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Basic Sociology - Group Behavior

FrenchDoc's picture


Social groups have specific characteristics: (a) they consist of two or more people who (b) interact in an ordered fashion, (c) share specific values and norms, and (d) have at least some sense of unity and common goals.

Group conformity / obedience

One of the main influences that groups exercise over their members lies in their capacity to induce conformity – the process through which members modify their behavior to comply with the group’s norms or decisions. Research shows that group pressure does not have to be intense to produce conformity.

One such experiment was conducted by Solomon Asch (1956) to show the power of groups to influence behavior. Asch assembled 6 to 8 students, all accomplices except one, the subject of the experiment. The students were shown a line on card 1 and asked to pick the corresponding line on card 2 (see diagram).


It is obvious that the correct answer is A. At first, Asch’s accomplices answered correctly but in further rounds of the experiment they started answering incorrectly. Asch wanted to see what the subject would do: would he provide the correct answer despite the group’s incorrect consensus or would he go along with the group?

One third of the subjects went along and provided the wrong answer and later admitted they knew it but did not want to be singled out. In other words, they were willing to compromise their judgment for the sake of going along with the group’s (wrong) answer.

Here is a video to illustrate this dynamic further:

However, picking a line on a card is a rather trivial matter. What would people do in more serious situations? Would people engage in actions that are deemed immoral or would cause pain on others just to go along with the group? Those are some of the question that social psychologist Stanley Milgram (1963) tried to answer through his famous obedience experiment.

Milgram got interested in such questions after the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, a former high-ranking Nazi largely tried for his design of, and participation in, the extermination of Jews during World War II. At his trial, Eichmann repeatedly asserted that he was only following orders and therefore was not entirely responsible for the consequences. Milgram’s idea was to design an experiment that would show whether obedience to authority is such a powerful phenomenon that people can engage in mass murder or other behaviors that might go against their conscience.

Milgram designed his experiment with three actors, an “experimenter” (whose role was to oversee the experiment and become the authority figure, dressed with the white coat), a “teacher” (the actual subject of the experiment), and a “learner” (an accomplice of Milgram’s). The selected teachers-subjects were all men between the ages of 20 and 50 with different educational levels. They were paid a modest sum of money to participate, as they were told, in an experiment of the influence of punishment on learning. The experimenter would then tie the learner to what looked like an electric chair while explaining to the teacher that the shocks would be painful to the learner, but no permanent damage would be inflicted. The teacher would then sit at a console of what looked like an electro-shock generator that supposedly delivered shocks from 15 to 450 volts with indication of the strength of the shock (such as mild, severe, or XXX for the highest level).

The experimenter then explained the experiment: the teacher was to read pairs of words to the learner. Then, he would read one word to the learner who would provide the second word of the pair. If the learner answered correctly, the teacher would move on to the next pair; if he answered incorrectly, the teacher would inflict increasingly high electric shocks. No subject questioned the design of the experiment.

As it proceeded and the teachers inflicted the shocks, they would hear moans, poundings on the wall, screams and then silence from the learner. Two thirds of the subjects inflicted shocks up to the highest level of 450 volts (psychologists had estimated that 0.1% of subjects would do so). Although they showed signs of nervousness and agitation, reassurances from the experimenter (standardized statements provided in this exact order: “Please continue,” “The experiment requires you to continue, please go on,” “It is essential that you continue,” “You have no choice, you must continue”) were enough to get them to continue inflicting the shocks.

Milgram’s obedience experiment adds to Zimbardo’s prison experiment in showing how it is rather easy to get people to engage in violent behavior against others who have done nothing to them. As in Zimbardo’s example, one step in the process is to put individuals into roles (in Milgram’s case, teacher, learner, and experimenter). Such titles remove any traces of individual identification: it is the teacher imposing electric shocks on the learner on instructions from the “experimenter,” not John hurting Bill because Ted tells him to.

This separation of the individual from the role helps the teacher detach himself from moral responsibility for the action he engages in. This process also dehumanizes the learner as a part of the experiment and not a suffering fellow human being. In the context of the experiment, it then becomes possible for the subjects, when faced with the reality of their actions, to state, as the ordinary Germans who contributed to the Holocaust did, that they were just following orders.

If it is so easy for ordinary people to inflict pain to others that have done nothing to them, what happens when the victims belong to groups or categories of people one has been trained to hate and despise?

