Sunday, October 19, 2008

Surviving a Conference Part IV: Social Factors

True Woman '08as a Prototype

Conferences like True Woman ‘08 influence attendees powerfully through social mentoring and context as well as through behavioral compliance. One means of gauging proper behavior comes through observing the behavior of others and context clues, a very human trait. Compliance and participation also increases when authority figures also comply and participate, as those who are held in high esteem are also viewed as a superior gauge for wise behavior. 

This social influence becomes a more powerful determinant of behavior when decisions are ambiguous, and human beings tend to place more significance on the social cues that they take from those who are similar to them in some way. We are social creatures, and our human need to belong influences our decisions in a powerful way. It is our created nature. (For more, review the Asch Experiments.)

At the True Woman Conference, each woman received a “Yes, Lord” white cloth handkerchief which the conference leaders encouraged the attendees to wave in the air like white flags of surrender whenever they felt like they were saying “Yes, Lord” in their hearts. They were also given rubber pads to kneel on whenever they felt the unction to do so on the hard floor. Social proof obviously strongly encourages compliance with this type of behavior, and I thought it was also interesting if not odd that the speakers occasionally reminded women that “Now would be a good time to get out your hankie and wave it or kneel on your kneeling pad.” But general behavioral compliance with small requests also has a strong psychological effect, and according to cognitive dissonance theory, it increases the likelihood of the acceptance of ideas and even the mirroring of the desired emotion in the group.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when thoughts, emotions or behavior differ, for instance when a person is asked to do something that is contrary to thoughts and emotions. This is actually an intensely uncomfortable process, and people will generally do the most expedient thing to bring thoughts, emotions and behavior back into a comfortable, integrated unity. If you wish to introduce a provocative thought or idea and you believe that you will be countered, if you can manipulate emotions and/or behavior of your critic, you have a very high chance of getting them to accept your idea. Control of one area (thoughts, emotion or behavior) gives the manipulator a powerful foothold and nearly guarantees that they will be able to dominate the remaining two areas. So did Nancy Leigh DeMoss distribute cloth hankies to women and ask them to wave them in order to promote the acceptance of her ideas? I doubt that it was a conscious and deliberate decision, but again, I must say that I believe that experienced conference hosts realize what techniques produce the desired affect.

Because cognitive dissonance is so intensely uncomfortable because of the human drive to keep thoughts, emotions and behavior consistent, the person will preserve their internal sense of consistency by altering the remaining two aspects of the self. If I can persuade you to experience an emotion that you do not have and you cannot escape the situation, you are highly likely to comply with behavioral expectations and also accept my provocative thought.

Once the manipulator establishes behavioral compliance regarding seemingly benign and insignificant actions, a general pattern of compliance ensues. Biderman observed that the significance of the behaviors can be gradually increased so that the subject does not identify any inconsistencies, eventually requiring very unusual or far more significant acts without triggering the subject’s suspicion. I don’t believe that anyone devised an intentional plan that would begin with the waving of a hankie and end with signing a Manifesto, but those who complied with “flag waving” definitely would have become more well disposed to the message of those who asked them to comply. (As a matter of consistency, we do not generally cooperate with those whom we do not share sentiment or belief unless pressured, and once having complied, we will find it more difficult to resist those sentiments and beliefs.)

Another unique practice that occurred at this meeting concerns confession, another appeal to a person’s desire to be consistent. I was very surprised to see this practice at the True Woman conference, as it does read right out of Lifton’s book. Late on Friday (during the three day conference) after the evening’s main sessions, they conducted a “concert of prayer” and invited those in attendance for an additional 90 minutes of prayer for the Saturday conference activities.

When the live webcast of the evening session concluded (Tada), I noted that they planned to broadcast this prayer session, so I continued to watch the next webcast of the "concert." I was pretty surprised that, after the session was opened with a little musical interlude, for quite awhile during this prayer time, individuals were invited to approach microphones that had been positioned throughout the auditorium, and attendees were filmed giving their testimonies of their experiences. Now, this did not fill the entire 90 minutes, but it took up a substantial portion of that time, and I was able to closely see the faces of those who spoke via the webcast. Note that whenever a person is asked to talk about themselves, they automatically shift into an alpha state as a normal, physiologic response, and they will then be more inclined to accept the same testimony of others without critical evaluation.

Whenever a hypnotherapy session concludes and a client is brought back up to normal consciousness, a vital part of the process is a sealing of the experience through confession. Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth consolidates the experience in the person’s mind and grounds it there. The client should be asked, “How was that?” or “Tell me what you experienced.” You then listen to the client tell you (for their own benefit) what they experienced so that the memory of it firmly sets in the mind and the will. Again, no process of hypnotherapy is ever complete without the self-evaluation phase because it “seals” the work that was done in the session. In many ways, it sometimes more important that the actual hypnosis itself because the subject rehearses and ascribes meaning to what they just experienced.

Lifton included “confession” as one of the eight techniques of thought reform for good reason, because the process of self-disclosure does induce a strong alpha state of consciousness. Related to the high “demand for purity” within manipulative ideologic groups is the practice of open confession of fault and repentance in front of and with the group. The participant generally views this process of achieving unity with the group and as a necessary purging that binds one to the group’s identity. In smaller groups, it becomes a process of self-degradation, exploitation, comparison and judgement. I was quite shocked to see this dynamic played out at such a large, large conference, but this practice always serves to bind one’s identity with the larger group. I also noted easily observable physical assessment findings of an hypnotic state in the faces of many of the women who did step up to give testimony as I was easily able to see close-ups of their faces and eyes via the live webcast during this “concert of prayer” on Friday night.

In one last post in this series, I will give some very practical ideas to consider and employ that will help you resist undue influence while attending conferences.
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