Football fans, the Media, and the Asch Paradigm


Ever heard of Solomon Asch?  He was a big football fan, and he studied people who hated “bounty” systems and believed what ESPN told them.  Ok, ok, not really.  But he would have studied them, believe that.

Asch was a scientist from Poland who did some pretty amazing studies on group conformity in the 1950s.  They were ridiculously simple, but they were eye-opening, especially to a bunch of zombie football fans who weren’t even born yet.  Calm down, I’m getting to it, just follow me for a minute.
He created these little drawings of lines.  One had a single line.   The next had three lines, one of which was exactly the same length as the line in the first picture.  And he asked a bunch of people to compare the two and decide which line was the same length. 
But here’s where it gets tricky.  He embedded the experimentees in groups of 6 or 8 or so people, but he didn’t tell the single study participant that the rest of the subjects were informed plants.  Asch had instructed them to unanimously choose the wrong line 12 out of 18 times.  They didn’t start until the third “test”, and the person under study was one of the last to answer.

35 subjects were asked to identify the correct line without peer pressure, and only one of them ever chose a wrong answer.  This established the clarity of the test – the correct answers are apparent.  When 123 subjects were put into the groups described above, 75 percent (that’s right, 3 out of 4) gave an incorrect answer to a question after hearing peers choose the wrong answer.  Three quarters of subjects, after hearing the incorrect answer uttered by biased observers, agreed with them in a test that over 95% of uninfluenced subjects aced.
It was an amazing result, and one Asch did not expect.  It is usually referred to as the Asch Paradigm.
I’d like to set the “evidence” laid out by the NFL against Payton & Co. in front of 127 people and ask them all “Does he deserve a year off without pay for what he has done?”  My theory?  95% would say that such a penalty is far too extreme for the crime.
But I can’t do that, can I?  Every football fan in America has already listened to dozens of other observers give outlandish answers to that question, let alone 5 or 7.  They already know line B is the same length as the example card.  It may look like the correct answer is C.  But if every media analyst, league official, and reporter out there has already identified B as correct, clearly their observations are wrong.  “I guess he deserves it.  No.  He’s obviously guilty.  I know he deserves it.”  Asch would be proud.
Introduce Solomon Asch into the conversation next time you hear some dimwit football fan cry about how Payton deserves a lethal injection for encouraging his defense to hit his team’s poor widdle quarterback harder.  You’ll blow his pitiful little indoctrinated mind.  And I thought Anthropology 101 was a waste of time!
Now, I know what you’re saying, Fan of Some Other Team.  “Doesn’t this apply to Saints fans who think Payton should be Free?”  It certainly could.  But here’s the problem: like the Asch experiments, the answer is quite obvious if you discount the opinions of the tainted subjects.  If you stand back for one second and get ESPN out of your head, you’ll see it.  A coach is being punished in an unprecedented way for something that he did not even order.  Did he lie to Goodell?  Probably so.  Does that deserve a year off without pay?  Come on, man.  Only one kind of offense deserves that kind of punishment: one the offender actually did or ordered done.  And not even the NFL’s official statement claims that he did any such thing.
But you think he should be thrown to the wolves, do you?  Do you really believe that?  Really?  Or are you just choosing line B because everyone else chose line B?
Every Saints fan I’ve talked to agrees that the punishment is too extreme.  I’m with them.  We can’t all be wrong, can we?

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