In-groups and Out-groups

One way that groups contribute to shaping members’ identities is through the establishing and maintenance of boundaries. Group boundaries can be marked in different, and more or less formal, ways. Boundaries can be marked visibly: group members can be made to wear uniforms (such as the military, law enforcement, or sports teams) or specific items (such as a membership card or windshield sticker). Such markers contribute to giving the individual a sense of belonging. Another way to accomplish this is to foster a strong sense of togetherness within the group along with strong loyalty to the group’s goals, norms, values and symbols. In sociological terms, groups foster cohesiveness through in-group/out-group distinctions.

Sociologist William Graham Sumner (1959) coined the concept of in-group to indicate a group to which one belongs and toward which one feels a sense of loyalty. An in-group always exists in relation to an out-group: a group to which one does not belong and toward which one feels hostility. An individual tends to have a positive view on members of his in-group whereas he will have a negative view of members of the out-group.

The basic in-group versus out-group dynamic is “us” versus “them.” Targeting an enemy is a very powerful way to unify a group. By focusing members’ attention toward “them” (and “them” can be anyone), group leaders are able to minimize issues internal to the group, such as conflicts and tensions: “we” have to stick together because “they” are a threat. In-group versus out-group distinction also helps limit disagreement within the group as every member is expected to fall in line and display his loyalty to the group.

It is easy to see how such distinction is rooted in ethnocentrism and is the basis for prejudice such as racism, sexism and homophobia as in-group members see themselves as superior to members of the out-group. Of course, Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s in Germany was based on the clear differentiation between “we” (the good, hard-working Germans, economically deprived by the Jews and humiliated by the sanctions imposed after World War I) and “them” (the Jews, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, the Communists and others).

The quasi-automatic consequence of drawing in-group / out-group distinctions is the dehumanization of members of the out-group. Once an entire category of people is seen as less than human, the door is open for its mistreatment without moral qualms. After all, if, as Milgram’s experiment shows, we can torture people who have done nothing to us, we can certainly mistreat people we despise even more easily.

In-group / out-group distinction is visible in our opening example. The phenomenon of hooliganism in European soccer is based on it. Hooligans are extremely rowdy and violent supporters who are so strongly loyal to their teams that they can engage in the most violent acts against supporters of other teams. Great Britain is usually considered the country where hooliganism is the most severe (more than one hundred dead in the 1980s); however, it is not a phenomenon unique to England.

Arkan's Tigers In Serbia (a republic from the former Yugoslavia), the Red Star of Belgrade is the most successful team. It is also well-known for its brutal supporters, known for their violence. As Franklin Foer (2004) tells it, Red Star fans were known to dress in opposing team’s jerseys (a group boundary marker), befriends visiting fans, then lure them into cars, drive them to remote locations and beat them up. Red Star supporters call themselves the Ultra Bad Boys and do make clear in-group / out-group distinctions regarding other teams, such as the other Belgrade team, the Partizan.

As Foer indicated, the Ultra Bad Boys saw themselves as superior moral actors in the world of soccer supporters and they follow specific norms: no firearms, no beating of the enemy after he is knocked out. Foer quotes a Red Star supporter describing the Partizan supporters (the out-group) as violators of this moral code: “Partizan fans once killed a fifteen-year-old Red Star Supporter. He was sitting in the stadium, and they fired flares at his chest. Those monsters killed the boy. They observe no limits” (2004:11).

The Red Star fans were so extreme in their violence that when Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic wanted to create paramilitary groups to conduct ethnic cleansing against other ethnic groups (Croats and Bosnian Muslims), he turned to them. Under the training of a nationalist gangster named Arkan, the Ultra Bad Boys became Arkan’s Tigers and committed atrocities, including slaughtering more than 2,000 people. It was not hard for the Red Star fans to jump from one form of in-group / out-group distinction (Red Star versus any other soccer team) to another (Serbs versus Croats and Bosnians).

Local fanaticism turned into extreme nationalism but the mechanisms were the same: dehumanization, ethnocentrism and extreme loyalty toward one’s in-group accompanied by extreme hatred for the out-group.

Along with Zimbardo’s, Asch’s and Milgram’s experiments, in-group / out-group dynamics help explain how commonly certain categories of people come to be treated inhumanely, subjected to degrading treatment and tortured and how easily such fate is met with indifference. Although there has been controversy in the United States over pictures taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the prison-camp in Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) as well as the “dark sites” (undisclosed locations where the US transfers suspected terrorists without due process), the American public has not risen to vehemently oppose these practices.

