Social Control Through Social Pressure

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Social Control Through Social Pressure
In a novel by SinclairLewis, George F. Babbitt  a small-town realtor, somehow strays into' "radical" notions about government and politics. Soon his business declines, his friends begin to avoid him, and he grows uncomfortably aware that he is becoming an outsider. Lewis describes how Babbitt's associates apply these subtle pressure<; until, with a sigh of relief, Babbitt scurries Like into comfortable conformity [Lewis, 1922, chas  32, 33]. In all human societies, and even III many nonhuman species, this tendency to 'conform to group pressure and example is evident. Nineteenth-century explorer David Thompson was impressed by the reckless, headlong flight of wild horses, and when his dull, placid packhorse escaped to join the wild horses, it amazed him to see how quickly it assumed their wild temperament, "with nostrils distended, mane flying, and tail straight out" [Ryden, 1971, p. 106 J. Lapiere [1954 J sees social control as primarily a process growing out of the individual's need for group acceptance. He claims that groups are most influential when they arc small and intimate, when we expect to remain in the groups for" long time, and when we have frequent contacts with them. All authorities agree that our need for acceptance within intimate groups is a most
powerful lever for the use of group Rressure toward group norms. .

One experiences this group pressure as a continuous and largely unconscious process. Its operation is illustrated by the life of one
of the author's acquaintances. He spent most of his working life as a small farmer in central Michigan; like most of his neighbors, he
thought conservatively, voted Republican, and scolded labor unions. During World War II . he moved to Detroit and worked in a war plant, joined a union, became a union officer, and voted Democratic. After the war, he retired to a small central Michigan village where he again thought conservatively, voted Republican, and scolded labor unions. He explained these about-faces by claiming that the parties and the unions had changed. He did not realize that it was Ire who had changed. Like most of us, he soon came to share the views of his group associates.

This tendency to conform to group altitudes is so compelling that the Catholic church in France found it necessary to abandon its worker-priest program. This was an effort to stem the drift of French workers toward communism by sending out priests who would take ordinary jobs and work beside the workers, meanwhile leading them back to the church. After a tenyear trial, when it became evident that the workers were converting the priests to the Marxian view of the class struggle, the program was curtailed [Brady, 1954]. Social psychologists [Sherif, 1935; Bovard, 1951] have made a number of classic experiments which show how a person tends to bring personal expressions in line with those of the group. The method in such experiments usually consists of asking the members for individual estimates, attitudes, or observations on a topic, then informing them of the group norm, and finally asking for a new expression from each member. Many of the informants modify their second expression in the direction of the group norm. In a series of ingenious experiments, Asch [1951], Tuddenham [1961], and others have shown that many people will even alter an observation which they know to be correct rather than up pose the group. Each subject in these experiments was surrounded by a group which, by secret prearrangement, made factual observations that the subject kneui to be wrong; yet one-third of these subjects accepted the wrong observation when opposed by a unanimous group opinion to the contrary. Schachter [1951] has also shown experimentally how the member who sharply deviates from group norms in opinion is rejected by the group. These and many other experiments have proved the reality of group pressures so convincingly that no recent replications have seemed necessary. We often notice that a new member of a .group is more carefully conformist and more
fiercely loyal-than the old members. Religious converts often show a zeal which puts lifelong members to shame. An experiment by Dittes and Kelly [1956] helps to explain this. They found that-among members who equally value, their membership in a group, those who feel least accepted are the most rigidly conformist to a group's norms. Meticulous conformity is a tool for gaining acceptance and status within a group, while rejection is the price of nonconformity. It is' probable that no other structure even approaches the tremendous controlling power of the group' over the individual. Any parent who has tried to counter a teenager's argument  All the kids are wearing them!" is fully aware of the controlling power of the group.