The Asch Conformity Experiments

Back in the 1950s, experiments were conducted that purported to demonstrate how difficult it is for one person to resist the opinion of a group. These were [Solomon] Asch’s famous [conformity] experiments.

The subjects were asked to compare the length of lines. The correct answer was obvious, but it was “decoys” in the group who answered first, and they all pointed to another line as the right one. Consequently, most people conformed with group’s opinion and answered the question incorrectly. But if at least one of the decoys had been instructed to answer differently than the others (although not necessarily correctly), most of the subjects were able to assert their own opinion.

A friend told me how she had unwittingly found herself inside an Asch experiment. She was an independent observer on an elections commission in which all the other members were attempting to falsify the results. They put the ballots for one candidate into a stack with the other candidate’s ballots. My acquaintance tried in vain to protest. She said that her principal emotion was not indignation, but the terrible thought that, maybe, there was something wrong with her. It seemed to her that she was going crazy: it could not be that all these people were doing “wrong” so calmly and confidently.

That is why the authorities are going after pro-peace posters and anti-war quotes by Leo Tolstoy, and that is why draconian fines and criminal penalties have been introduced for voicing opinions other than the official ones. That is why all the opposition media have been shuttered. Because the existence of even one public voice contradicting the “unanimous choir” enables thousands of other people to maintain their own common sense. (For those of you who do not like the opposition and opposition politicians, remember that this holds true even if the contradictory voice is “wrong.”)

Many people are now afraid to speak out publicly, not only because of the possible punishments, but also because of the effect demonstrated by Asch’s experiments. It’s scary to stand alone against everyone. That is why it is so important to support each other (“a like is also a help” :) and, at least, voice one’s opinion in private conversations with each other, if not publicly. It will help someone not to go crazy.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Translated by the Russian Reader


Marina Dubrova, an English teacher on the Russian island of Sakhalin in the Pacific, showed an uplifting YouTube video to her eighth-grade class last month in which children, in Russian and Ukrainian, sing about a “world without war.”

After she played it, a group of girls stayed behind during recess and quizzed her on her views.

“Ukraine is a separate country, a separate one,” Ms. Dubrova, 57, told them.

“No longer,” one of the girls shot back.

A few days later, the police came to her school in the port town of Korsakov. In court, she heard a recording of that conversation, apparently made by one of the students. The judge handed down a $400 fine for “publicly discrediting” Russia’s Armed Forces. The school fired her, she said, for “amoral behavior.”

“It’s as though they’ve all plunged into some kind of madness,” Ms. Dubrova said in a phone interview, reflecting on the pro-war mood around her.

With President Vladimir V. Putin’s direct encouragement, Russians who support the war against Ukraine are starting to turn on the enemy within.

The episodes are not yet a mass phenomenon, but they illustrate the building paranoia and polarization in Russian society. Citizens are denouncing one another in an eerie echo of Stalin’s terror, spurred on by vicious official rhetoric from the state and enabled by far-reaching new laws that criminalize dissent.

Source: Anton Troianovski, New York Times, 9 April 2022. Read the rest of this disturbing article by clicking on the link. Thanks to Comrade SG for the timely heads-up.

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