BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER The idiom "Birds of a feather flock together" according to, A Dictionary of American Idioms states "People who are alike often become friends or are together; if you are often with certain people, you may be their friends or like them" (Makkai, Boatner, Gates, 1995). This paper will focus on the social influence of groups, the dynamics in regard to, formation of groups, concept of in-group, out-group homogeneity, and illusory correlation. The in-group discussed here is the Germans and the out-group, the Jews. This ethnocentric view of "us" the good ones and "them" the bad. How conformity, obedience, and compliance to authority within a group specifically during WW II parallels Stanley Milgram's obedience study. Irving Janis' term groupthink allowed Hitler's "leadership style, group cohesion and crisis combine to suppress dissent within his in-groups to such a degree that group members end up supporting polices (norms) that are extraordinarily ill considered " (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992). This thinking allowed the dehumanizing norm that continued the genocide by Hitler's subordinates. They obeyed authority even though cognitive dissonance existed. Demonstrating how people can act like sheep in subordinate roles. The use of propaganda by Hitler enhanced Germany's ethnocentric beliefs.
Social influence is one person's (or group's) influence on another. The Holocaust is an "extreme form of physical destruction and can be considered the ultimate degree of social influence ." Groups are defined as two or more participants. Groups can be powerful forces shaping our feelings, judgments and behaviors (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992). Cohesion of a group effects the group functioning by contributing to the loyalty and sacrifice exhibited by its members (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992)).
"Adolf Eichmann (1906 - 1962) was a Nazi official responsible for implementing Hitler's "Final Solution" to exterminate the Jews, escaped to Argentina after WWII. In 1960 Israeli agents captured him and brought to Israel, where he was tried as a war criminal and sentenced to death. Eichmann maintained that he was merely following orders in arranging the murders of his victims. The man who actually dropped the Cyclon-b into the gas chambers was able to justify his actions on the grounds he was following orders from above - Eichmann. They both yielded to authority and norms, but in doing so attempted to justify their own actions and diverted responsibility (Behrens and Rosen, 2000). Norms - standards of conduct within a group are crucial to a groups survival or success. Loyalty, sacrifice, and bravery have utility in groups involved in conflict and armed struggle and codes of behavior reduce chaos. Theories from sociobiology draw from Charles Darwin argue that grouping together has survival value for humans (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992).
Leon Festinger's theory of social comparison is an attempt to understand the effects of others on our own thinking. We feel strongly to have accurate views (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992) and therefore we group together to gain comparative information in an attempt to protect ourselves from inappropriate decisions and judgments (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992).
Hitler's agenda incorporated Social Darwinism in his "Final Solution" to eradicate the Jewish race and he won this support through propaganda. Festinger argued that groups prefer to be in agreement. When disagreements arise various attempts are made to resolve matters. He observed that group members will first try to persuade each other, but when this proves futile then rejection of group deviates will result. Many German citizens were caught hiding Jews and were shot on the spot - evidently the propaganda didn't convince everyone in Germany.
Jews were believed to be the root of Germany's problems, dehumanization made Jews non-human and became justification to exterminate the race. The idea of the Jew as scapegoat, one who bears the blame for the mistakes of others became commonplace for rationalizing the German's actions.
" Most violent forms of group aggression are directed at other groups. The human tendency to disparage, distrust, and dislike other groups other than our own and view the out-group as faceless, stereotypic caricatures." This refers to negative traits depicted in the propaganda tactics used by the Third Reich. The use of cartoon characters which depicted Jews as dark-haired, dirty, fat, unshaven, and a big hook nose was distributed in schools and throughout Germany.
"We tend to exaggerate differences between groups and minimize those differences that exist within the group." (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992).
Jeannine Burk , a holocaust survivor, whose mother was spared because she didn't fit the picture of being Jewish.. The stereotype of dark hair and the hook nose didn't apply though she was a Jew. She had blonde hair, blue eyes and was able to carry on as "just a person" working in a nursing home throughout the holocaust. (email@example.com).
A cognitive bias that combines with the intergroup processes to promote negative views about out-groups is illusory correlation. The propaganda used in Germany aided in the overall devaluations of the out-group - the Jews. It served to dehumanize the Jewish race because it is easier to hurt and kill "sub-humans" than to hurt or kill fellow human beings, thus reducing dissonance (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992).
"Cognitive dissonance - is a state of tension that occurs whenever an individual simultaneously hold two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent. Since dissonance is unpleasant, people are motivated to reduce it." The German soldiers killed Jews, but believing Jews are sub-humans reduces the dissonance (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992). This made the Jewish people not worthy of consideration because of this negativity.
