by Louise Perry
Thursday, 27
August 2020
Reaction
07:00

The quiet heroism of refusing to raise a fist

Standing up to the mob is never easy, and we should commend those who do it
by Louise Perry

A famous experimental method developed by Solomon Asch in the 1950s, in a project now known as the Asch conformity experiments, studied the effects of majority opinion on individual behaviour. Research participants were gathered in a group and asked to look at two images: the first showing a single line, the second showing three lines of obviously different lengths, A, B, and C. They were then tasked with declaring — crucially, out loud — which line in the second image matched the length of the line in the first image. 

There was a catch. Unbeknownst to the participants, the other members of the group were actors, and sometimes those actors would give the correct response, and sometimes the incorrect one. Asch’s key finding was that the majority opinion made a significant difference to the answers participants gave because a sizeable proportion bowed to group pressure and gave the incorrect response, despite the evidence of their own eyes. 

Asch’s work formed part of an academic effort in the decades following the Second World War to attempt to explain how seemingly nice, ordinary people could have either personally committed, or tacitly enabled, Nazi atrocities. The findings from Asch’s studies contributed to a new view of human nature in which people were understood to be frighteningly vulnerable to groupthink

But the reality is more complicated. What is often forgotten about the Asch conformity experiments is that the vast majority of participants defied majority opinion at least once, and a quarter did so every time. 

This week, a series of videos went viral on Twitter which appear to show American Black Lives Matter protestors harassing passersby and demanding they show solidarity. The most widely shared shows one (white) woman refusing to raise her fist, despite a large group of angry protestors (also white) screaming in her face. 

The video provides a stark illustration of the remarkable capacity of some individuals to resist majority pressure. The woman at the centre of the video, who has since been named as Lauren Victor, sits calmly and refuses to bow to intimidation while almost all of the people around her, including her dining companion, have their fists meekly raised. I have no doubt that, if Victor had taken part in the Asch experiments, she would have been part of the quarter of participants who doggedly insisted on telling the truth every time. 

Because, as this video so vividly demonstrates, vulnerability to groupthink varies substantially between individuals. There is a modest correlation with age, with older people less likely to bow to group pressure than younger people — an effect that holds true in this video, in which Victor is noticeably older than the young members of the mob. 

And personality also has an effect, with agreeable people much more likely to conform to majority opinion. Which means that the people who are most able to withstand extreme group pressure are often dislikable. But they are also some of the most extraordinary members of our society, and they play an immensely valuable role in pushing back against groupthink. 

Whatever the merits of any particular cause, some people will consistently defy the majority view. Those people are frequently maligned and sometimes met with violence. But, in this case, Lauren Victor has been widely praised as a hero, and quite rightly. She demonstrates the sort of moral courage that does not always receive the praise it deserves. 

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Jordan Flower
Jordan Flower
1 year ago

Imagine marching around in a mob and demanding people do exactly what you say, lest they face punishment and ridicule, and then also thinking that you’re fighting fascism.

jcurwin
jcurwin
1 year ago
Reply to  Jordan Flower

And imagine not even being able to see the irony.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  jcurwin

And imagine being white and taking instruction from black people, just because they’re black.

Bob Bobbington
Bob Bobbington
1 year ago

Who do these people think they are? Their behaviour is grotesque.

Adrian
Adrian
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

They are the people who killed the Kulaks, the people whoe threw rocks through windows marked “Juden”.

Monty Marsh
Monty Marsh
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian

Significantly, they remain anonymous. We know the name of their hapless victim, but not of her abusers. That needs to change doesn’t it?

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

Saints and saviours of humanity I suppose. Well to themselves anyway.

Gary Miles
Gary Miles
1 year ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

Pol Pot’s children.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
1 year ago

How high in ‘agreeableness’ do you consider the bullying BLM protestors to be? How high in ‘conscientiousness’ are they? What about ‘openness’ to different ideas, or ’empathy’ or ‘neuroticism’? It seems to me the excellently named Victor has triumphed over a bunch of ‘liberals’ who are deficient in every one of the supposed major personality traits, except neuroticism. These BLM protestors are neurotic because they believe the ramblings of paranoid people who think the whole world is out to get them. Also, patronisingly, these protestors believe it is necessary to take up arms, or at least to try and persuade others to raise their arms, on behalf of these paranoid people, lumping their kind all together as one group with no respect for their individuality, making massive, arrogant assumptions. That is a kind of megalomaniac psychopathy.

