Asch Conformity Experiment

February 2, 2010

For those who weigh the credibility of medical doctors, scientists and senior officials of government agencies like the HHS, CDC, NIH and FDA, two psychology studies from the 1950s and 1960s reveal how medical and scientific authorities affect the decisions made by ordinarily decent law-abiding Americans.

Between the years 1933-1945, millions of innocent persons were systematically slaughtered on command.   Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded, daily quotas of corpses were produced with the efficiency of a bottling plant.

Although most Americans will insist that they would never engage in such acts, two psychology experiments from the 1950s and 1960s suggest otherwise.

While the Milgram Experiment (1963) illustrates how authority figures like doctors, university professors and scientists can coerce otherwise responsible and compassionate people to voluntarily inflict severe pain and death upon others, the Asch Conformity Test (1951) reveals how peer pressure compels rational people to make bad choices to avoid ridicule and join “the consensus.”

Although no rational person will excuse monsters who insist were “only following orders,” it appears that most people are wired to inflict injury and death when advised by authority figures.  And if those authorities can compel us to harm others, what would it take to convince us to take deadly toxins like AZT?

This could also explain why legislators, executives, courts uniformly shrug while a million Americans are killed or injured every year by preventable errors and complications and adverse drug reactions (ADR).

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More information is linked at:

Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1963) Milgram, Vol.67 No. 4, 371-378
Scientific American (1955) Asch 193, 31-35

See also the Stanford Prison Experiment