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A Great Awakening: Conformity and the QAnon Shaman

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

The Lawyer for QAnon Shaman Jacob Chansley, aka Jake Angeli, seemingly blames his client’s involvement in the U.S. Capitol riots on all America, from then-President Trump on up to every single American. Such conformity has long been a subject of study within social psychology, so just how reasonable a claim is it?

The Dual Process Model of Conformity, proposed by Deutsch and Gerard (1955), identifies, as the name suggests, two influences that drive conformity:

  • informational influence from a need to be right, and

  • normative influence from a need to be liked.

So, what part did these influences likely play in Chansley’s actions on Jan 6th?

Informational influence, demonstrated in the experiments of Sherif (1935), is strongest in ambiguity of right and wrong. The misleading “propaganda odyssey” referred to by his lawyer, therefore, seems strong support, but Chansley’s subsequent recantation belies the expected internalisation of such beliefs.

Normative influence, demonstrated in the experiments of Asch (1955), is strongest when a subject identifies with the group and desires to fit in. Here Chansley’s recantation is entirely expected as such beliefs are adopted in compliance rather than internalised, and abandoned when group influence is removed.

So, while both forms of influence were undoubtedly at play, if it was, as it seems from the recantation, a desire to fit in, his outlandish attire notwithstanding, that drove Chanley’s actions on that day, then the problem he is left with is that Asch’s paradigm indicates that such influence is far more often resisted than not.

Catch our Cambridge Skeptics: Live! discussions on this and other social influence as well as the media influence on Jacob Chansley and the others involved in the 2021 United States Capitol attack.

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