This could also be the result of in-group / out-group distinction: the people subjected to these practices are considered an out-group; they are "Arabs", suspected terrorists, and mostly Muslim. In the context of the “War on Terror,” they have been labeled as enemies of civilization and freedom. Whether or not they are guilty of anything, simply being members of the out-group makes it justifiable to deny them humane treatment under international law.


Groupthink is a term coined by sociologist William Whyte (1952) that he defined as “rationalized conformity,” that is, when members go along with the group even if they privately disagree with the group’s consensus. The concept was further developed by Irving Janis (1972) who studied the impact of groupthink on major US foreign policy blunders. Janis defines groupthink as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”

Symptoms of Groupthink

  1. Illusion of invulnerability
  2. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group
  3. Collective rationalization of group's decision
  4. Shared stereotypes of out-group
  5. Self-censorship
  6. Illusion of unanimity
  7. Pressure on dissenters to conform
  8. Self-appointed "mindguards" protect the group and leader from negative information

Effects of Groupthink

  1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
  2. Incomplete survey of objectives
  3. Failure to examine risks of preferred choice
  4. Failure to re-evaluate rejected alternatives
  5. Poor information search
  6. Selectivity in reviewing information
  7. Failure to work out contingency plans

One of Janis’ well-known examples of groupthink is the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. In 1961, plans were drafted by the Kennedy administration to support an invasion of Cuba led by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government. The invasion failed miserably and turned out to be a fiasco for Kennedy. Although at the time of the decision, the consensus was strong in favor of the planned invasion, some advisers later publicly acknowledged that they thought it was a misguided operation but kept quiet at the time because they thought the President had made up his mind. Also, the President and his advisers, almost without exception, shared similar social characteristics: they were upper-class, wealthy white men, highly-educated in the nation’s elite schools. Such similarities also created conditions where groupthink could emerge and dissent would be suppressed.

More recently, in 2004, the US Senate Intelligence Committee published a report blaming groupthink for the intelligence failures relating to the presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq prior to the US invasion. Subsequent reports and publications have confirmed that indeed, the administration’s decision on Iraq were guided by groupthink as that the eight symptoms were present.

There was no doubt in the administration that the US military would easily prevail (symptom 1), that the US would therefore remove an evil dictatorship and replace it with a democratic regime that would be a model for the rest of the Middle Eastern region (symptoms 2 and 4). When initial reasons for the invasion (presence of WMDs) were cast in doubt, others were provided (democracy, human rights – symptom 3). Dissenting views from the intelligence community on both the presence of WMDs and the “easy mission” view were promptly squashed (symptoms 5 and 7) so that a deep consensus was progressively formed where only pro-invasion voices were heard (symptom 6) and the President was given only information supporting the consensus (symptom 8) by limiting discussions – if any – at lower levels such as the office of the Vice-President or the Secretary of Defense.

As a result, decisions based on groupthink tend not to yield the expected results (the invasion of the Bay of Pigs failed and the Iraq war turned out not to be a short and easy mission).

Groupthink is also often related to another group process: risky shift. Risky shift takes place when groups make riskier or more extreme decisions than the members individually approve of. In such situations, group members with more moderate views tend to align themselves with members with more radical views, therefore producing a consensus on the most extreme views even if that consensus does not reflect individuals’ opinions. We all remember this:

Reference Groups

We know that we develop a sense of self and identity through interactions with other people, through different processes such as the looking-glass, role-playing and anticipatory socialization. Groups have the ability to not only influence behavior but also our sense of self and identity as well as our attitudes.

A reference group is a group we use as standard to evaluate ourselves, our behavior and attitudes. Reference groups can be primary groups, such as family or friends, but they can also be secondary groups to which we do not belong. A reference group is the collective equivalent of a role model (who is always an individual). Whether a reference group is primary or secondary has no impact on the fact that it does exercise an influence on the individual.

For instance, in many countries torn by civil war (such as Sierra Leone in West Africa or Sri Lanka in Asia), the social structure is torn apart such that the main reference group for young boys are the warlords involved in the civil conflicts because they seem to be the only men who demand and get respect through fear and violence and, in a collapsed society, they are the only ones with wealth and prestige. Therefore, learning to use violence and getting close to a warlord appear the only viable social paths to many children who imitate the dressing style and “fashion” adopted by the warlord (wearing shades, smoking, etc.).

Of course, warlords use their status as individual role models and collective reference groups to recruit children into the ranks of their paramilitary groups and militias. In this case, warlords are reference groups rather than role models since boys do not really care which rebel group they join as long as the group puts a weapon in their hands and the group warlord lets them know they have become part of his “family.”

It is joining a group headed by a powerful warlord that is attractive. Which side of the war one joins is irrelevant (child soldiers actually easily change side).

Less tragically, reference groups are constantly used in marketing and advertising. Ads appeal not to our objective needs for new products but rather to our aspirations to belong to certain categories of people (wealthy, successful and happy). Ads then tell us that if we do not actually belong to such reference groups, we can at least get enjoy the same lifestyle and project the image of being a part of the wealthy, successful and happy class.

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Submitted by lambert on

Is there, then, no escape?

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

Simple answer to simple question...

Actually, there is, of course... surprisingly (or not), in the case of Milgram's Study, people were less likely to submit to authority as unconditionally once they have be exposed to the study itself.

Knowing about these dynamics makes them visible when one is involved in social interactions (which is pretty much all the time), you would instantly recognize them in your corporate meetings, mall behavior, etc.

Of course, we teach that in soc to make people aware so they can avoid things like groupthink. In management and marketing, they learn that stuff to manipulate people.

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Submitted by lambert on

.... the critique is, er, critical, because it exposes the mechanism.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

Hence, the critical work that PB2.0 aims to provide is essential.

Critical analysis is a progressive trait (conservatives tend to be more accepting and supportive of unquestioned tradition... marriage is between a man and a woman, that's the way it is!...that kind of reasoning... questioning the institution of marriage - history, power dynamics, institutional mechanisms, beneficiaries and losers, etc.... these are critical and progressive questions).

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Submitted by hipparchia on

we're all going to have to start calling you the right reverend dr warlord lambert now.

Submitted by hipparchia on

yabbut, aren't we supposed to avoid groupthink, even if it coalesces around one such as lambert?

seriously, a lot of my volunteer work has been with poor kids, right here in the good ol' usa, the ones for whom gangs [and gang hierachy] fulfill the warlord role model / in group. i'd known this for a long time, chiefly from dog training, but that wording isn't always well received when i talk about kids. awfully nice of you to lay out in human terms for me to use when i get back to hectoring local pols on some things we need to do to fix our community.

go local too!

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

this book! It definitely humanizes the gang structure and the group dynamics going on.

And yes, gang leaders are definitely comparable to warlords. A gang is a private army, if you wish.

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Submitted by hipparchia on

i've read quite a bit about venkatesh in general and that book in particular, and without reading the book i'd already gotten annoyed with the guy. but now that i've read your review, i'll look for the book on my next library run.

the kids i've worked with have sure provided me with an insider view [and tons of humanization too] of what's it like to live in extreme poverty here in the land of plenty, all the facets, not just the gangs, and it's exactly as a result of my becoming this accidental amateur sociologist that i read and reread [and try to think of ways to apply] your sociology 101 posts. many, many thanks.

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Submitted by FrenchDoc on

is fight back against the assumption (from outsiders) that housing projects are the jungle. Actually, gangs provide some sort of social structure where the institutional forms that we, non-slum dwellers, take for granted. For instance, in my oh-so-respectable suburb of Chicago, if I call the police, they will come. Same if I call an ambulance.

Not so in the projects. So, Venkatesh shows that the gangs actually take people to the hospital because ambulances never come; and they act as law enforcement (albeit enforcing norms that none of us would tolerate but the projects inhabitants have nowhere else to go).

Go Global!

Submitted by hipparchia on

gee, that sounds familiar...

my work for awhile there took me into all the local housing projects. i'd park the car, get out, walk around, make notes, blahblahblah. never had any real problem, in part because this was during the day, in part because the gangs here are more loosely organized, and i'm sure there are all kinds of other reasons i'm unaware of.

i suspect one of the reasons the gangs are less organized here than in other cities is that there is some mobility for kids trying to get out of the projects, and i suspect the reason for that might be because this is a rather depressed area overall. speaks a lot to the idea of income equality being good for society. i'd be all for globalization [the thomas friedman kind] if friedman and the robber barons had to live the same way as the people they're bringing globalization to. ;-)

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Submitted by myiq2xu on

I believe it was Groucho Marx who said "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member."

