April 2023

GPT' and Conformity

How to Foster Critical Thinking in a Group in the era of GPT’s: Lessons from Asch's Conformity Experiments

Have you ever wondered how much your opinions are influenced by the majority in a group? Do you think you would stick to your own vision even if everyone else disagreed with you? Or would you conform to the group pressure and give up on your critical thinking?

These are some of the questions that Solomon Asch, an American psychologist, tried to answer in his famous conformity experiments in the 1950s. He wanted to see how people would react when faced with a simple visual task that had an obvious correct answer, but also a group of confederates who gave a wrong answer unanimously.

The results were surprising and disturbing. Asch found that about one-third of the participants conformed to the group at least once, even though they knew the correct answer. Some of them did it to avoid being ridiculed or rejected by the group, while others doubted their own perception and judgment. Only a few remained independent and confident in their responses.

What does this mean for us today? How can we foster critical thinking in a group setting, especially when we have to deal with complex and uncertain situations? Here are some suggestions based on Asch's experiments and other research:

- Encourage diversity of opinions and perspectives. Having a variety of viewpoints can help us challenge our assumptions, consider different alternatives, and avoid groupthink. Diversity can also reduce the pressure to conform, as people are more likely to express their dissenting opinions when they see others doing the same².
- Create a safe and supportive environment. People are more likely to share their honest thoughts and feelings when they feel respected, valued, and accepted by the group. A safe environment also allows people to admit their mistakes, ask for help, and learn from feedback. To create such an environment, we need to foster trust, empathy, and openness among group members³.
- Promote constructive dialogue and debate. Rather than seeking consensus or agreement, we should aim for understanding and learning from each other. Dialogue and debate can help us clarify our assumptions, test our arguments, and refine our ideas. To do this effectively, we need to listen actively, ask questions, challenge respectfully, and acknowledge different perspectives⁴.

Imagine this scenario: You have a meeting with 10 participants. Nine of them did not have the time to prepare the meeting and ask ChatGPT for input. The tenth participant developed an own vision/opinion through critical thinking. What would happen if you followed these suggestions?

- You would be more likely to hear the tenth participant's opinion, as he/she would feel more comfortable to share it with a diverse and supportive group.
- You would be more likely to consider the tenth participant's opinion, as he/she would present it with evidence and logic, and invite feedback and questions from the group.
- You would be more likely to learn from the tenth participant's opinion, as he/she would engage in a constructive dialogue and debate with the group, and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of his/her position.

As you can see, following these suggestions can help you foster critical thinking in a group setting, and avoid the pitfalls of conformity. Critical thinking is not only beneficial for individuals, but also for groups and organizations. It can help us solve problems creatively, make better decisions, and achieve our goals.

So next time you find yourself in a group situation where you have to express your opinion or make a choice, remember Asch's experiments and ask yourself: Am I conforming or thinking critically?
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