Possible confounds in conformity research – II

[The first part is here]

In a successive series of models, published in Scientific Reports, we considered whether other individual-level mechanisms could potentially be mistaken for conformity, generating relations between frequency of a trait and probability to copy it that looked like sigmoids. We choose a few simple and plausible mechanisms (you can refer to the paper for details) and we found that two of them – on a total of seven tested, plus three controls – generated relations for which a sigmoid function produced a better fit than a linear one (see figure below). The codes for running all simulations (written in Matlab) are available through the Open Science Framework.

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Possible confounds in conformity research – I

I recently did some modelling work, in collaboration with Edwin van Leeuwen and others, exploring possible confounds in conformity research. As I discussed in a post some time ago, “conformity”, in cultural evolution, has a precise meaning as a disproportionate tendency to copy the majority. “Disproportionate” here means that the probability to copy a popular cultural trait should be higher than the frequency of the trait itself. In other words, if 60% of your friends wear read, and 40% wear blue, not only you should be more likely to also wear read (this would happen also by copying at random), but your probability to wear read should be higher than 60%. Why is this important? Conformity, in this technical sense, allows majority behaviours to be resistant to random fluctuations, or to changes in population, like migrations, etc. This, in turn, contributes to maintain stable cultural differences between groups.

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Are the subjects of Asch’s experiments conformists?

There is a handful of psychology works that have the burdensome honour of informing our view of human behaviour, usually with spectacular results that tend to satisfy some of our preconceptions on how this behaviour should look like. Two of them, the Stanford prison experiment (showing that stable adults quickly become sadist prison guards, given the right situational cues) and the Milgram experiment (showing that stable adults are willing to obey to an authority, in this case the experimenter, to the point of administering painful electric shocks to unknown confederates of the experimenter), while retaining fascination in the large public, tend to be considered cautiously by scientists, and have been recently criticised in mainstream or quasi-mainstream media (see, for example, here, here, and here).

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