BTW - I run with scissors too.

“Payback is a PUMA”

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Submitted by a little night ... on

Becoming aware of the phenomenon is one way to try to avoid it, or anyway to become more itchily self-conscious when the occasion for it arises.

I have been thinking about this a lot over the past day or so. It's at the root of my own interest in cognitive science (and, in particular, in the work of Kahnemann and Twersky and the like).

FrenchDoc, you are giving us invaluable tools. And in such beautifully written posts. Many thanks!

(I first typed "Many thinks!" Yeah, those too!)

Submitted by lambert on

Indeed, how a propos.

Of course, the savage irony is that this post applies to all groups.

Is there a taxonomy of groups along an axis of open and closed-ness?

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

There is no exact taxonomy but it is one trait of groups that they always establish boundaries and determine who's in and who's out.

These boundaries can be porous (like here where you let pretty much everyone post) and there is limited "price of entry" to the group, or they can be very rigid and getting in is very hard.

Seems to me that's what's been going on: the price of entry has gone up tremendously for people like us (we're required to drink the kool-aid) and the boundaries have solidified rather than remained fluid (you're with us or against us).

Go Global!

Submitted by lambert on

The Kool-Aid was the price of entry.

But we are all in many groups in many contexts. Can we "re-group"? Using perhaps this idea?

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

is kinda what you're talking about... that is the mechanism of social movements formation (make that another post in itself).

But in a nutshell, different groups find that they have at least some common goals and decide to pull together... think the alter-globalization groups: labor, environment, indigenous peoples rights, women's groups, etc. ... they do not share ALL of their goals but they do have some commonality (roughly, opposition to corporate globalization) and join for common projects (such as simple structures like organizing against WTO meetings... think Seattle... or more complex: the establishment of the World Social Forum).

this does no erase their differences and at other times, they may pursue their separate objectives. But on a regular basis, they come together as one big social movement.

(does that make any sense?)

Go Global!

Submitted by scoff on

of something I said to my wife a few years ago. I told her I thought that to come together, the world would need something that threatened all of humanity, a common enemy that all people would recognize (the example I used was an imminent impact by a meteor.)

Nothing short of a global threat would galvanize people into recognizing that our tribal ways (which derive from our evolution) are just too costly to maintain in this day and age.

I would have thought that the growing environmental crisis would have done the trick, but too few people recognize that it is truly a threat to us all.

Maybe there is nothing that will ever bring us together, and we're stuck with tribalism and "in" grouping until extinction solves the problem for us. That's been the direction my thoughts have been headed for the past year or so.

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Submitted by hobson on

One important area here is the dynamic of online groups. It's a different dynamic from face to face interaction. In my experience which goes back to 1981, online groups don't tend to last very long. I think that the internet has reached a saturation point where that may be less true than it was. Once, people online had in common that we weren't very many. We were like radio ham hobbyists and so, had our passion for computing in common. But flaming was something that developed in the earliest days. There were always people who liked to get into arguments for the sake of arguing and would indulge in behavior I don't think they would have done face to face. We were also careful because you didn't really know who you were communicating with. Hence fake names and handles.

Then, too, a lot of us thought that letting kids online spoiled everything. We had a nice little community going on on Compuserve until Time did a piece on cyber sex and there was a sudden lowering of the price of personal computers. Suddenly, we were inundated with people in chat with handles like 10 inch stud.

There was also a concerted effort by both the phone companies and the government to try to control or limit the growth of online. I think the crackdown on hackers in the early days was part of the government's idea of countering the way in which personal computers connected to modems undid the power of corporations to control our lives in ways we didn't understand or question.

One other point that interests me is how groups change or stay the same as their membership changes. New York is hardly the same city it was when I first came here but it is still more of a street city then say Los Angeles where I grew up. The upper west side used to be very diverse while the east side was considered more posh. Now it seems the upper west side has become very yuppie ish while much of the east side has aged to the point of becoming more like the west side used to be.

And, of course, while there were special interest groups, usenet groups etc online, there were no blogs. People who IM now without a second thought had no idea what chat was when I would try to describe it to them. Most people I know still don't blog but they have heard of blogs.

