Also, see this other well-known (among psychologists, anyway) “people are sheep” experiment by Solomon Asch. Would you trust your eyes or an authority’s pronouncement? Afterwards, many psychologists concluded that the perceived power of the “authority” has a huge effect on our compliance.
Here’s a gratifying update.
Two upstarts, Bert Hodges and Georgie Anne Geyer, reviewed the responses of participants in that “lines” experiment. They found that many people actually stuck up for their own view, rather than conforming. When they did go along with the group, it was for a positive reason. “In getting along with others, most decent people recognize, as Hodges and Geyer put it, the ‘importance of cooperation, tact and social solidarity in situations that are tense or difficult.’”
The tension between conformity and standing up for what one thinks is right is especially timely as we hear, again, how some in the FBI stood up against the methods they witnessed at Guantanamo. Also, in everyday situations, how do we choose when and how to go along with others or respectfully disagree? One of the most thoughtful books on this topic is David Berreby’s Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind.