I'm sure you'll find this hard to believe.
When I was a kid, I occasionally did things I knew were wrong.
Without fail, my mother always found out.
When she asked me why I did something I knew was wrong I would always respond "I did it because everyone else was doing it"
And she would respond...
"If everyone jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you follow them?"
After all these years, my actions have been justified.
In chapter 9 of Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the seductive pull of social norms.
We imitate the habits of three groups.
- The Close
- The Many
- The Powerful
When I did things with my friends that we knew weren't right, we were imitating the Many.
We knew we could get in trouble, but logic and common sense didn't matter.
Everyone else was doing it so it's okay.
In Atomic Habits, there's a study by Solomon Asch that proves this point.
A group was shown a card with one line and another card with three lines.
Each person was asked to select the line on the second card that was similar in length to the first card.
In the first round, everyone chose the correct line on the second card because it was so obvious.
In the second round of testing, actors in the room intentionally chose an incorrect line on the second card.
At first, people were bewildered and confused because they knew the answer was wrong.
As more actors chose the wrong line, people started doubting their initial choice.
Eventually, they changed their answer from the correct line to the incorrect line because everyone else was choosing the incorrect choice.
My childhood hi-jinx was scientifically justified!
To take this one step further, check out The Pleasure Principle article in this month's Wired magazine.
John Mack was a Harvard psychiatrist who did a lot of research on people's false beliefs.
He started researching people who said they were abducted by aliens (I'm not kidding!).
His first assumption was they were mentally ill, but he was determined to record their views without bias.
A funny thing happened.
As he interviewed more and more people, his viewpoint changed.
In fact, after a few years, he started sharing their views even though he never witnessed an alien abduction or found any definitive proof that aliens had abducted these people.
Today, we're living in a society where people make crazy claims if they don't agree with you.
The claims are clearly not true or even physically possible (like the lines on the cards or the Earth is flat).
Facts and logic don't matter.
Imitating the many makes us believe the unbelievable.
Atomic Habits is our book of the month in the Mastermind Book Club.
We're about to choose our next book so join Tom Ruwitch and me (it's absolutely free!).