BBC 6 minute English-Do you think for yourself

BBC 6 minute English-Do you think for yourself

BBC 6 minute English-Do you think for yourself


Transcript of the podcast

NB: This is not a word-for-word transcript

Sophie: Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Sophie

Neil: And I’m Neil… Here’s your coffee, Sophie

Sophie: Neil – remember that staff meeting we had yesterday? Why did you agree to having decaff coffee in the kitchen when I know you don’t like it… and neither do I

Neil: I know. It’s just that the boss said that decaffeinated coffee – that’s coffee with the caffeine removed – was a good idea, healthier, you know. And then everyone else agreed. And I… I don’t know… I just felt uncomfortable disagreeing with everyone

Sophie: Well, it’s interesting you should say that, Neil. Groupthink is the subject of today’s show. Groupthink refers to the type of bad decisions we make when we are in a group. Decisions that are contrary to – or against – what we really think. A psychology experiment conducted in the 1950s showed that a lot of people do exactly that – they submit to the will of the group

Neil: But before we hear more about this, now would be a good time for today’s quiz question. And I get to ask you, Sophie

Sophie: OK. What is it

Neil: In which story by Hans Christian Andersen does a young boy dare to tell the truth when everyone else goes along with an obvious lie? Is it

a) The Red Shoes

b) The Snow Queen Or

c) The Emperor’s New Clothes

Sophie: OK… I think it’s c) The Emperor’s New Clothes

Neil: Well, we’ll find out later on in the show if that’s right or not. Now, the psychologist Solomon Asch is well known for his conformity experiments from the 1950s. Can you tell us what ‘conformity’ means please, Sophie

Sophie: Conformity means behaviour that is the same as the way most other people behave. Asch’s main finding was that group pressure can change a person’s opinion, of even obvious facts

Neil: And what did this Asch test involve

Sophie: 123 male participants were shown a card with a line on it, followed by another card with three lines on it. The participants were then asked to say which line matched the line on the first card in length. The right answer was plain to see, but the participants felt pressurized into saying the wrong answer

Neil: Why would they do that

Sophie: Because the majority of people taking part in the experiment had been told to give the wrong answer. Let’s hear Professor Nick Chater’s explanation. He works at the Warwick Business School here in the UK

INSERT Nick Chater, Professor at Warwick Business School, UK

By the time it comes to you a whole list of people have said something plainly wrong and you are either going to have to fold and say, ‘well, I just agree with them’ or you’re going to rather uncomfortably say, ‘well, I think it’s one actually’. And most people, most of the time, tend to fold

Neil: Professor Nick Chater. He uses the word fold, which means you give up. But, Sophie, if people are uncomfortable about supporting the wrong answer, or something they don’t believe in, why do they do it

Sophie: Because even though we feel uncomfortable going along with – or agreeing with – something we don’t believe, we’re even more uncomfortable about disagreeing with the group

Neil: Well, I didn’t realize that people were such sheep. I have a will of steel, Sophie

Sophie: Is that right? So, your will of steel – or strong determination – somehow melted away in the staff meeting yesterday, I suppose

Neil: Oh well… of course… yes

Sophie: Let’s move on and consider briefly how social media encourages groupthink

Neil: Yes, there’s a real danger with something like, for example, the Twitter – the social networking service. Because when an opinion on Twitter starts to “trend”, it can take on a momentum of its own, and people adopt it simply because it’s popular, not because they really believe it

Sophie: And momentum means a force that keeps something going once it has started. Let’s hear from journalist and author, Jon Ronson. He has an interesting opinion about this

INSERT Jon Ronson, journalist and author

One of the ironies here is that on social media we all like to see ourselves as nonconformists but when we all get together in a group what we’re doing is using our individual nonconformity to create a more conformist world. So if somebody steps out of line, all us nonconformists, in this frightened conformist way, tear them apart. It’s like we’re defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people on the outside

Sophie: Jon Ronson. Are you a nonconformist then, Neil – someone who thinks and behaves differently from other people

Neil: I’m not the type that Jon Ronson is describing – one who joins up with other so-called nonconformists to bully people with different views. Now remember I asked you earlier: In which story by Hans Christian Andersen does a young boy dare to tell the truth when everyone else goes along with an obvious lie? Is it

a) The Red Shoes

b) The Snow Queen or

c) The Emperor’s New Clothes

Sophie: I guessed c) The Emperor’s New Clothes

Neil: And you were right, Sophie! The Emperor’s New Clothes is a story by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. No one dares to say that he doesn’t see any suit of clothes until a child cries out, But he isn’t wearing anything at all

Sophie: It’s a great story – and a lesson to us all. Now can we hear the words we learned today please

Neil: They are

decaffeinated groupthink contrary to conformity fold going along with will of steel momentum nonconformist

Sophie: Well, that’s the end of today’s 6 Minute English. Don’t forget to join us again soon

Both: Bye

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