Finally, I thank IBM for getting into the game late. They had the name and became very popular but they started with off the shelf components that anyone could get into so computers were taken out of the realm of the professional "expert" you had to consult as when your TV went out. It's one thing I have against Apple. They have tried to make computers an appliance since the beginning. It functions beautifully but if anything goes wrong including your battery failing to charge, you have to return it to them.

badger's picture
Submitted by badger on

While a lot was familiar from both Poli Sci courses (one on "Interest Groups") and Ed Psych (Milgram and Kohlberg's stages of individual moral development too), I was surprised to find one new section really pertinent to what I've been thinking about lately.

I've wanted to write something somewhere about why liberal politics fail, written from the point of view of engineering design or heuristics (problem solving). I can't seem to put it clearly in less than about 50,000 words, but your list of the "Effects of Groupthink" is in part what I'd want to communicate (the only thing missing is some discussion of feedback, corrective action and measureable goals).

The area where I've run into it most frequently is the area I've been involved with most in recent years - forest restoration - but once you identify the faulty modes of thinking and failures in problem solving technique in one area, you start to see it everywhere.

One classic example is the people who advocate "Neo-Tribalism" (after Daniel Quinn or others). They envision all kinds of benefits from tribalism, but see none of the risks, fail to plan for contingencies, fail to consider alternatives, fail even to really understand the fundamentals of their subject deeply. And I hadn't even considered what else they might do in terms of Milgram or other models of group behavior.

That list of groupthink effects is a checklist for why political solutions nearly always fail, both on the left and the right.

As far as protecting against these kinds of behaviors, I know that something as simple as a good course in engineering design is helpful in preventing groupthink errors (in part that's what such a course is designed to do). Unfortunately very few engineers ever have that kind of training, and still fewer can transfer that skill outside of their vocation.

This is extremely relevant info, IMO. Thanks again.

Submitted by lambert on

Forest restoration is a great thing to do, and also a great metaphor for so much that we need to do. So, we need to hear about this from you, badger!

Why don't you take one task, or one tree, or one little patch of forest, and write something simple about that? We'll comment on it, and take it from there.

Writer, unblock thyself!

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by ohio on

We have hamster naming rights to lease and I have a couple of ideas regarding tree adoption and animal adoption we may be able to roll out.

We have lots of planting to do here and if you want to have your name on our trees or part of the vineyard...but let's get the rest of it set-up.

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Submitted by badger on

I could write about forests or the environment again, I guess. I did some of that at dKos, and I guess I assumed there might not be much interest.

It would be interesting to me to see if I could fit more design process into that area, so maybe I will if I can be more concise.

Submitted by lambert on

You love trees? Write about a tree, maybe this one tree. Tell us a story. Make us love that tree. The rest will come.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

I find this stuff actually quite fascinating and it explains so much about a lot of different situations and settings.

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Submitted by badger on

People who are treehuggers may not agree with me on a lot of things, but I always learn a lot from discussions.

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Submitted by chicago dyke on

the perspective of the video game. my, how it's evolved over the years. "face forward" and suchlike has a new meaning, in this hi-res, multi-player, vertical marketing world of ours. thanks, FD, for updating my understanding of what is out there.

leah's picture
Submitted by leah on


One of the many struggles, intellectual and otherwise, that has been disappeared from discussions of "the sixties," was a movement, also both intellectual and political, to overturn the entire notion of the "culture of poverty." Even as good a book as Michael Harrington's "The Other America," suffered from a tendency to think of the problems of poverty as a kind of pathology. I became excited by this work because as a very young social worker, it matched my own experience working with single mothers raising their children on "welfare." Much of the community development aspects of the "War on Poverty" was based on this approach, and it is a shame that it has become received wisdom that it was that particular component of the various Johnson anti-poverty programs that failed the most completely. Not so. And the struggles that it ran into with local and state administrations, many of the Democratic themselves, proved to be importantly illuminating.

I worked in the South Bronx in the late sixties and seventies, and it was fascinating to see the way that street gangs becomes politicized, in a good way.

I have much more to say on this subject, but I'll leave it at that, right now, except to recommend a book. It's by an anthropologist, who used his expertise to explore the relationship between gang activity and lack of opportunity in the inner city.

It's "Getting Paid: Youth Crime And Work In The Inner City" by Mercer L. Sullivan. It was first published in 1989, so it could be thought of as out of date, and may only be available in a second-hand copy, but it's well worth looking at.

