 participants in the group, and everyone was told they would be taking part in some sort of “vision test”.
In the “vision test”, those who were aware of what was going on were already told what their responses were going to be for the task that was
presented. The naive participant had no clue that they were the only ones who were blissfully unaware. All the participants were given a line task,
and each one had to announce verbally which line (A, B or C) was the closest match to the target line they were given. A total of 18 various trials
were carried out, and the participants who were aware have incorrect answers for 12 out of the 18 trials. Asch wanted to determine if the naive
participants would change their responses to conform to how everyone else (the aware group) responded.
Everything was going well during the first half of the trials, with the aware responded answering the questions being given correctly. However, they
later began providing incorrect answers, just as they were instructed to by the experimenters.
Interestingly enough, at the end of the Asch experiment, it was revealed that 75% of those who took part in the conformity experiment went along with
the answers from the rest of the group at least once. When all the trials were combined, Asch discovered that the naive participants conformed to the
group’s incorrect answer approximately one-third of the time. To determine that the participants could in fact, actually gauge the correct length of these
lines they were given during the vision test, each participant was asked to write the correct match individually. Based on the results, the participants’
judgments were accurate, with the right answer being chosen 98% of the time.
Asch’s experiment also looked at how much effect the number of people who were present within a group could influence conformity. When there
was only one other participant present, it had no impact on a participant’s answer. When there were two participants present (the aware group), their
answers had a tiny effect on the naive participant’s answer. In the presence of three or more participants (aware), there was a significant difference in
the answers provided by the naive participant. Asch also discovered that having one aware participant provide the right answer while the rest of the
aware participants gave incorrect answers dramatically lowered the level of conformity experienced, with only 5% to 10% of the participants going
along with the other members of the group. Studies which were carried out, later on, have also supported Asch’s findings, which then suggests that
when it comes to conformity, social support was an important element that needed to be present.
When the naive participants were questioned later on why they chose to go along with the rest of the group, even though they knew the answers were
wrong, most responded with although they knew everyone else was wrong, they didn’t want to put themselves at risk of being ridiculed. A few of the
participants believed that the rest of the group had the right answers, and they were the ones who were wrong. The findings of Asch’s experiment
reveals the truth about conformity, which is that it is in fact influenced by both a belief that other people could be smarter or more informed, and a
desire to fit in with the rest of the group. This “loophole” then, is where the human mind thus becomes susceptible to manipulation.
Why Do We Conform?
For those who understand how the human mind works, it then becomes so easy to take full advantage of the leverage that they have. Using this
knowledge to their benefit, they can easily influence all the other unsuspecting individuals with just a few well-placed words or simple
commands. Manipulation easily puts you in a position of power when you play on someone else’s emotions, the easiest target. If you could someone
convince another, and make them believe that in doing what you want them to, they will be happy, they’ll be more than willing to bend to your rules. If
you make them feel guilty enough, they’ll try and do what they can to “fix” the situation. Even playing on someone else’s fear makes them an easy
target. Make them believe they’re in danger of losing something they cannot afford to lose and they’ll jump at any opportunity that’s presented to
them. If your supervisor were to dangle the possibility in front of you that you might lose your job, wouldn’t that fear spur you into doing whatever
request they ask of you? Emotions make manipulation so easy.
Asch conducted even further experiments and discovered that the reasons we become susceptible more to conforming when:
There are more people present
When the task is more difficult and we are faced with
uncertainty. We then tend to confirm when we believe others
might be better informed than we are on the subject.
When we view others in a group as having more “power” or
Asch did discover though, that the power of conformity does decrease when the participants were able to respond individually or privately away from
others. Further research does show that less conformity takes place if the person in question has at least one other person within the group that
supports their point of view.