In the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch (1907-1996) published a series of studies that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. His findings come as no surprise, since we, as human beings, have the natural tendency to imitate others… don’t we ;)? Because of this tendency we desire social recognition, and easily adapt ourselves to what others are doing – even if it doesn’t seem to make any sense.
The capacity to imitate others allows us to “walk in someone else’s shoes”, to imagine what others might expect and to be sensitive about those expectations. Hence, as said, the desire for social recognition springs from our imitative or mimetic tendencies.
Asch’s experiments were highly influential and directly inspired Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) and his studies of obedience to authority. In any case, these experiments are classical studies in the world of psychology, and naturally attract mimetic scholars – even if their theoretical framework is somewhat different from that of Asch and Milgram, and sustained by new empirical research from the neurosciences.
CLICK TO WATCH the Asch Conformity Experiment:
As proven by Milgram’s studies of obedience to authority and the later executed Stanford Prison Experiment, the way we adapt to our environment often leads to tragic situations. A variation of the Asch Conformity Experiment reveals how it can be comic as well.
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Another interesting phenomenon from the point of view of mimetic theory is the so-called bystander effect. It shows how imitating others can foster mechanisms of exclusion and scapegoating impulses. “Why should I do what could equally be done by others?” seems to be the underlying question we use for avoiding our responsibility to help a person in need amidst a crowd.
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These short films once again demonstrate how deeply embedded is the tendency to imitate what others are doing… or not doing…