You volunteer for a study at your local university. You walk into the room, along with seven other participants, and you see this posted on the wall:
The director asks: “Which line on the right is the same length as the line on the left?”
It’s easy, you think to yourself. The answer is obviously C.
The other participants, however, (who are all part of the study) unanimously agree that the answer is A. All seven of them, with a lot of confidence.
What do you do?
If you’re like 75% of people, you go along with the crowd. Despite the fact that intuitively you know the answer is incorrect.
That’s because, as we’ve said before, social behavior is contagious. Nobody lives in a vacuum. The actions of those around us exert a subtle but significant influence on our beliefs and behaviors.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn points out in The Gulag Archipelago, Soviet citizens’ willingness to deny their own experience propped up the regime. Everyone thought everyone else might just be okay with the tyranny. So they too fell in line. (This is also why censorship was so important).
It’s not that we’re easily brainwashed, it’s that we’re hyper-social creatures, and as a result, we invariably COPY what we perceive to be successful behavior.
Hence why most human learning is social learning, i.e. copying others.
While there are very necessary instances where it pays off to stand out from the crowd, social compliance can also empower the better sides of our nature too. We’re all copying the behavior we want to see, which is what makes social coagulation possible, allowing us to build teams, businesses, Nation States, and cultures in general. Good or bad. Without it, none of the latter would be even remotely possible.
It’s not a flaw, it’s just part of the human condition.