Monday, March 28

Characters going along with the crowd

How much do people follow the views of others?   'A lot' seems to be the answer from Psychology - especially if we have no idea what the right answer is.  A classic research study by Jenness (1932) used a jar of beans to test conformity.  Participants were asked to make individual estimates of the number of beans in the jar (this is actually quite hard to guess - my students have tried it and most people get it very wrong!)

Then participants discussed the number in a group.  All were in a state of ignorance, and therefore were open to the ideas of others.  After discussing, each participant gave a revised individual estimate.

Jenness found that estimates had conformed towards a 'group norm.'  Even though nobody knew the right answer, there was apparently comfort in sticking close to others.

In real life, people usually look to others if they don't know what to do - when travelling on an unfamiliar subway network, for example.  In fact, we conform even when we don't want to, and we know we shouldn't.  How much is this reflected in the behaviour of characters in fiction? Are characters influenced by others to a realistic extent?

Jenness, A. (1932). The role of discussion in changing opinion regarding matter of fact.  Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 27, 279-296.

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