“On April 4, 2004, a man calling himself officer Scott called a McDonald’s in Mount Washington, Kentucky, U.S.A. He told the assistant manager, Donna Summers, who answered the phone, there had been a theft and that Louise Ogborn was the suspect. Ogborn, eighteen, worked at the Macdonald’s in question, and the man on the other line told Donna Summers to take her into the restaurant’s office, lock the door, and strip her naked while another assistant manager watched. He then asked her to describe the naked teenager to him. This went on for more than an hour, until summers told officer Scott she had to return to the counter and continue her duties. He asked her if her fiancé could take over, and so she called him to the restaurant. He arrived shortly after, took the phone, and then started following instructions. Scott told him to tell Ogborn to dance, do jumping jacks, and stand on the furniture in the room. He did. She did. Then, Officer Scott’s requests became more sexual. He told Summer’s fiancé to make Ogborn sit on his lap and kiss him so that he can smell her breath. When she resisted, officer Scott told him to spank her, which he did. More than three hours into the ordeal, officer Scott eventually convinced Summers’s fiancé to force Ogborn to perform oral sex while he listened. He then asked for another man to take over, and when a maintenance worker was called in to take the phone, he asked what was going on. He was shocked and skeptical. Officer Scott Hung up.”
Conformity in groups is an important aspect of human behavior. When we are in groups sometimes and most people conform to wrong decisions and outcomes just to be part of the consensus reached by that group of people even though it might be the wrong result and you knew that it was wrong.
For the past two years we have seen incredible inhumane acts being carried out by people that support the Syrian regime and we kept on asking, how someone can do such horrendous acts against other people.
I came across a chapter in a book written by David McRaney called “You are not so smart” which considers the psychology of the human behavior in an entertaining way. In one of the chapters it talks about conformity and how it affects us.
The story above is an example of conformity. The writer asks what makes a person follow the commands of another person they have never met or have any proof that he was a figure of authority.
To answer that question the author brings up an experiment that was carried out to demonstrate the effect of decision making in a group of people. In the experiment the groups were given a series of lines of differing lengths. They were asked to match the lines that were of the same length. In one group the majority were actors that were told to match lines that were obviously not the same length. One person was placed in the group to see how that person will react to the decision that group has made. In that experiment 75% of the people that at first disagreed finally caved in and went along with the decision of the group. Not only did they conform without being pressured, but when later they were questioned they seemed oblivious to their own conformity. When the experimenter told them they had made an error, them came up with excuses as to why they made mistakes instead of blaming the others.
The video below shows another experiment that was conducting in 1963 examine the extent of conformity people will go to.
The above video of the experiment was conducted in response to the Holocaust.
The experimenter in the above video wondered if an entire nation could have its moral compass smashed, or if conformity and obedience to authority were more likely the root of so much compliance to commit unspeakable evil.
The experimenter of the above video concluded that “his subjects, and probably millions others, saw themselves as instruments instead of people. When they became extensions of the person doing the terrible act, their own will was put aside where it could remain clean of sin. Conformity, therefore can be manufactured when the person looking for compliance convinces others they are tools instead of human beings.”
“..when you can see your actions as part of just following orders, especially from an authority figure, there is a 65% chance you will go to the brink of murder. Add the risk of punishment or your own harm the chances of conformity increases.”
Going back to the incident of Officer Scott mentioned in the beginning, the writer says that “by the time it was uncomfortable (for the people on the other end of the phone), the situation had grown in power. They feared retribution if they didn’t follow new orders, and once they had crossed the line in to territory their morality couldn’t condone, they phased out of their own personality and into the role of an instrument of the law.”
The writer finally concludes that we should beware of our desires to conform and that conformity is strong and unconscious. Although at times conformity makes things easier for us, especially when it comes to social conventions. However, he warns of the other side of the dark places conformity can lead to and adds “Never be afraid to question authority when your actions could harm yourself or others, even in simple situations...”