So don’t pretend to champion Lauren Victor while labelling her as low in agreeableness. If you were on the side of the angels you would not attempt such a dirty trick.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I’m not sure the author was labelling Lauren Victor as low in agreeableness. That’s not how it came across to me.

Naturally, someone who always goes along with what other people want will score very high in agreeableness.

If you don’t always do what other people want, you will score lower on agreeableness, but this is quite obviously not necessarily a bad thing, as you can’t have a well-rounded personality if you’re always surrendering to other people’s wishes.

Lastly, I’d just add that being admirable, like Lauren Victor, and being agreeable are not the same thing.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

I have to say, Lauren Victor sounds both admirable and agreeable to me.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Good point.
Your last couple of lines are a bit fierce for me though, I did’nt really get the impression that Louise labelled Lauren Victor except to say she had moral courage. However, I recognise the logic that got you there.

jcurwin
jcurwin
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Being low in the personality trait “agreeableness” is not necessarily a bad thing. The author could have explained this better. Conversely, being high in trait “agreeableness” is not always a good thing–it can make you weak and suggestible.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I think you’re mistaking Agreeableness for likeableness. Though that error is somewhat suggested in the article too.

Agreeableness, in the context of the personality 5 factor model, can also mean weakness to peer pressure, a certain gullability and other similar traits which are not helpful to the person themselves, or those around them. Being high in Agreeableness can manifest very negatively.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Yes. The priority of agreeableness is social harmony. That can take you in all kinds of directions, good and bad.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

You (and others) seem to be confusing ‘agreeable’ (= ‘pleasant and easy to get on with’) with ‘agree’ (= ‘endorse someone else’s opinion’). They’re completely different words, and your argument rather falls apart because of it.

V Dan
V Dan
1 year ago

Interesting that the everyone intimidating Victor was white including the one screaming the question “are you Christian” centimeters from her face

Martyn Hole
Martyn Hole
1 year ago

It occurred to me, watching the Lauren Victor video, was that all the protesters had to do was straighten their fingers and they are 90% there.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago

I’d like to see how each one of these aggressors reacts when alone by themselves confronted by similar crowd bullying

Michael McVeigh
Michael McVeigh
1 year ago

There is a fair amount of reaction here on the personality of Victor. Perhaps more thought should go into the personalities of the protestors – specifically their bullying, obnoxious and threatening behaviour and their inability to empathise with Victor – in other words, what is causing such egregious actions towards Victor?

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
1 year ago

Mob hysteria combined with cowardice helps.

Malcolm Ripley
Malcolm Ripley
1 year ago

I think the most dislikable people in that video are the ones standing up. I think the confusion lies in the terms agreeable and dislikable. Wild guess here but that distinction was a subjective analysis of people who are compliant and those who disagree and argue. How many unmasked BLM protestors have you ever seen photos of? Is not the behaviour of the mask wearing “nazis” who verbally abuse non mask wearing vulnerable people the same appaling attitude as those BLM protestors ?

Can I suggest the following : we have people who believe they know what is right for the rest of us and they believe they have a right to impose it on us. That fits in with a right wing facist agenda, a left wing Marxist agenda, it fits in with those BLM protestors and fits in with the mask wearing enforcers.

The left-right political explanation is longer relevant. It’s about control and that is an aspect that goes across the political spectrum which is why governments from left to right are invoking the same control measures for Covid or support for BLM.

I’m not sure what name you can attach to this new political divide “the compliant party” and the “free to think party” are a bit wordy but you get my drift.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
1 year ago

When you see these sanctimonious moral fascists in action it makes you proud to be a sinner.

