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The Secret of Standing Against the Crowd

A team of doctors decided to conduct and experiment to study the ways in which group pressure influences young people. To accomplish this, they invited ten teenagers into a room and told them they were going to evaluate their "perception" in order to learn how well each student could "see" the front of the room from where he or she sat.

Actually, all the teenagers were very close to the front of the room and everybody could see quite easily. What the doctors were actually studying was not the students' eyesight, but the effects of group pressure.

The doctors said, "We're going to hold up some cards at the front of the room. On each card are three lines - Line A, Line B, and Line C - each of a different length. In some cases Line A will be the longest; in other cases Line B will be the longest, and in still other cases Line C will be the longest. Several dozen cards will be shown with the lines in a different order. We'll hold them up and point to line A, Line B, and Line C on each card. When we point to the longest line, please raise your hand to show that you know it is longer than the others." They repeated the directions to be sure everybody understood, and then raised the first card and pointed to the top line.


What one student didn't know was that the other nine had been secretly informed earlier to vote for the second longest line. In other words, they were told to vote wrongly.

The doctors held up the first card and pointed to Line A, which was clearly shorter than Line B. At this point, all nine students cooperated in the scheme and raised their hands. The fellow being studied looked around in disbelief. It was obvious that Line B was the longest line, but everybody seemed to think Line A was longer. He later admitted that he thought, "I must not have been listening during the directions. Somehow I missed the point, and I'd better do what everybody else is doing or they'll laugh at me." So he clarefully raised his hand with the rest of the group.

Then the researchers explained the directions again: "Vote for the longest line; raise your hand when we point to the longest line."

It couldn't have been more simple! Then they held up the second card, and again, nine people voted for the wrong line. The confused fellow became more tense over his predicament, but eventually raised his hand with the group once again. Over and over he voted with the group, even though he knew they were wrong.

This one young man was not unusual. In fact, more than 75 percent of the young people tested behaved that same way. The sat there time after time, saying a short line was longer than a long line! They simply didn't have the courage to say, "This group is wrong. I can't explain why, but you guys are all confused." A small percentage - only 25 out of 100 - had the courage to take their stand against the group, even when the majority was obviously wrong. This is what "peerP pressure does to an insecure person.


Another very interesting characteristic was revealed by this study. If just one other student recognized (voted for) the right line, then the chances were greatly improved that the fellow who was being studied would also do what he thought was right. This means that if you have even one friend who will stand with you against the group, you probably will have more courage too. When you're all by yourself, it's pretty difficult to take your stand alone.

By Dr. James Dobson

"One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world." - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

"I tell the story about the little boy who brought his New Testament to school. The other kids made fun of him saying, 'Religion is for sissies.' The little boy looked at the biggest of his accusers, and handing him the Bible, said, 'Here, see if you have the courage to carry this around school for just one hour!'" - Bill Sanders