Nearly 6 years back, during my first year in Advanced level, I was at my Chemistry class. The sir walks in, he puts up a homework question on the board and asks “Who hasn’t done the homework yet?”. In a class filled with more than 300 students I raise my hand, only to realise I’m the only one with my hand up (Kind of cool and stupid eh? :P), so I quickly put down my hand. Looking back now, I see that was all about the “lesson” to be taught to me 5 years ahead. Fast forward 5 years ahead, a friend of mine; Haneef tells me that a friend from the Arts faculty from our batch asked if we could be a part of one her assignments. She clearly states we wont have to do anything embarrassing, so we agree.
On a Monday, during the lunch break, me and Haneef walk to the Arts faculty for the so said assignment. We have some random exchange of thoughts about what it could be. As we get to the Arts faculty, we call her and she comes to meet us. I ask what it’s about, and she tells us that they are trying to assess how different people in a group view the same thing differently, “It will be just simple stuff like choosing a shape or so on”, simple enough right? She said, the “assignment” will be done for one after the other. I am a bit confused, we thought it was going to be a group thing, nevertheless, I wait. After a long 20 minutes, Haneef comes and accompanies me to the Lecture room. I follow him into a very small room with 5 chairs facing her, ready to start “the test”. There were three people already seated, Haneef takes a seat and I sit on the last seat left. Looking back now it all seems a very well drawn scheme :O, bear with me :P.
Our friend briefed us again on what was going to happen. She was going to show us a shape printed on an A4 sheet, lets say a circle; then she would show another sheet with three circles of different sizes and we had to choose which one is the shape that matches perfectly to what she initially showed. How simple could that be right? Kindergarten stuff all again. Shape 1, she pulls up a rectangle shows us all one by one with me being the last. She then shows a sheet with three rectangles, I clearly see that the answer is (B). The girl in the first seat says “A”, I roll my eyes; she’s got to be kidding me. Seat two, “A”, seat three “A” and then Haneef “A”. I look at them, and I say “B”. The thought “Are you blind??!!” literally crossed my mind. Next, shape 2 comes up - a circle. We get the same drama, and I am in total disbelief, do people actually view things so differently in even such simple stuff. I give the answer I find fit regardless. Then comes shape 3, a triangle. The same pattern continues, C,C,C,C…. As I see the three triangles now printed on the paper, i feel a slight discomfort. Somehow my mind tells me that there is no best fit, that either the triangles are bigger or smaller than the one she showed us at first, so I reluctantly say “C”. I feel nudge deep down, but I wasn’t entirely sure why. Shape 4 and 5 have somewhat the same drill, but I managed to give the answer I found to be the best match. She then pulls out a sheet of paper and hands it over to me. Halfway through the page I see where it was going. I was the lab rat throughout the test; well so was Haneef before me :P.
The assignment was not about how people in a group view things differently, it was quite on the contrary. It was about how the views and opinions of others clouded your judgment making you jump ship with them. It was one of the most frustrating moments I had. The paper she handed over stated (quite obviously) why the test could not be revealed beforehand. As I walked out bidding adieu, the thoughts about this simple experiment and its repercussions overwhelmed me. More startling was not about being dragged into peer pressure, but it was the fact that I did not realise that it was the pressure from the others in the room that made me choose the wrong answer for Q3. Rather, I had convinced myself that there was no right answer, which made me choose the answer chosen by the rest of them. It was about the fact that only one of them was someone I knew beforehand, the rest were mere strangers. Their opinions having impacted my decision in choosing a “simple” shape is mind-boggling. Our friend told me that I had done quite well compared to others, but if I was pressured into the wrong answer while I “knew” the right answer, what of the cases in which the outcomes are more blurred?? The only consolation I got regarding this was from a friend who said “well sometimes choosing shapes is much more trickier than we think”.
Could we actually be so sure about our decisions given these results? How well are we coping to peer pressure?? And if we think we will not succumb to it, are we lured into the trap, by not even knowing that it is, what it is??