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December 7, 2012

Years ago when I was in college my studies turned to social psychology and how our thoughts are unconsciously manipulated.

One study I read involved an experiment conducted by a college psychology professor.

The professor asked his class to count the number of students on campus who worn brown or red sweaters, then determine the consequent ratio. After a week of counting, a determination was made: For every 100 students who wore brown sweaters, 100 students wore red sweaters. The ratio, then, was one-to-one or expressed as 1:1.

The professor then asked his class to compliment students who wore red sweaters and say nothing to those who wore brown sweaters. In time another count was taken. The ratio had changed. There were significantly more students wearing red sweaters than brown sweaters.

The next phase of the experiment found the class passively criticizing students who wore brown sweaters. A class member, for example, would notice a student wearing a brown sweater and compliment that student on the sweater they wore the day before. The results showed a decrease in the number of brown sweaters.

The conclusion is apparent: We are influenced by our interpretation of our peers' perception of us. We respond positively to praise and negatively to criticism. We chase the carrot and flee the whip. We change our opinions to conform to the opinions deemed acceptable to our peers. Reason is not relative.

Let's try another experiment.

Suppose there is a town of 10,000 residents. Each is outfitted with electric diodes and each is given a remote that activates the diodes of any other resident.

Residents are instructed to press the shock button on their remotes anytime they hear another resident say the sky is blue or grass is green. Furthermore, the resident administering the shock is simultaneously rewarded with a pleasant sensation emitting from the diodes attached to his body. In time, no one in the community will acknowledge that the sky is blue or the grass is green.

Residents are also instructed to press the 'pleasant' button on their remotes anytime they hear another resident say the sky is green or grass is blue. Again, the administering resident receives a pleasant reward.

In time residents reject the truth and, even though they know better, accept lies.

We now move to another community to conduct a near-identical experiment.

Residents are instructed to accuse others of racism anytime they utter words or phrases deemed politically incorrect. Furthermore, the residents making the accusations are praised for their assessment. In time, no one in the community will express opinions deemed politically incorrect.

Residents are also instructed to praise others who make politically correct statements, even though they know those statements are false. Again, the administering resident receives a reciprocal praise.

In time residents reject the truth and, even though they know better, accept lies. 

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