The topic of influence of other people on ourselves has occupied my mind for quite some time. And today, being in a philosophical mood, I decided to write a few lines about it.
To start with, I have recently read about Solomon Asch who became famous with his experiments that showed that social pressure can make a person say something that is obviously incorrect. This is also widely known as The Bandwagon Effect. In Asch’s experiment 50% of people gave the same wrong answer as the others on more than 50% of the trials, because they felt anxious and feared disapproval from others. In real life many people distrust their intuition and follow the majority. Interestingly, in the Mutual Improvement blog that discusses the Bandwagon Effect or cognitive bias the author refers to the benefits of following the crowd discussed in the book The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, who states that
1) the crowd is often smarter and more accurate than any of the individuals in the crowd;
2) going with the crowd could ultimately prevent you from making mistakes; and
3) prevent from being alone if and when you make those mistakes.
Is that really true? Funny as it sounds, I sense that the anonymous crowd often controls and imprisons us in the chains of the common opinions that are often judgmental and not necessarily true. We get used to rely on society and “the others” that make us slaves of our own stereotypes. Why are we afraid of being judged by others? Whatever we do or do not do, we often think about these others. So, what would happen if we become outstanding? While more people join the crowd, there seem to be less and less outstanding people. And thus, the prefix “out” in this word gains a negative implication of becoming lonely.
Finally, one of my favorite quotes by Oscar Wilde indicates that “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”.
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