Are Human Beings Born to Be Conformists?

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Throughout history, we’ve seen human beings accomplish wonderful things. We’ve also seen them commit unimaginable horrors. Members of our species have done things so heinous, that we’ve questioned whether we should consider them human at all. However, the most vile acts we’ve committed, haven’t been at the hands a few bad eggs. Often times, the worst of humanity comes out when we follow the herd.

When people find comfort and safety in the herd, they often begin to compromise their ethics for the “greater good”. It creates an environment where sociopaths can rise to the top, and the anonymity of the crowd gives everyone permission to act out against their fellow man. I would argue that more people have been killed or persecuted at the hands of conformity, than by any other human activity throughout history.

Adding to this dangerous behavior has the been the technological advances in mass communication developed in the 20th century. For the first time in history, a small number of people could convince millions to follow their lead. As a result, the past hundred years has seen human conformity reach its peak with the rise of the Nazis and Communists of the early 1900’s. The human race saw with complete clarity, the power and the danger of human conformity, and it could be measured by the millions who died by its hands.

After that dark period, many wondered if conformity was a natural instinct in humans. Could we excuse all those Nazi’s who were just “following orders?” Several academics answered the call with the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. The results weren’t pretty.

They found time and again, that most, but not all humans were prone to falling into a mob mentality. Large segments of the population can and will fall in line to persecute and kill their friends, neighbors, and countrymen at the drop of a hat. All they need is a strong authority figure or symbol that they trust and admire, or maybe even the threat of persecution against themselves, and they’ll march straight into hell if ordered to.

Unfortunately, this may be deeply ingrained in us as a species; much more so than previous researchers could have ever imagined. Recent research has found that people are prone conformity as young as 2 years of age, and it may be something that isn’t shared by most other species.

“Our research shows that children as young as two years of age conform to others, while chimpanzees and orangutans instead prefer to stick with what they know.”

In previous research, the researchers discovered that both human children and chimpanzees rely on the majority opinion when they are trying to learn something new. This makes sense when the group has knowledge that the individual doesn’t.

But other research has found that human adults sometimes follow the majority even when they already have the relevant knowledge, just so that they don’t stand out from the crowd.

For the current study, the researchers presented 18 two-year-old children, 12 chimpanzees and 12 orangutans with a similar reward-based task.

Each participant was given a box that contained three separate sections, each of which had a hole in the top. By playing with the box, the participants found out that although the ball could be dropped in any of the three sections, only one of the sections would deliver a treat (peanuts for the apes and chocolate drops for the children).

Next the participants watched while three familiar peers, who had been trained to all strongly prefer the same colored section of the box (different from the participants’ preference), drop the ball into the box. The participants then had to decide which section to drop the ball into while their peers watched.

The findings showed that human children were more likely to adjust their behavior to match that of their peers than were the apes. The apes and orangutans almost always ignored their peers, sticking to their original strategy, whereas the human children conformed more than half of the time.

What’s truly frightening about this is the fact that primitive species that are similar to us are far more individualistic. It could be that having a natural born instinct towards conformity is one of many factors that makes our species more successful than others. It helps us band together so that we can defend ourselves from outside threats, and accomplish complex tasks. If that’s the case, than this urge to conform is never going to leave us as a species.

Fortunately, we still have free will.  As a species, we are capable of denying our instincts, and we do so on a daily basis. When somebody cuts us off in traffic, we don’t run them off the road (at least most of us don’t), and if someone has something that makes us jealous, most of us don’t kill them for it. We routinely go against our urges because we know it’s the right thing to do, or because it’s beneficial to us. Just because we have urges programmed into our biology doesn’t mean we have to follow them. We’re not robots.

So while we may be born to conform, we certainly don’t have to. We can pick and choose when it’s beneficial to us, and when to ignore the urge. And in the 21st century, arguably one of the most conformist ages in human history, that may be the most important skill that any of us may possess. Being able to recognize when some slick politician is spewing propaganda and trying whip the herd the into a frenzy will save you from being trampled.

So no matter what science says about our biology, or instincts, or evolution, we still have free will. We can still choose to do the right thing and “I was just following orders” will never be a good excuse.

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Contributed by Joshua Krause of The Daily Sheeple.

Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .

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  • Whistler

    In China they have a saying : Nobody wants to be a white mouse

  • D’oro

    You can guess, conjecture, and philosophize about this until the Heat Death of The Universe (trust me… I’ve devoted TONS of time to thinking about this question.)

    My final answer? Stop. Thinking. About. It.

    It’s a god-damned waste of time.

    This question will be solved by RESEARCH one day – extremely hard-core, boundary-pushing, bleeding-edge ***RESEARCH***…. into the Human Brain and its workings.

    Until the day when that research starts being conducted, anyone who thinks about this is doing NO MORE than guessing.

    All you know is – you have stuff to do, and you don’t want to be TOLD to not do it.

    Instead, devote your effort and thought to building yourself(selves) up to NOT BE AT THE MERCY OF ANY MAN, EVER.

    Any more time spent thinking about this is mental masturbation.

    This lesson goes for you too, TDS!

  • Sheep follow the ******* in front of them.

  • ccc

    Stupid dumb human nature.

  • ccc

    “So no matter what science says about our biology, or instincts, or evolution, we still have free will. We can still choose to do the right thing, and “I was just following orders” will never be a good excuse.”

    These who say they are just following order may not be a good excuse but it will be a excuse for them, since it is society that force people to have a job, and have a career, get this and get that. So how can these slave-soldiers and slave-dog-police suppose to make a living.

    Remember it is against the law in the stupid country called the U.S.A. that say being homeless is a crime.
    Try to look a little deeper, made be you can give these people a good pay job without being un-moral in this greedy capitalism and if you cannot than the problem will just continue.

    The problem was in front of your eyes all along, today an average person is totally control by money, without money they will be like hell. No thank to capitalism which encourage every-man/woman for himself/herself.

    We need a system base on moral. Not simply ability to do some jobs or able to influence the masses and get a lot money over it.

    We have to put a limit on how much money/wealth a rich person can have, so they don’t interrupt other people freedom just because you have money to bribe the world.
    The truth is infront of American faces because they don’t like to admit it, all American journalists will just go on to other pointless topics to avoid the real important topic. That is: it is money rule, because you have a system that favor whoever have money rather than whoever have the best moral.

    Moral will have to give way to money/wealth in the end of day. Money always domain moral. Moral simply come second.

  • Ken, Megapolis

    Good insights. All my life I have been bullied and usually innocent bystanders side with the pack mentality because in sticking up for the victim they become victimized themselves.
    Bullying moves on . . . just incessant “Shut ups” and constant criticism of below standard work when I am doing the hardest I can. However, sometimes an unexpected support arrives and the bully gets his jaw broken despite his begging and pleading “I was only mucking about.” Yes Karma is a bitch but I doubt if bullies learn. Most I knew from school ended up in prison.
    The worst beatings are ditched out to nonces (sexual predators) and they don’t get their balls ripped out, just flattened.
    Suppose some elite predator from Watford or that Bohemian whatever took a shine to a pretty young receptionist and ignored the brush off “I have a boyfriend Sir.”
    Like I said, Karma is a Bitch.

  • D’oro

    Please log in to Disqus so that I actually know I’m talking to a person:

    1. Don’t second-guess my drive for independence. I am aware of how at-risk we all are if the research I mentioned gets into the wrong hands (listening to this in the background right now: I’m not a government troll. I am a young person suffering at the bottom of a shit-filled morass, and DESPERATELY trying to summon all of my strength and cunning to claw my way out… same as everyone else here.

    2. Did you miss the whole gist of my comment?

    “All you know is – 1) you have things you want to do, and 2) you don’t want to be TOLD what to do. Devote your effort and thought to building yourself(selves) up to NOT BE AT THE MERCY OF ANY MAN, EVER… so that you can have the freedom to do as you wish”

    How can that possibly be construed as a disguised argument for enslavement?

    I am arguing the quite SIMPLE (maybe even *banal*) point that, if you see the problems that ‘Awakened’ ones do, and are trying to fight against them, merely philosophizing about this question (“What causes people to become sheeple?”) is, in my opinion and experience, a waste of time.

  • viction

    That’s why religions were created, deities who watch your every movement
    and tell you what to do, what to think and what to say. It’s why every
    Democracy or Republic defaults to totalitarian dictatorship?

    so the bible must have been written thousands of years ago by Aliens for the modern day times
    example and true
    Homosexuality would be increasingly evident at the end of the age (2 Timothy 3:3) mayan calendar end date December 21, 2012

  • Jim Davis

    Outstanding Essay!

  • disqus_3BrONUAJno

    Conformity is one of the most important things taught in the public fool system, and one of the best reasons to remove ones children therefrom. I really don’t understand why more parents don’t just let their children go to the library instead of the schoolhouse when they have been expelled from the latter. If many parents did so, they’d find that the schools would become more reticent to expel those whose attendance drives their revenue flow from the subsidizers in Washington.
    They’d also find their children learning more and happily so at the library. Instead of home schooling, try library schooling.

  • Carpenter E

    Well Krause, your own use of the media-promoted communist slur “Nazi” instead of the correct word Nazist is a perfect example of conformism. You wouldn’t dare use the correct word in print, you know that you must demonstrate that you are part of the herd. “Nazi” was a slur invented by the German communist party and promoted by their allies in the British press. It is like saying “commie”. It is telling that the slur is now mandatory – while the slur “commie” is forbidden, and those who use it are ridiculed.

    And of course you use a picture from the Third Reich. Not a picture from communism, which killed more than a hundred million people and lasted much longer, and which forbade people from leaving communist countries (fascist countries allowed citizens to leave, and Jews who left the Reich got to keep their wealth as a way to encourage them to leave). Communism almost destroyed the world through nuclear weapons – we know that the Soviet Union planned to launch many hundreds of nuclear missiles against Western Europe alone when the time was right. But – you use a picture from anti-communist Germany. Of course. Conformist.

  • Carpenter E

    You say “their” about one person. Because feminists demand that the word “his” not be used about a hypothetical person. You care more about placating them than adhering to even the most basic grammatical rules. Conformists like you take it so far that you even use “they” about people who have to have been men. Such as “when an astronaut landed on the moon, the first thing they noticed is that….” All astronauts on the moon have been men. Or “they” about a hypothetical person – who is a monk. Or part of an all-male basketball team. You conformists are funny. You don’t even think of what you are doing. Orwell knew exactly how you worked.