Finding friends

It is the worry of every parent at some time or another. Their children may not be hanging out with the right people. Do we attract people to us though, or are we attracted to people and why? How is it possible that years of upbringing can be undone by a bunch of grotty friends in a few weeks. Science can provide us a clue.

Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin are all said to have read the work of social scientist Gustave Le Bon. His research was published under the title The Crowd – A study of the popular mind, and was reinterpreted by American scientist Solomon Asch in the 1950’s with his famous “Black line’ experiments. In the renowned experiments Asch observed that people changed their opinion according to the group they were with. Guessing the length of a simple black line on a simple white card, the answers were markedly different, either shrunk or augmented according to the remarks of those around the subject.

The ‘altered’ opinion was once thought to be simple peer pressure and merely expressed as one thing or another with the subject secretly harbouring their inner truth, however that is not case a lot of the time. As we understand the mental process a little better, it now shows that merely agreeing with our peers gives us a little inner reward that is almost impossible to ignore. Our opinions can actually be changed, just by having our peers express them. We are not pretending or faking or cheating.

This has ramifications for bringing up your children. Fathers sitting down and trying to reason with their teenage daughters using words like “can’t you see what is happening?” or “can’t you see what they are doing to you?” just wont work. Because in truth they cannot see. Their brain has been altered in a way that logic plays no part in.

It also has ramification for those people trying to logically argue against racism of course. As many people have surrounded themselves either literally or figuratively with people of the same opinion and therefore can never, and will never be subject to simple logical argument. Their brain will not allow it.

The science tells us the parenting and influencing work needs to be put in much earlier than this. It is best expressed by author Mithu Storoni in her work ‘Stress Proof” when she says “When you pick people you want to be around, you’re choosing the person you want to become – choose wisely.

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