Today I took a yoga class, which has become my new favorite self-care and meditative activity as part of my weekly routine. Yoga has become a means of not only finding balance and poise in my body, but in my mind as well. And today’s class was especially stimulating in that department! Today in class, my yoga instructor, Mackenzie, shared about the Asch-Conformity Experiment and a brief overview of this fascinating study on group-thinking really opened my mind!
What is the Asch-Conformity Experiment?
The Asch-Conformity Experiment was performed in 1951 by Solomon Asch. The experiment was simple, yet ingenious. The experiment was advertised as a vision test to recruit test subjects. Asch had one real test subject in a room with seven other individuals posing as participants, who were “in” on the experiment. The group was presented with one card with a single line on it of a particular length and another card with three lines on it of varying lengths (A, B and C). They were then asked to identify which line of the three matched the length of the line on the original card. The correct answer was visually easy to identify, but the seven staged participants were told in advance to select some wrong answers and intentionally asked to verbally gave their answers before the true test subject. After 18 trials in total, Ashe measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view (i.e. the test subject picked a blatently wrong answer because a majority of the other participants chose that answer to be correct). The results showed that about 75% of the participants conformed at least once and only 25% of participants never conformed. In a control group of all real participants, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer.
Back to my yoga class:
My instructor’s reason for sharing about this experiment was to point out how influential we are to those around us. She was using this as an example for us to put out positive energy and embrace being a role model for others. This is a fantastic message and one I firmly believe in, both personally and in many of the initiatives here at Rethink (like our 7-Day Kindness Challenge). But this was not the only lesson I took away from the Asch-Conformity Experiment results.
What’s my take?
The results of the Asch-Conformity Experiment demonstrate that we are very influenced by our peers and yes, this means that there is great power in our outward impressions, actions, energy and presentation. But I also think it speaks to our reliance on approval from peers and our fear to stand out and trust our own instincts or judgement. I see this experiment as a reminder to be that 25% who weren’t afraid to trust their own mind in knowing the right answer. I want to be confident in myself enough to not conform. Following the “norms” and conforming to what others demonstrate to be “right” isn’t always for the best if it's not what you believe it right for you. We address this a lot at Rethink Stigma in combatting the stigma on mental health that generally revolves around an idea that society has a particular view of what is normal, when there is in fact no such thing as "normal." Many of our Rethink Mental Health Advocates bond over the feeling of being a misfit in their families and communities, but there is beauty in embracing being unique as opposed to letting comparisons and pressure to conform make you feel like a less worthy person. It takes great courage, empowerment and trust to believe in yourself enough to go against the grain, and in many cases, including the Asch-Conformity Experiment, doing so IS the correct answer.
How this relates back to yoga:
I am new to joining a gym and never considered myself to be a “gym person.” So whenever I’ve joined group classes, I picked a spot in the back. I did this not only to avoid being seen (and judged) by others, but also so I could watch the people in front of me so I know what to do. Ironically, in attending my first yoga class, I chose a spot right up against the front wall. By choosing this spot, I allowed anyone in the room to see me, despite being brand new to yoga. But more importantly, this spot meant I could not watch other people in order to know what to do. I had to listen closely to the instructor and when the time came, I had to trust MYSELF to know what to do. This also included giving myself the grace and patience to make mistakes or improvise if I didn’t remember the next move. I removed my comparison to others and my reliance on being a follower to just be me, flawed and all! I found this experience liberating because it helped me discovered that I am way more capable than I thought when I got out my head and stopped compare myself to others. I truly trusted my own mind and body, and gave myself the freedom to mess up without fear of judgment or embarrassment. I am continuing this in all of my yoga classes moving forward, and trying to bring this practice of self-confident and trust to other areas of my life as well!
Yes, we all have the power to influence our peers, and that power is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Being considerate, kind and supportive is contagious and can influence those around us for the better. We talk a lot in our organization about how one simple act of kindness can literally change someones life, especially because through the invisible nature of mental health, we rarely know what some random person we cross paths with could be going through. That being said, we also have a CHOICE on whether or not we conform to the influences around us. It's not an easy thing to practice, as we are inundated with influences and examples of "norms" that we are far to easy to judge ourselves with. But their is beauty in that freedom to choose and the strength that comes with having the self-worth to choose what's best for you, even if it's not best for everyone else around you. Sometimes we need to follow a leader to find our way, and that is a great tool for growth in our society. But other times, we can flourish by trusting our own hearts and minds, even against all opinions or influences, to be our own unique, beautiful and fulfilled self!
I have found strength in trusting myself.
I have found peace in avoiding the fears of judgement.
I have found empowerment in not comparing myself to others.
And I encourage you to do the same!