12 January 2021

Blend in With the Rest of the Chimps

James Clear, Atomic Habits (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), p. 120:

The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. For example, one study found that when a chimpanzee learns an effective way to crack nuts open as a member of one group and then switches to a new group that uses a less effective strategy, it will avoid using the superior nut cracking method just to blend in with the rest of the chimps.

Humans are similar. There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.

The human mind knows how to get along with others. It wants to get along with others. This is our natural mode. You can override it — you can choose to ignore the group or to stop caring what other people think — but it takes work. Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort.


David Teniers the Younger, A Monkey Encampment (1633)