Laura Ortu
Laura Ortu
1 year ago

I might sound unpopular since I do sympatise with the BLM movement in a reasonable way as I do belive in systemic racism, yet I do appreciate the overall angle of Unherd, and the quality of the very well constructed articles such as this. Regarding this very disturbing image my thoughts on this is not about being or not being agreeable, but it comes down on how much the groupthinking is contributing to the polarisation of opinion. I don t consider the woman a martyr nor a hero, she is a victim of a massthinking motion, period. I do sympatise with a number of ideas (manly socialist) but as a person I don’ t let rule them my behaviour (let alone bully other people for not thinking like me!), and that is a profound criticism I have towards any movement of any colour!The moment a current of thought gets approved by the elite (or capitalised by the elite), justifing control and extreme behaviour, that s the moment when it fails, polarising opinions, creating walls, and dehumanising our ability to communicate…in somehow it makes us slaves of our thinking.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 year ago
Reply to  Laura Ortu

Jordan Peterson puts it very well – ‘possessed’ by ideology.

Adrian
Adrian
1 year ago
Reply to  Laura Ortu

I like that phrase, “Slaves to our thinking”

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

I always thought that agreeable meant being pleasant to other people. But I now realise it just means accepting other peoples views regardless.
But does it?
Or is just accepting others peoples view regardless, just an act of moral cowardice?
In the circumstances shown, I think that I could well have taken the cowards way. You know, live to fight another day …..

Adrian
Adrian
1 year ago

In psychological speak (specifically the psychology of the normal), agreeableness is basically how much of a follower you are. It’s not necessarily a “good” trait.

In normal parlance it’s the opposite of a blowhard.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago
Reply to  Adrian

Thank you for enlightening me. I should have realised that psychologists had misunderstood the words they use.
What they mean is not “agreeable”, but “weak minded”.

Go Away Please
Go Away Please
1 year ago

Possibly, but I like your first post: some things are not worth upsetting a lot of people over, some things are.
My mother was always very agreeable and therefore was very well liked. She didn’t do this because she was weak-minded. She liked living in her community and she knew that meant she needed to be agreeable. Then if she needed help, she always received it. She was always very helpful in return.
Sometimes there’s a need for this. We create communities using such skills.
I’m far less agreeable than she was. As a result I have far fewer friends. This does not worry me as it better suits my nature.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

You were right the first time. Most of the people on here don’t know which way to hold up the dictionary.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
1 year ago

I don’t entirely agree that “agreeable” people are least likely to go against the crowd. I’m pretty amenable but if someone “orders” me to do something I refuse on principle.
That’s why I’ve thought for a long time that martyrs are not necessarily religious, just stubborn.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

I bet she gets sacked from her job (if she has one) before the end of the week.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago

On the theme of racism which this video exhibits.

If a person believes in the concept of Nation then they are a Nationalist and an advocate of Nationalism.

If a person believes in the concept of Race then they are a Racist and an advocate of Racism.

Woke Groupthink however, has you believe that if you don’t believe in the concept of Race or don’t believe in Racism then you must be a Racist. Which in my opinion, is what this video exemplifies.

The Racists from the BLM are essentially cajoling people to believe in the concept of Race, to become advocates of Racism, in order to become Racists like themselves.

Victor clearly does not want to be a Racist, does not want to believe in the concept of Race or become an advocate of Racism.

In conclusion, if you have enough Racists telling everybody to believe in the concept of Race, then we have groupthink putting pressure on people to become Racists like themselves.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

“If a person believes in the concept of Race then they are a Racist and an advocate of Racism.”

I don’t think this is correct. Racism is a matter of evaluating people on the basis of their race. It’s possible to believe in the concept of race without believing in the superiority of one race over another.

Bill Gaffney
Bill Gaffney
1 year ago

Greatest mistake? Calling these rioting, led by Soros paid scum, “protestors”. They are Rioters pure and simple and should be dealt with harshly. BLM is a Communist (call themselves Marxist because to the ignorant it doesn’t sound as bad) organization that cares not a whit about blacks. Wouldn’t astonish me to discover it to is funded by Soros. An evil, disgusting man who should have been tried, convicted and receive a very harsh sentence ages ago.

MrsP Black
MrsP Black
1 year ago

coersion is yet another form of injustice

Peter KE
Peter KE
1 year ago

Thank goodness for individuals with courage. The BLM, XR etc are all just anarchist thugs bent on destroying our society, they are criminals and should be dealt with severely not pandered to by bent knee or other signs.