don’t make waves

Thomas Moriarty arranged an experiment in which innocent persons would be practically accused of stealing. The experimental aide would stand behind an adult businessman making a call in a phone booth in Grand Central Station; when the call was completed the aid would play out the following script: “Excuse me, I was here a few minutes ago I left my ring on the counter under the phone. Did you find it?” Of course, all subjects replied, “No.”

The aide would then say, “I've got to find it. Are you sure you didn't see it? Sometimes people pick things up without thinking about it. Again, subjects would deny having seen the ring. Then the aid would ask, “Would you empty your pockets?”

The Investigators wondered how many people would comply with such an overbearing request, one which amounts to an allegation of petty thievery. The compliance rate was 80 percent: four of every five adult males essentially submitted to a search by emptying their pockets. The percentages were even higher in laboratory experiments. And even when a “disinterested bystander” said to the aide. “You’ve got no right to ask him to empty his pockets,” the subjects still complied.

Such studies show how prevalent passivity is. It is alarming that so few people are willing to stand up for their rights when they are being put upon and clearly annoyed. Apparently, most of us would rather not get into a hassle about anything, especially with a stranger. The slogan is: Don’t make waves.

Sharon and Gordon Bower, Asserting Yourself