Ethnocentrism - (Baron,Kerr, & Miller, 1992) "a universal strong liking of one's own group and the negative evaluation of out-groups.
This ethnocentric bias promotes in-group cohesiveness and out-group antagonism." The in-group -- the Germans saw themselves as virtuous, obedient, and loyal - traits on which all groups typically expect of all the members (Baron, Kerr, Miller, 1992). The German soldiers in their minds were fulfilling their roles.
Roles can powerfully influence our actions. Stanley Milgrams taught and conducted research at Yale and Harvard Universities. His study on obedience (1951) were subjects representing ordinary people drawn from various working, managerial, and professional walks of life. The subjects were told the study was a memory and learning experiment.
The group included a teacher, learner, and the experimenter. The learner was a confederate, he was planted and actually received no electric shock at all. The teacher was given a sample shock of (75 V). The experimenter wore a white lab coat and the teacher was reluctant to confront the experimenter because the teacher was a subordinate role. Even though the learner was subjected to shock by the teacher and at some point the learner expressed in various tones of voice that he was in pain or no sound at all. However, the teacher in many instances continued because the experimenter urged them to "please continue"; "you must go on." Some teachers experienced nervous laughter others bit their lip. Still, this did not disrupt their role compliance. (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992).
The point of the study was to determine when the teacher would refuse to comply with the requirements of his role as obedient research participant. Over 60% of subjects shocked the learner at the maximum voltage of (450 V). The teacher in these cases was considered to be fully obedient (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992).
The experiment was duplicated in Munich and the numbers were higher, 85% complied.
"Normal" people can't violate human decency so "those sick ones" as the Germans were labeled was widespread by many people all over the world to rationalize how humans could commit this atrocity. The Milgram study suggested the Germans were in a set of special circumstances because the obedience we naturally show authority can transform us into agents of terror (Behrens & Rosen, 2000). The authority figures in this case were relentless in their goals.
Hitler's in-group practiced maladaptive decision-making that Irving Janis' termed "Groupthink because their group perceived themselves as invulnerable - blinded by optimism, and this was perpetuated when dissent is discouraged. This mode of thinking becomes so dominant in a cohesive in-group that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action." This could be said for other leaders in history as well.
"The leadership styles include task oriented or people orientated. Task oriented involves the group performance, attaining the goals of the group. People orientated is concerned with the individual group members as to their feelings, needs, and problems. Moral is better achieved in people orientated style. However, in times of stress (wartime) task orientated leadership is used. Example, Hitler was a task orientated leader and cared only about attaining his goal: the "Final Solution" he cared nothing about the German people.
The ordinary person in Milgram's experiment who shocked the victim did so out of a
sense of obligation - an impression of his duties as a subject, as Adolf Eichmann maintained -
and not from any peculiarly aggressive tendencies after all he only sat at his desk and shuffled papers he told the court at his trial. (Behrens & Rosen, 2000). The fundamental lesson in the Milgram study: "ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process." Moreover, even when they come to realize that their actions are incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the wherewithal to resist authority. Many teachers even when convinced of their wrongness against inflicting pain to the learner protested while still obeying the experimenter. They could not make an open break with authority. Some reduced the stress by a brief shock to the learner. Thus handling the conflict by "asserting their humanity" was easier than defiance (Behrens & Rosen, 2000). Was the German soldier "asserting their humanity" when they would at point-blank range shoot a Jew in the head? Were they sparing the Jewish person pain form torture or were they again reducing dissonance?
Social influence and conformity can prove to be disastrous and such was the case in WWII with the Holocaust. Conformity pressures in group decisions proved to be tragic in Adolf Hitler's case. The circle around Hitler was one of total conformity and deviations was not permitted because those who defied Hitler received the same fate as the Jews.. The activities of genocide seemed reasonable due to the absence of dissent which created an illusion of unanimity. In Hitler's view no other options existed. The holocaust matters because when "Birds of a Feather Flock Together" then conformity, obedience, and compliance within that group must be observed due to norms established in order to ensure the success of the group. Ordinary people of all walks of life are susceptible to acts of terror when they assume subordinate roles as Milgram revealed. But they are also subject to cognitive dissonance when they perform actions they know to be immoral but comply anyway because of the sense of obligation to the group. We group in order to compare information, but when dissent is suppressed and members support polices that are ill-considered then ordinary people will again follow like sheep.
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