Appendix 39e - Peer Pressure

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

Doubt everything. Find your own light - Last words of Gotama Buddha, in Theravada tradition

Probably the most famous experiment demonstrating the extraordinary power of peer pressure was performed by social psychologist Solomon Asch. Asch wanted to investigate what human beings would do when confronted with a group that insists that wrong is right. In the experiment, he showed groups of college students a line, and then asked each student to identify which of several other lines matched it in length. Only one student, however, was the subject. The others were confederates, in league with Asch. And the confederates all picked the same blatantly wrong answer.

The correct answer was so obvious that only one percent of people got any wrong when they were alone. But in the group, 37 percent of subjects' responses across all trials were incorrect.[433] Seventy-six percent betrayed their own judgment and sided with the majority at least once during 12 trials.

Shocked by these results, Asch sounded an alarm. He warned that the tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that, "young people are willing to call white black." The results, he said, raised questions about, "our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct."[434]

Soren Kierkegaard:

The truth. No, by nature man is more afraid of the truth than of death - and this is perfectly natural: for the truth is even more repugnant than death to man's natural being. What wonder, then, that he is so afraid of it?... For man is a social animal - only in the herd is he happy. It is all one to him whether it is the profoundest nonsense or the greatest villainy - he feels completely at ease with it, so long as it is the view of the herd, or the action of the herd, and he is able to join the herd.


[433] Kersten, K. "The Courage to Resist One's Peers." Star Tribune [Minneapolis, MN] 8 April 1998, metro ed.:19A.

[434] Bond, R and PB Smith. "Culture and Conformity." Psychological Bulletin 119(1996):111-137.

Add a comment | Add a link