- Conformity is a socio-psychological process where a person follows group norms and social conventions fully.
- The person imbibes the values, beliefs, laws, and norms of the group as his/her own.
- Conformity refers to fitting oneself in the group to avoid social isolation.
- It means swimming with the steam as much as possible even if one doesn’t want to do it consciously.
- Conformity forms the basis of coherent and united group behavior.
- It formulates group culture and affects people of all ages.
Do you always prefer to follow the crowd? Are you the one whose decisions get influenced by people and situations?
Do you like following the trend rather than making an individual choice? If the answers are yes, you’re into a social psychological process known as Conformity.
It is a psychological inclination where a person aligns his/her beliefs, attitudes, preferences, and behavior with others in the social group.
This is done to avoid being an outcast and maintain a good fit in the group.
People who regularly conform to social norms are usually likable and popular. They are regarded as best buddies by their friends, loyal employees by their employers, obedient son/daughter by parents.
This type of social compliance can have positive and negative impacts depending upon the purpose and the circumstances that the person is in.
In this article, we will highlight this process in depth.
Conformity – definition and meaning
Conformity is a tendency where a person matches his or her preferences, opinions, attitudes, and behavior with the trending pattern of the group. Simply, it means following the prevailing perspective, to behave in ways like the majority of others around you.
We conform because we are always concerned about what others will think if we have a different opinion or perspective. This is a basic human nature that we try to follow the crowd.
We prefer to change our opinions, values, and preferences to become a good social fit. Conformity is accommodating, reconciling, and integrating the ideas, opinions, and behavior of the majority of others.
If you follow others, you can easily become a social favorite. And if you don’t, you may also turn out to be socially unpopular. Thus, we can say that conformity is a type of social influence.
It involves an alteration in beliefs and values, thinking, and perceptual style of the person. Every attempt is made to match with the values, opinions, and perspectives of others in the group.
Conformity also means succumbing to group pressure. When you agree to what others say or do things the way others are doing, you are showing conformity.
You are following the group norms because you do not wish to get rejected.
Once you choose to conform, you may start to think, feel, and act like all others in the group. Thus, conformity also symbolizes group resemblance, unity, and cohesiveness.
There will be a tendency to make decisions and form opinions on other people’s judgments. Conformity is a very important phenomenon in social psychology.
It forms the basis of any group behavior. The tendency to conform comes from an intrinsic need to get social approval and respect.
The psychology behind social conformity
When you conform to social norms or group behavior, you become a part of the group. Thus, conformity is a type of social pressure or response.
It occurs when you are about to decide whether to move on with the crowd or act independently.
Conformity always arises in social situations and group behavior. It is an important social dynamic that defines why and how people operate and live in harmony in a group.
Social conformity leads to agreement and consensus among the group members. Conformity is good if you are looking at mutual decision-making.
But, if you fall into a cognitive bias trap where you are forcefully changing your opinions, preferences, and beliefs to fit into the group, it will lead to some harmful consequences.
Sometimes conformity can happen overtly and at other times, it can be a subtle way to comply and obey what others are saying or doing.
Sometimes conformity may lead to biased group decisions that can impact community living in a negative way.
Conformity brings group unity. It also gives you a sense of group belongingness. You will feel like an accomplished member of the group.
Have you ever thought about why you are so bothered about fitting into the group? What will happen if you think and act differently?
The answer is, you may lose social recognition or could be isolated or rejected by other like-minded individuals.
The need to be accepted, loved, and cared for by other fellow humans is common human psychology. We are wired to fit in because we dislike rejection.
Fear of being socially isolated can haunt us and we want to avoid it at all costs.
Thus, it gives rise to conformity. You think that going against norms may prove to be costly. Varying opinions leading to conflicts and disagreements with others can rob your inner peace.
It makes you feel unhappy when you realize that others don’t like you just because you are having a different perspective than them.
Thus, you rely on conformity as a handy tool to move with the majority.
Researchers have found that all societies show conformity more or less. However, following the herd and moving with the flow is not always desirable.
It may lead to faulty decision-making, biased ideas and opinions, and much more.
History of conformity
Conformity is a regular social phenomenon. You must have experienced this process many times in your daily life.
Sometimes, conformity happens even if you are consciously aware that the group is wrong.
This happens because, through evolutionary response, you’re hardwired to go with the flow, not paying much heed about what you think or believe to be true.
Several experiments were conducted to study the nature of social conformity and the way it affects the mindset of people who experience it.
Conformity experiments by Solomon Asch
They were asked to choose the length of a line that can match the length of the three lines shown to them.
Then, the participants were asked about their opinions individually and later in the group. When they were asked in person, they gave the correct answer.
But when asked in a group situation, along with some confederates who deliberately selected the wrong answers, the answers of the participants also varied.
The results of the experiment were pretty clear. About 75% of the participants agreed to the wrong answers that the confederates had selected, even when they knew that the answer was incorrect.
