It’s 1950. Solomon Eliot Asch (1907–1996), social psychologist, runs a series of social experiments. In one, he tells students that he is running some visual perception tests. He shows them pictures with bars of different lengths. He asks them to decide which one in one side of the picture was of the same length as the one of the other side. The differences in length are obvious (there are many YouTube that you can find, from the original videos to new replicated ones). The trick was, from the 8 to 10 students in the room, only one is a real subject, the others (‘confederates’) have been instructed to answer by giving first a couple of correct answers, and then incorrect answers.
The real subject is sitting at the end of the row, and always gives his answer after listening to the other (planted) students. I encourage you to see those videos and many others you can find if you search for ‘conformity experiments’, ‘Asch experiments’ or ‘conformity studies’.
The real subject (s) again and again, perplexed as he may look, agreed with the majority on a false answer even if the differences in the length of the bars were obvious.
There are dozens of variations of this experiment that deal with size of the group and provision of answers, whether verbally and in public, or written down on paper. The variation of these results is of high interest in social psychology.
Asch was taken aback. He wrote: “The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black. This is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct’.
It’s 2017. An unknown consortium of social psychologists has enlisted the new US administration to produce the equivalent of Asch’s bars. You, reader, are the subject of the experiment. The social psychologists have also taken the liberty of inserting other test lines in the experiment, from their own collection. I am told that they did a test run with the Brexit campaign in the UK, and were very encouraged, so then they decided to go big in this one. Here are the lines they have put to test in no particular order:
Yesterday there was a major incident in Sweden (linked to his line on terror attacks in Europe), the world is flat, Michael Flynn was just doing his job when talking to the Russians, the electoral college was the biggest since Reagan, millions voted illegally so that is why DT lost the popular vote, the BBC is fake news, global warming is a Chinese hoax, 2+3 = 7, terrorist attacks across Europe are not even being reported, ‘We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban’ , ‘This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine’, ‘The murder rate in our country’s the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that?, Hillary Clinton gave all that uranium to Russia.
This is just one set. The experiment has been running for a while and the data has been accumulating all the time. The data so far suggests that there are ‘millions’ who agree with all of the above, not only the few usual suspects at the source (White House) but millions of supporters across all states in the US. The experiment is perfect and very cost effective in its design because it does not even need a computer-generated set of lines, these are provided for free every day. The site PolitiFact runs a score of the US President feeds. So far, in terms of statements: true, 4%; mostly true, 12%; half true, 14%; mostly False, 20%; false, 33%; ‘pants on fire’, 17%.
The experiment continues .
PS1: The existence of this experiment has been questioned by some, but there is no proof that it is fake news. So, suspend judgement.
PS 2 Update. All the lines in the test-text above are plain lies, but the Swedish people in particular are having a ball trying to find the ‘major incident’ .