We all like to think that we are immune to popular opinion, with many a D.A.R.E speaker telling us that we can resist peer pressure. However, the ability to resist what is considered a social norm is much less common than many think. This can be seen in a study and research paper by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. In the study various participants were read a story in which two people commit some sort of widely agreed upon yet circumstantially harmless societal taboo, and are then asked whether or not it was wrong for the people in the story to do so. In the case of the research paper, a story in which two siblings commit incest once with no negative results is used. The participants’ responses were very similar, as can be seen in this excerpt from the research paper, “Most people who hear the above story immediately say that it was wrong for the siblings to make love, and they then begin searching for reasons (Haidt, Bjorklund, & Murphy, 2000). They point out the dangers of inbreeding, only to remember that Julie and Mark used two forms of birth control. They argue that Julie and Mark will be hurt, perhaps emotionally, even though the story makes it clear that no harm befell them. Eventually, many people say something like, "I don't know, I can't explain it, I just know it's wrong" (Haidt 814). In these responses, the speakers immediately denounced the story’s characters for doing something which they thought was fundamentally wrong. However, even when they could provide no accurate evidence and there were people there to correct their false evidence, they stood by their original statements.
With personal opinions cast aside, incest makes a good (yet uncomfortable) example of a popular opinion based social prohibition because it is known to have been ingrained into Western culture as a highly taboo and outright evil act for hundreds of years. As a result, we all live in a society where the simple mention of a topic which is relatively unharmful when compared to topics such as genocide is often met with a similar amount of repulsion and discomfort, due to nothing but the opinions of everyone around us. This would explain the answers of the study participants. Even though they had seemingly no reason to do so, their constant exposure to a popular consensus in which a random act is universally scorned caused them to be hardwired to the same consensus, with any rebuttal towards it being met with a stubborn *does not compute* mentality.