Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Absence of pressure to conform

Much madness is divinest Sense
To a discerning Eye
Much Sense- the starkest Madness
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail
Assent-and you are sane
Demur-you're straightway dangerous
And handled with a Chain

-Emily Dickinson

One major factor that strengthens religion is the pressure to conform. (The post at that link is in response to this interview.) Perhaps that is why Napoleon said, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet”. When you are among a group of believers, all of whom tend to think and act in similar ways, it is easier to go along with them than to rebel even if you feel that it is all weird. Going against the group is not easy. If you don't follow the crowd, you face questions like, 'What will the relatives say?'

In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre writes:
'Communal reinforcement' is the process by which a claim becomes a strong belief, through repeated assertion by members of a community. The process is independent of whether the claim has been properly researched, or is supported by empirical data significant enough to warrant belief by reasonable people.

Communal reinforcement goes a long way towards explaining how religious beliefs can be passed on in communities from generation to generation. It also explains how testimonials within communities of therapists, psychologists, celebrities, theologians, politicians, talk-show hosts, and so on, can supplant and become more powerful than scientific evidence.
One of the influencers of conformity to beliefs strengthened by communal reinforcement is group size:
One of the most important factors affecting whether or not people conform is the size of the group around them. Maximum conformity is seen when groups reach between 3 and 5 people.

Add more people and it makes little difference, less than 3, though, and conformity is substantially reduced.
I have a tendency to drift away rather unconsciously when I don't find the conversation gripping. Most people, even when they are not really interested in a conversation, will feel compelled to keep making some polite noises. This is not expected from me and most of the people will not be speaking directly to me. So no one will notice it if I am not all there. Thus even if I am in the midst of a lot of people, I can be thought of as being alone.

Such a situation is conducive to pondering over various subversive thoughts. As I became used to looking different from other people, I became more comfortable thinking differently from those around me.

No comments:

Post a Comment