Frances Shure, M.A., L.P.C., has performed an in-depth analysis addressing a key issue of our time: "Why Do Good People Become Silent—or Worse—About 9/11?" The resulting essay, to be presented here as a series, is composed of a synthesis of reports on academic research as well as clinical observations.
In answering the question in the title of this essay, last month’s segment, Part 5, explored the concepts of denial and cognitive dissonance. We resort to denial to avoid cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing feeling of losing our emotional equilibrium when faced with new information that challenges our worldview, or when we hold beliefs that are contradictory to known facts.
In Part 6, we continue Ms. Shure’s analysis with the Solomon Asch experiments on conformity and Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann’s theory of the “spiral of silence.”
Part 6: Conformity
Soloman AschIn the early 1950s, experiments by Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College vividly demonstrated our human proclivity to conform to a group’s prevailing view. Several students selected prior to the experiment were instructed to act as if they were subjects of the experiment, whereas in reality, they were confederates, or plants. These confederates were all instructed to give the same wrong answer in identifying the length of a line on a card. One real and unsuspecting subject then joined the group, and when the experiment was under way, an instructor assigned the task of matching the length of a line on a card to the correct line among three different sized lines on the same card or another card. In 36.8% of the cases, the real subject would abandon his or her original right answer and would agree instead to the other participants’ unanimous wrong answer.1