There is not only a personal need to agree with others but strong pressure exerted by the group on any person with different opinions to comply with the majority. Promises, arguments, and threats are used to get agreement. If someone steadfastly refuses to agree with the group, he/she is frequently rejected and ignored. Usually the more deviant group members (those taking an extreme position) and the entire group move in the direction favored by the majority. This has become known as group polarization (Deaux & Wrightsman, 1984). It can be thought of as a "jump on the band wagon" effect or "go along with the majority" effect. However, we do not yet know under what conditions private opinions are actually changed, if they are, in these more complex situations. Perhaps as we learn more about a certain opinion and argue for it, we come to believe it more. Perhaps we just don't want to make waves. Perhaps we "know which side of our bread is buttered." It's all compliance.
There are other specific conditions in which we tend to comply with direct requests. For instance, once we have granted one request, we are more likely to comply with another request. So a salesperson will make a small request first: "May I ask you a few questions?" and "May we sit down?" Finally, "May I order you one?" This is called the "foot in the door" technique. Another approach is the "door in the face" technique: first, someone makes a very large request of you and you say "no" (that's the door in the face). They graciously accept your refusal and then a few days or weeks later the same person approaches you with a much more modest request. You are more likely to comply this time than if you had never been approached. Thirdly, there is the old "low ball" technique: first, get a person to agree to some unusually good deal, then change the conditions and the person will still agree to the new conditions. For example, a car salesperson might offer you a fantastic deal or a teacher might request some help. Once you agree, then the sales person "discovers" a mistake and raises the price or the teacher tells you it's a dirty job at 7:00 AM, but you still go through with the agreement.
Deaux and Wrightsman (1984) summarized the research that shows independent people are more intellectually able, more capable leaders, more mature, more self-controlled, and more self-confident. Conforming people are self-critical, have lower self-esteem, and have stronger needs to interact with others socially. Don't get suckered into bad deals.
Obedience to authority
The most impressive and appalling studies in this area were done by Stanley Milgram (1974). They are famous studies. Milgram's intent was to see how much harm ordinary people would do to another person if directed and urged to do so by an authority (a psychologist asking them to shock a person when he/she gave a wrong answer in a learning experiment). Actually, no one was shocked but the subjects obviously believed they were hurting another participant in the experiment. The shock was to be increased with every mistake. To do this there were 30 switches at 15-volt intervals labeled as follows: Slight shock (15-60 volts), Moderate shock (75-120 volts), etc. on up to Extreme-intensity shock (315-360 volts), DANGER--severe shock (375-420 volts), and XXX (435-450 volts). Most of us would assume that our friends and relatives wouldn't do such a mean, dangerous thing. Certainly, we wouldn't. Especially if the person being shocked in the next room started moaning (at 75 volts) and then yelling, "Hey, that really hurts" (at 120 volts) and then at 150 volts, "Experimenter, get me out of here!...I refuse to go on!" At 180 volts the victim cries, "I can't stand the pain." Later, there are agonized screams after every shock and he pounds on the wall pleading with you...and finally at 330 volts the subject falls silent. When the shocker wants to stop the psychologist simply says, "Please continue" or "You must go on." What do most people do?
Amazingly, 65% of the subjects went all the way to 450 volts! In fact, every one of the 40 subjects administered at least 300 volts! Milgram wrote, "Many subjects will obey the experimenter no matter how vehement the pleading of the person being shocked...It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of this study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation." The subjects administering the shock were not sadistic monsters nor very angry nor prejudiced against the learner nor indifferent (they appeared to be very stressed).
So, why or how do we humans do such things? Milgram says the subjects (1) became absorbed in pleasing the authority and doing their assignment just right, (2) denied their responsibility, "the experimenter was a Ph. D." or just like Lt. Calley or Adolf Eichmann, many of the subjects said, "I wouldn't have done it by myself, I was just doing what I was told," (3) started to believe that the experiment was vitally important and that the pursuit of truth is a "noble cause" (even though someone has to suffer), (4) blamed the victim, "he was so stupid and stubborn he deserved to get shocked," and, most importantly, (5) just couldn't bring themselves to act on their values and defy authority.
This deference to authority is a serious problem, not just in terms of kowtowing to government officials, but also to "experts," doctors, bosses, owners, authors, and many others who are eager to tell you what to do.
Socially instilled obedience
Milgram's reasons sound mostly like excuses for our immoral attempts to curry favor with an important person. Considering the great stress the subjects experienced and the fact that they were only paid $4.00 for one hour of work for an experimenter they would never see again, there must have been some other very powerful needs to please the psychologist. What, then, are the real reasons we are so ineffective and intimidated by authority? I suspect it is due to years of indoctrination (internalization) by the people and institutions most dear to us--parents, schools, religion, government, etc. Most of the time conformity and obedience are helpful and morally good. The same trait, unquestioning obedience, that produces the good child at home, the good church member, and the good student at school may also have produced the calloused and cruel abuse in the Milgram study, in Nazi Germany, in the Vietnamese war, etc. We must learn to be "good" and to think for ourselves.
Research (Head, Baker, & Williamson, 1991) indicates that persons diagnosed as "dependent personality disorder" tend to come from families that had rigid rules, including "do not express your emotions openly" and "don't be independent--do what you are told, follow the family traditions, obey your parents." Hitler's father was the unquestioned authority in his family; Hitler re-created his family situation and established himself as the unquestioned authority of the Fatherland. Every dictatorial authoritarian must have dependent, compliant followers. Unfortunately, neither authoritarians nor dependent people get much practice at functioning independently as equals.
