Edited by Serge Moscovici
Edited by Gabriel Mugny
Edited by Eddy van Avermaet
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1985
Online Publication Date:February 2012
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511897566.003
Subjects: Social psychology
The parable of the lonely minority
In beginning the preparation of this chapter two events immediately came to my mind. One took place in the real world and one in the laboratory. During a recent conversation, Fritz Heider revealed that his ideas were publicly presented for the very first time in 1921 to a kind of popular science group at Graz in Austria. He recalled that his colleagues, with one exception, merely laughed and departed without further comment. And this brings me to the other event. Every student in psychology knows of the famous experiment by Asch. Individuals, who find themselves in groups of eight to 15 stooges who assert that two visibly unequal lines are in fact equal, naive to the deception, adopt this manifestly incorrect judgment. But what most students do not know is that at the end of his series of experiments and out of curiosity Asch reverses the situation. A single stooge affirms in front of 14 or 15 ‘naive’ individuals that these visibly unequal lines are equal. These other individuals, like Heider's colleagues, begin to laugh, perhaps embarrassed by what this crazy person claims (Harvey, Ickes & Kidd, 1976).
Laughter, then, is a common reaction to a minority of one individual, whether encountered in real life or in the laboratory. However, the resemblance between the two events ends there. In the real life example, strong in his convictions and obligated by standards of scientific inquiry, Heider stuck resolutely and consistently to his position.