Submitted by lambert on

... precisely because it did work.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

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Submitted by FrenchDoc on

that anti-poverty programs DO NOT work. Never mind that the WoP slashed poverty rates in half.

And actually, many anti-poverty government programs are still based on the "culture of poverty" BS (you still find it in soc textbook, without the caveat that it's BS), which means that they are paternalizing, infantilizing and punitive.

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Submitted by FrenchDoc on

In conservative newspeak, it should be "emphasize personal responsibility" or some such thing.

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Submitted by hipparchia on

my library doesn't have a copy, but i've located a couple of others that do. maybe i can get it on interlibrary loan.

i sort of got dragooned into working with the kids, but it's turned out to be my favorite so far. much cheerier, even with the gang stuff, than my pet issues involving the intersection of homelessness, mental illness, and the prison system.

please do write more on the subject.

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

with the idea that Milgram tells us anything about 'group' behavior (and with the overly broad definition of a 'group').

I also think that far too much emphasis is placed on the idea that group dynamics = "violence". Group dynamics are primarily about conformity, but that conformity more often leads to dilution of the purpose of the group -- and a rejection of 'extremism' -- rather than extremes in behavior. I think its a huge mistake to generalize about groups based on group dynamics that occur only within a specific social/cultural context (e.g. the extreme holliganism of Serbian soccer fans tells us far less about groups than it does about Serbian culture.)

Submitted by lambert on

Now I don't know what to believe!

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

For instance, the main findings of both Asch and Milgram is that groups tend to induce conformity, and obedience (respectively)... the possible collective violence that results (something rather well established) is one possible outcome, not the exclusive one... but certainly the most dramatic one.

On hooliganism, actually, it does say a lot regarding group behavior... read Foer's book and you'll find that soccer fan violence is not by any means limited to Serbians... what happened is that the social, economic and political and geopolitical context of Serbia made it possible for the soccer guys to transition relatively easily from soccer fans to murderous militia... these conditions were not present in other parts of the world where soccer fans therefore remain soccer fans. Group dynamics tell us what elements were already present and facilitated this transition.

On the broad definition of group: it's not broad when you put the traits I've listed at the very top of the post(and you might have to add the distinction between primary and secondary groups, the specific dynamics induced by the size of the group - as size increases, dynamics change - the type of leadership exercised in the group, etc.). All these things put together actually narrow the range of collectivities that can properly be called groups, rather than broaden it.

And Lambert, when in doubt, always assume I'm right... that'll make your life lots easier! ;-)

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Submitted by a little night ... on

does shed some light on how people's behavior may change depending on their social roles. (And I can see calling the experimenter-teacher-learner-subject foursome a "group" cohering temporarily for the purpose of carrying out the experiment, each one falling into a prescribed role - certainly from the point of view of the subject, that would be the case, even though the actual roles were not as they were presented to the subject. But no sociologist, me: just putting this out there.)

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

as a "group" renders the "group" concept meaningless. Indeed, the whole idea that Milgram is applicable to group dynamic rests on the assumption that the person being shocked is not part of "the group".

I think there is a significant difference between autonomous authority and "peer authority" -- and while the Milgram experiment may inform the overall understanding of how individuals react to authority in general, in terms of group dynamics Milgram should be considered parenthetical at best.

Caro's picture
Submitted by Caro on

... seems to be at least partly genetic.

That would make sense, considering the fact that for millions of years (even pre-dating the homo not-so-sapiens-sometimes species) getting along in the group was necessary for life. Being banished from the tribe was the equivalent of a death sentence. Internal cohesiveness, even to the detriment of individual thinking, made the group better able to defend itself. Fear and loathing of the “other”, on the other hand, was useful in making sure one’s own tribe wasn’t overrun by another, more warlike one.

This below is from Robert M. Sapolsky, writing in Foreign Affairs in 2006:

“[H]umans, as primates, are hard-wired for xenophobia. Some brain-imaging studies have appeared to support this view in a particularly discouraging way. There is a structure deep inside the brain called the amygdala, which plays a key role in fear and aggression… [But t]est a person who has a lot of experience with people of different races, and the amygdala does not activate. Or, as in a wonderful experiment by Susan Fiske, of Princeton University, subtly bias the subject beforehand to think of people as individuals rather than as members of a group, and the amygdala does not budge. Humans may be hard-wired to get edgy around the Other, but our views on who falls into that category are decidedly malleable.”

