Skip to content

Irrationality 3,4: Obedience, Conformity


There’s the usual reference to the Asch conformity (saying obviously wrong things because everyone else does) studies and the Milgram obedience (shock till you kill a dude) studies. Some clear applications: religious people who make many public claims are going to be more resistant to changing their minds, and may strengthen their beliefs when criticized. Or on the other side, Dawkins made that dumb dear Muslima comment in response to Rebecca Watson, and having been criticized, never apologized or backed off a clearly irrational comment. This may also be good reason to avoid dedication to labels or conclusions, and show dedication to the methods of rationality, hedging conclusions on certain facts and leaving an escape route.

Kindle Notes:


1. Think before obeying.
2. Ask whether the command is justified.
3. Never volunteer to become a subject in the Psychological Laboratory at Yale (693).

It will be shown in a later chapter that the only way to substantiate a belief is to try to disprove it. But because like mixes with like, people are rarely exposed to counter-arguments to their more deeply held convictions, let alone to counter-evidence. Their beliefs conform to those of their associates: hence, there is little possibility of eliminating persistent errors (739).

when people’s beliefs are challenged, they may become even more convinced that they are right, a phenomenon known as the ‘boomerang effect’ (774).

Note: Not any effect though, right? Just the deeply held ones.

those who were not publicly committed weakened their views slightly whereas those who were publicly committed developed even more extreme views (779).

Note: Ahh. Partial answer.

1. Think carefully before announcing a decision publicly: you will find it harder to change.
2. When you embark on a course of action from which you do not want to relapse, announce it to as many people as you can.
3. Ask yourself whether you are doing something merely because others do and if so, ask whether it really furthers your own ends.
4. Don’t be impressed by advice from someone you admire unless he is an expert on the topic in question – and even if he is, remember that experts are often wrong.
5. Don’t be stampeded by the behaviour of a crowd into acts you would not commit in calmer moments.
6. Don’t fail to go to someone’s assistance because there are others present who might – or might not (912).

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: