Editor’s note: Brain Basics from Scientific American Mind is a series of short video primers on the brain and how we feel, think and act. Below is a synopsis of the third video in the series written by a guest on this blog, Roni Jacobson, a science journalist based in New York City.
By Roni Jacobson
Highly creative people may stand out from the crowd, but to be influential they have to understand their audience. One of our strongest motivations as humans is the desire for others’ approval. We’re programmed to follow social norms—the unwritten rules of society—because getting others to like us helps ensure our survival.
In the 1950s social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a now classic experiment demonstrating the power of social influence. Asch and his assistants showed a group of participants a line and asked each person to choose which of three other lines matched the first line in length. The task was simple. But unbeknownst to one participant, all of the others in the group were actually working for Asch and purposefully gave the wrong answer. But after hearing the others’ responses, the “real” participant would agree with them a little more than a third of the time. This experiment and others since show how, in the right context, the pressure to conform can occasionally trump the evidence in front of our eyes.
Other Brain Basics videos: