A cerebral automatism, related to the learning process, gives people the propensity to line up to majority opinion even when it contradicts evidence. Here’s an example:
In 1951, Social Psychologist Solomon Asch did an experiment where he seated an individual (subject) in the middle of an assembly set up in a circular arc in front of a screen. Asch projected two images: the first showed an eight-inch-long line; in the second image, three lines — 6, 10, and 8 inches. Asch then asked each participant to show him which line of the three was the same length as that in the first image.
No problem, right?
Asch set the experiment up with accomplices. All members of the assembly (the accomplices) deliberately chose the wrong line. In spite of the evidence that was right before the subjects own eyes, 75% of the cases rallied to group opinion, picking the wrong line.
Sheep In Human Clothing
Research at the University of Leeds, U.K., suggests that humans flock like sheep and birds.
Groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. A select few within the group were informed, with detailed information, where to walk. The informed individuals were not allowed to speak with one another, and instructed to stay within arm’s length of another person.
In all cases, the findings showed that the informed individuals were followed by others and formed a self-organizing, snake-like structure. Scientists demonstrated that it only took a minority of 5 percent, in crowds of 200 or more, to influence the other 95 percent of people, and without them realizing it. As the number of people in a crowd increased, the number of informed individuals decreased.
And speaking of self-organizing, snake-like structures — watch this fascinating human experiment. I’ve queued the video at 15:13. The Los Vegas experiment (4 minutes) is relevant to this post, but I recommend the full 22 minute video presented by National Geographic, if and/or when you have time.
From the superbly produced documentary, A Question of Miracles, world renowned theologians and neuroscientists address environmental conditions that enable faith healers, clerics, gurus, motivational speakers, politicians and leaders of nations to significantly influence tens and hundreds of thousands (even millions) of unsuspecting people.
The documentary notes one of the most important developments in human evolution: the enlargement of our frontal lobes which gave us the powers of self control, organization, and the ability to anticipate — to see and plan ahead.
But this brain development came at a cost. We appear to be the only species who can see our inevitable decay and death. To compensate for the fear (death anxiety) that generally accompanies this realization, the temporal lobes and the limbic system shifted and regrouped which allowed for memory, creativity, emotion and fantasy. Humans gained hope and strength from believing that their “spirit” or “soul’ lived on in another life after physical death.
Most religions offer people relief from death anxiety and the belief that something bigger than themselves, such as an all-knowing, omnipresent god or gods, can heal them. Although there’s been many advances in modern medical science, millions of people still turn to religion for cures. Examples are worldwide faith healing services, conducted by Christian evangelists, who attract millions of people, year after year, decade after decade. In the documentary, neuroscientists visually explain what is happening in the minds of followers at each stage of a faith healing event.
“Something physical, something chemical happens to us when we are in a large crowd. Hitler understood that you could say things to a crowd of thousands that were more effective than saying it to a crowd of a hundred.” ~Rabbi Harold S. Hushner
(quote from documentary)
Hitler Salute During a Political Rally
In the documentary, Marcel Kinsbourne, a neurologist, cognitive neuroscientist and a professor of psychology, states that Hitler created an environment that induced entrainment (enhancing the power of suggestion) as huge crowds watched and heard soldiers marching in unison:
“The parade, the drums, the chanting, songs, the gesture of salute, the acclaim of the leader”.
“All the elements had the effect of submerging the individuals into the group. Large numbers of people, all together with a single purpose, performing single acts in lock-step.
They were like one organism.
That is a pitch to which the organizers bring the people — they bring them to persuade them — to do something that they normally might not do. They charge into battle, risk death to kill the enemy.”
I explain how entrainment is used in religious worship services, here.
Christian Praise and Worship Service
Michael A. Persinger, a cognitive neuroscience researcher and university professor with over 200 peer-reviewed publications, states:
“Effective speakers, people who can manipulate crowds, for good or bad, have similar characteristics. So when you look at the Bonnke’s, the Hinn’s, the Hitlers, the Nuremberg rallies, the operations are very similar, and they should be because they are human beings influencing other human beings.
The “good” or the “bad” is a function of value judgement and of course historical perspective.”
The Texas Tribune — August 6, 2011 [excerpt]
Thousands of worshipers poured into Reliant Stadium Saturday and staged a boisterous prayer meeting with gospel music and Christian rock, emotional sermons and perhaps a political boost for the man who started it all: likely presidential candidate Rick Perry, the governor of Texas.
Organizers said more than 30,000 showed up for the high-energy event.
Perry took to the stage shortly before noon, sounding like a revivalist preacher as he urged participants to embrace Jesus and pray for help at a time of economic decline and family strife.
Perry said God was the “only hope” for a nation in crisis.
The Response, took on the feel of a mega-church ceremony from the moment it began. Throughout the ceremony, worshipers sang and wept and waved their arms in a prayerful frenzy, shouting “amen” and calling for divine intervention.
The event, which cost the sponsors over $1 million, was highly orchestrated and choreographed, and organizers were careful to keep the element of surprise.
Emphasis are mine.
Watch a short clip below (under 3 minutes) of the “prayer rally” hosted and orchestrated by Governor Rick Perry, and notice the behavior of the crowd (possibly in a suggestive mental state).
The “waving of arms in a prayerful frenzy” described in the
political prayer rally news article is strikingly similar to the waving of arms shown in “A Question of Miracles” documentary, from both political and religious assemblies.
(See minute marker 45:20)
Power of Suggestion & Crowd Manipulation
Dr. Persinger states that when you bring people into a group, where they feel diminutive because of the size of the place, be it a cathedral, a stadium, near a mountain, or open space — people will experience a special kind of psychological arousal — a sense of wholeness.
He further states in the documentary that when music is presented, that rises and falls every four to five seconds, it produces a kind of wave of experience that elevates that special kind of arousal and also releases opiates which scientists know (experimentally) increases the hypnotizing effect, thus increasing suggestibility.
“You have these groups in the kind of ecstatic states, a kind of expectancy state, then you have the individual come out, the speaker who will coordinate all these experiences among the mass of people. This person must be a kind of orchestra leader to maintain his great orchestration of cognitive experiences. As the speaker begins to give the message, the people are full of emotion — full of imagery.
It’s a feeling of being one with everyone in the group.
These images take on tremendous personal value because of the elevation of the opiates. Because of the groups state of ecstasy, and within the gathered crowds, you see the features of these opiate releases. They may cry. Individuals sway. You get the smiles, a mild glow, like a mild drunken state. These experiences are associated with mild electrical changes deep within the brain.”
From Scientific America: ”The Power of Music: Mind Control by Rhythmic Sound“
“Rhythmic sound “not only coordinates the behavior of people in a group, it also coordinates their thinking—the mental processes of individuals in the group become synchronized. This finding extends the well-known power of music to tap into brain circuits controlling emotion and movement, to actually control the brain circuitry of sensory perception.
This discovery helps explain how drums unite tribes in ceremony, why armies march to bugle and drum into battle, why worship and ceremonies are infused by song, why speech is rhythmic, punctuated by rhythms of emphasis on particular syllables and words, and perhaps why we dance. Within a few measures of music your brain waves start to get in synch with the rhythm…]. The EEG recordings showed that the waves of brain activity became synchronized around the auditory rhythm. Rhythmic sound synchronizes brain waves.”
The point of this post is not to dis humans’ natural inclination to follow; or the desire to belong and assemble. Understandingly, everybody wants to belong and be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. But, as I attempted to demonstrate in this post, we can (unknowingly) succumb to the power of crowd manipulation and suggestion, as though under a spell. It helps explain why many people often vote against their own best interests.