Elevator rides can be awkward. The tiny space forces passengers into close quarters as they slowly scale up and down buildings. In this clip from a ’60s episode of the American hidden camera show Candid Camera, the first unsuspecting rider, a middle-aged man in a trench coat, gets an even more unusual elevator experience. As other passengers follow behind him the man finds all of them oddly facing the back wall.
“You’ll see how this man in the trench coat tries to maintain his individuality,” says the host of the show, Allen Funt. The man in the trench coat rubs his face and nose in confusion at the other passengers. “He looks at his watch, but he’s really making an excuse for turning just a little bit more toward the wall.”
In the 1960s, social conformity experiments got all the laughs. The 1962 Candid Camera episode “Face the Rear” tested the Asch conformity experiments. Polish psychologist Solomon Asch developed the series of studies in the 1950s, investigating how individuals succumbed to or defied a majority group, and the effects of such behavior. And what better environment to conduct these psychology experiments than in an elevator recorded by the Candid Camera crew.
Today, psychologists and researchers still turn to and Asch’s experiments, the famous Candid Camera clip popularly shown in psychology classes. “Conformity is all around us,” Jennifer Wosmek, a psychology professor at Bethany Lutheran College, told Free Press. “But it’s hard to get at systematically.”
Wosmek and colleagues at Bethany Lutheran College replicated the elevator experiment in 2011, and found similar awkward situations seen in the 1962 clip. People turned around to match the other passengers without question, while others confusedly asked if there was a second door that opened. They also found that men conformed more fully, while women often only did so partially. Younger people also conformed much more often than older.
Perhaps the Candid Camera victim who gets the most laughs is the young man who enters the elevator at the 1:20-mark. The Candid Camera crew in the elevator turn multiple directions in the elevator—each time the doors open, the young man has also turned to face the same way. He even follows along without question when the men take of their hats and put them back on.
While the experiment on the prank television show was for laughs, it also reveals how powerful conformity can be.
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