Would You Be the First Person to Do The Right Thing?

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A while back, a crowd of people boarded a subway car in New York City and discovered Nazi symbolism written everywhere.  Many riders did nothing, but one person stood up and started cleaning off the graffiti. His courage enabled everyone else to stand up and help until all of it was gone. This is a story about conformity and how to get people to break out of it.

This would make for a great class discussion on the role of conformity (as in the Asch study), which showed that conformity drops dramatically when even only one person decides not to go along with the group’s decision.

Personality: what kind of personality traits would make some most and least likely to stand up and take the first action?

The Big Five traits:

  • Openness to Experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

When all the passengers first sat down and saw the graffiti they all looked at each other and nobody did anything.

The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do.

You can read about this event here.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would you be the first person to get up and start erasing the swastikas and other negative remarks?
  2. What have we learned so far in class that might explain why you might be hesitant to get up?
  3. What can we do to overcome the social forces and get people to “do the right thing”?

Here’s a good point made by the video below: while being the first to take action is important, being second is also really important too.  Once two people have taken action, most of the rest of the crowd will now feel more emboldened to do the same thing.

Original Story: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/05/nyregion/swastika-nyc-subways.html