I’d write a book about our built-in tendencies and how to deal with them ethically in the political setting if there were a publisher interested in such things.

Submitted by ohio on

1. Would Milgram's experiment had different results if the "teacher" and "experimenter" had been wearing nametags, something as stupid as, "Hi, my name is [whatever name]"?

2. Would the results been different if the "teacher" and "subject" been introduced and shook hands?

3. Are there any studies in-depth about the people who resist?

I ask the first question given your own view of nicknaming. I ask the second because it's an outgrowth of the first. And I ask the third because resistance isn't futile. Despite the Borg.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

1. Probably because in Milgram's experiment, the "white lab coat" worn by the fake researcher was a symbol of his authority, which is essential to the behavior of the teacher.

2. That's easy, Milgram did introduce the teacher to the subject and had them shake hands. He also imposed a very mild shock to the teacher to make him know how it felt.

Moreover, Milgram had actually several designs of his study because he thought that the teachers keep on shocking the learner because they were in separate rooms. So, in another experiment design, he had the teacher and learner in the same room where they could see each other. In another design, in order to impose the shock, the teacher had to take the hand of the learner, set it on a metal plate, and then, impose the shock.

The more visibility, proximity, or physical contact, the lower the rate of compliance. Not very surprising but it's nice to have data on that.

3. On people who resist, first, Asch's experiment shows that it is incredibly hard to resist even when one knows one is right. The mechanism is not really different than that of whistleblowing.

We also know that there is a price to pay for resisting (ostracism, becoming part of the out-group, harassment, etc.).

So, yes, people do resist once they have kinda calculated the + and -.

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Submitted by ohio on

1. I'm more interested if the teacher would have been reminded of his own humanity if he saw his own name out of the corner of his eye. Doesn't sound like it.

2. Just when I think I couldn't hate people any more than I do. Geez.

3. But what do we know, in terms of your field, about the people who resist anyway? Are there any discernable patterns that emerge?

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Submitted by FrenchDoc on

In your #1: that people NOT be reminded of their own humanity and to dehumanize their enemy so much that moral rules that regulate how we treat other human beings can be safely suspended: think the Holocaust and Abu Ghraib... the victims were not victims, they were no longer human beings.

So, for the mechanisms highlighted by Milgram to work, it is essential to reduce people to their situation-specific status "teacher", and not Joe or whatever. Same for the victims: not Bill but "learner", not Ahmed, but #8674 or Enemy combatant, or "potential terrorist" or high-value prisoner or whatever.

Hence my allergy to anything that reeks of dehumanization, including, but not limited to, nicknames.

#2... but it's important to know because it goes to my paragraph above, progressively re-humanizing the victim reduces, but does not eliminate, the probability of abuse. Why else would they use orange suits and cover people's faces in places where they torture in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

#3... again, what we know is that they are the one who suffer the most personally and socially and the conviction of being right or having done the right thing is not much consolation and pays no social dividends.

In the case of Challenger, the Morton Thiokol engineers who did speak up were all fired and dragged in the mud. Even though the investigation proved them right, there was no vindication. One of the engineers tried to commit suicide, IIRC. Another divorced, and suffered from severe depression afterwards.

Anita Hill was vilified for resisting the pressure she received from all sorts of corners to STFU, including from a lot of AA women's groups.

And don't expect vindication and praises for your courage if it is later shown that you were right.

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FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

to make you think twice before you engage in resisting the consensus being built. So that, along with conformity, obedience and groupthink explains that we kinda delude ourselves if we think of ourselves as independent thinkers and actors.

Usually, the big promoters of individualism are the first ones to spit out !@#$ they heard on TV or on Rush, without irony.

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Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

3. On people who resist, first, Asch’s experiment shows that it is incredibly hard to resist even when one knows one is right.

only 1/3 of the people responded with "wrong" answers, meaning that its not that hard to resist.

And I'd suggest that that percentage would go WAY down if there were two test subjects and six "ringers" in the group. That while the clear majority of the group would have the wrong answer, the existence of one other person would galvanize the subject.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

Studies of juries, for instance, show that juries tend to start deliberations relatively divided but end up with unanimous verdicts as "dissenters" (those who are perceived as going against the consensus being built up), and there may be several of them, slowly but surely give in to the majority.

12 Angry Men may be a great movie / great drama, but that's not the reality of what goes on in these groups.

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