In the process of growing up we are exposed to enormous pressures to be compliant or conforming. Examples: (1) Parents often demand obedience, "Do it because I say so!" This may continue even after the "children" are 18 or 20 years old. Overprotective parents produce frightened, dependent children. (2) Peers reward going along with the crowd. (3) Teachers expect you to do the assignments, not plan and carry out your own education. (4) We are expected to get married and we are led to believe that love and marriage will solve most of our problems; we depend upon and long for all these benefits from marriage. (5) Government regulates much of our lives; it is drilled into us to follow the law. Have you ever been driving at 3:00 AM and noticed that you stopped and waited for all the red lights to change even though no other cars were around? (6) Religions tell us what to believe "with unquestioning faith" and, indeed, avoid and strongly discourage doubts and questions. Can you imagine a religion studying the psychological needs underlying the development of myths and religions? (7) The media encourages passive observation and glorifies persons in high authority. Independent thinking is hardly rewarded, e.g. there are 30 to 40 candidates for president every four years, but how many get a chance to share their ideas? Two, maybe three. (8) The military teaches, "Yours is not to wonder why, yours is but to do and die." (9) At work, the employees, even after 20 or 30 years, do not make decisions but wait on the bosses to tell them what to do. And finally, (10) our friends, in most cases, only remain friends so long as we agree with them on major issues. "To have friends, you have to get along." We are taught well to be submissive followers. To truly think on your own and to do your own thing can be very scary.
The continuation of a society depends to some extent on compliance. Forty years ago, writers claimed that the pressure to conform was increasing. William Whyte (1956) in The Organization Man contended that "getting along with others" and team-work were replacing the Protestant Ethic of individual effort and hard work. David Riesman (1950) in The Lonely Crowd described three common ways we conform socially: (1) we are tradition-directed; that is, social customs and beliefs, especially in the form of social pressures, determine what we do. (2) We are conscience-directed; that is, we have internalized our parents' morals and ideals so that we are controlled not by our reason but by our sense of guilt. (3) We are other-directed; that is, we are sensitive to what our friends and associates think and feel and we try to please or impress them. Riesman saw America as becoming more and more other-directed. Certainly Milgram's subjects went to great lengths to please the experimenter.
The Calf Path
One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
(The poem goes on to describe how a dog followed the calf's path the next day, then later some sheep, and over the years many other animals followed the path. Eventually, the path became a trail followed by men, then a road with a village along side which grew into a city. The author concluded:)
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead...
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent...
For men are prone to go it blind
Among the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done...
-Sam Walter Foss
From Desk Drawer Anthology, a group of poems collected by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Harvey, Hunt, and Schroder (1961) found four types of people: (1) rule abiding, tell-me-what-to-do types (30%), (2) rebellious, don't-tell-me-what-to-do types (15%), (3) cautious, what-do-you-think-I-should-do types (20%), and (4) self-directed, I'll-get-enough-information-and-decide-for-myself-what-to-do-types (5-7%). It's shocking that so few fall in the last category (especially since most of us think of ourselves as independent). The more recent data (cited in introduction) provides some hope that we are gradually learning to think for ourselves.
If we are willing to seriously hurt someone to please an authority we will know for only an hour, one has to wonder how strong our dependency is on parents, friends, and loved ones. Harry Harlow (Harlow & Harlow, 1966) did an impressive series of studies demonstrating that baby monkeys need mothering. Unless the monkeys received some kind of love in the form of being held, stroked, and played with, they developed abnormally, i.e. they became scared, hostile, self-destructive, and sexually inept. Human infants also need loving care; they may die without it (see chapter 6). Bowlby (1969) found the infant's first attachment was to mother and then to others. These early needs and emotional bonds are powerful and possibly innate. Can it be that this same kind of desperate clinging dependency persists as adults?
In the movie, This is Your Life, two children, about 8 and 10, are asked by their single mother: Would you rather have your Mom in the next room contemplating suicide for the next week or have your Mom in ecstasy all alone in Hawaii? We all know the children's answer.
Takeo Doi (1973), a Japanese psychoanalyst, describes a unique Japanese word--amae--which refers to the longing of an infant at the breast to have every whim attended to, to be enveloped in indulgent love, to feel at one with the mother. Doi says such a feeling continues into adulthood. It is being so dependent and needy that one is very careful not to disrupt such a warm, giving relationship; thus, the Japanese are dutifully apologetic. It means being so close to another person that one can be self-indulgent without embarrassment. It means seeking unconditional love, love you receive just by existing (what Fromm called "Mother's love").
The Japanese are more aware of these dependency needs, partly because they have the word (amae) and partly because their culture does not emphasize (as much as ours does) individual freedom and self-reliance. They are willing to stay close and subservient to their parents; they are inclined to become attached to the company they work for, giving conscientious work and expecting life-long support from the company.
In the last chapter, we discussed the conflicts between teenagers and their parents. Both anger and dependency are involved. Later in this chapter we will consider the lingering dependency ties with parents even after we "grow up."
Our need to be accepted
Otto Rank (1932), an early student of Freud, said it was important to assert one's own "will." He believed that most neuroses develop because people do not have the courage to be themselves; instead, they suppress their true selves in order to please others. Many others agree. Moustakas (1967) calls conformity a self-alienating process by which he means that we cut ourselves off from our own feelings, dreams, talents, and potential because we want to be liked. Other peoples' fears of being "different" cause them to reject us if we are "different" and unique. Thus, it is our fear of being rejected (by conformists), that causes us to lose our own freedom and independence.
Fritz Perls wrote a popular poster which reflects our common struggle to get free of domination by others:
"I do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful. If not, it can't be helped."