Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sheep III

The Reverse Milgram

Of course after spending the whole book going on about how herds can make "good people" "evil," for a proper Disneyland finish Zimbardo had to spend the last chapter discussing how our propensity for groupthink can be used for the forces of good.

One of his better suggestions seems to be that we go about pulling "reverse Milgram" experiments--using the lessons we've learned about social influence from the famous Milgram obedience studies to influence people to be, well. . . better. He recommends three Milgram tactics in particular:

(1)The foot-in-the-door tactic is exactly what it sounds like. If you want some one to go out on a limb, start by only asking them to take the first step. Zimbardo's example was a study where people were asked to display signs in their yards urging safe driving--a step they were far more likely to take after first displaying barely visible signs to the same effect in their front windows.

(2)Social modeling is also what it sounds like. People are more likely to behave in the ways people around them behave; in the Milgram experiment, hearing another "participant" resist shocking the "student" was a very high predictor of resistance.

(3)Finally, identity-labeling is the tactic that seems to indicate patting one's self on the back is sometimes a handy step towards social change. In a parallel to the individuation/deindividuation process that's so essential in becoming a torturer or an unconscious consumer, people who are called "blood donors," "altruistic," or any variety of other things (positive or negative) are more likely to behave in ways that reflect those labels.

Softy that he is, Zimbardo suggests that we "carry out the reverse-Milgram experiment in your own life. . ." Perhaps we might start by manipulating ourselves into putting a "foot in the door." For myself, know that whether you're trying to get out the vote, increase literacy and competent communication in your community, make life better for abused children, or save dogs at the local humane society, you have my full endorsement in attempting these tactics on other people. . . just let me know how it went.

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