This shows that people are more inclined to passively follow the group even when they know that the group decision is incorrect. This happens because of conformity.
This type of conformity is an example of normative influence. Here the participants changed their answers so that they do not appear socially misfit.
They wanted acceptance and thus preferred to follow the crowd.
Jenness’s experiments on conformity were done in 1932
As early as 1932, Jenness was the first psychologist who studied social influence and conformity and its role in human behavior.
He used a glass bottle filled with beans for his experiment. The participants were asked to estimate the number of beans present inside the bottle. All the individual responses were noted.
Then, Jenness asked the participants to sit in a group. The glass bottle filled with beans was placed near them.
The participants were asked to discuss amongst themselves what could be the estimated number of the beans.
Here again, the results were shocking. Most participants were again asked individually about their estimations just to see whether group discussion had an impact on changed attitudes or not.
The experimenter found that group discussion had an impact and almost all the participants had altered their previous estimations.
Their initial guess changed to a new number. Participants conformed to the majority.
Autokinetic effect experiments by Muzafer Sherif
In these experiments, Sherif asked the participants to estimate a dot of light. They were asked to estimate whether a dot of light in a dark room is moving or not. And to what extent and how far they are moving.
In reality, the dot was not moving at all. It was static. It appeared to move because of a physical phenomenon known as the Autokinetic effect, a type of visual illusion.
The small eye movements make the dots feel like moving in a dark room.
The participants answered in varied ways when asked individually. While in a group, the answers moved towards the average response.
Thus, it was clear that participants preferred to move with the group response. Rather than saying a contradictory answer, they conformed to the group.
The results of Sherif’s experiments had proved that in an ambiguous situation, people always rely on the information given by others. They readily prefer to follow the crowd blindly.
Types of conformity
Broadly speaking, conformity can be of two main types. They are normative conformity and informational conformity.
These two major types of conformity were identified by Deutsch and Gerrard (1955).
Later on, another classification of conformity came into existence. Kelman (1958) identified three different types of conformity. They are compliance, internalization, and identification.
Another type of conformity was discovered by Man (1969). It was known as Ingratiational conformity. This is similar to normative conformity.
The person conforms to group influence to impress others, seek approval, or gain favor from them.
Let us now discuss all the types in detail –
This type of conformity occurs when a person changes his/her behavior, attitudes, and values to fit into the group they belong to.
The person prefers to align with the group because he/she doesn’t want to be rejected. Fear of social isolation makes them comply with group norms and group behavior.
Sometimes normative conformity occurs due to social pressure. A teenager may comply with smoking because his friends are already making fun of him.
Thus, to avoid social rejection he may resort to smoking as well.
In certain cases, normative conformity leads to emotional problems. The person may not comply willingly and happily.
It could be a social pressure that was forced upon the individual.
Though the person defies it privately, he/she may comply publicly, just to maintain social prestige.
For example, you follow a specific fashion trend because your friends are also showing a similar taste. As you do not wish to be an outcast, you go along with them.
This type of informational influence occurs when the person looks for group information, suggestion, and guidance before deciding on anything in life.
If you lack knowledge about something, you’ll probably ask family members or friends for suggestions and guidance.
If you comply with their suggestions, it means that you are into informational conformity.
Informational conformity leads to the internalization of ideas and opinions whereby the person feels that the group opinion is aligned with what they believe in.
The group viewpoints are imbibed and followed wholeheartedly by the person as his/her own. Thus, informational social influence plays a pivotal role.
For example: Do you remember the first day of your college? You must have asked someone about the classroom or tried to understand the rules and regulations from a new friend.
You must have tried many new things just to get accepted in the college social forum.
It refers to a kind of social conformity where a person follows the rules and conventions of society without questioning.
They comply with the order, rules, wishes, and desires of others even if it means going against their own values.
Most often compliance occurs because the person adopts the group attitude and behavior with the hope of a positive reward from the group.
If compliance can earn them social regard, recognition, and acceptance, they will readily follow the crowd.
It has been found that compliance is a temporary change in attitudes, values, opinions, and behavior. It is not permanent and stops when there is no social pressure.
For example, A politician may comply with the rules, values, and conventions of a specific regional party just to earn a seat in an election.
The person may comply with the party’s values even if it contradicts with their own.
Disagreeing with the group would mean a lack of social popularity and lack of acceptance from the other group members.
As they want to win the election and earn social regard as a politician they readily follow what the others in the group say or do.
Thus, compliance may happen without an internal agreement with the group values.
Here the person completely follows the group attitudes and behavior. They internalize the values and attitudes of the group as their own.
Internalization leads to changing behavior to make the other person happy. You may conform to the eating habits of your partner just to make them happy.
In this way, the person accepts and adopts the behavior pattern of others and fully gets tuned with it.
Internalization means private conformity. The person accepts the group norms willingly and happily.
It is a deeper process of conformity where the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the group are made one’s own.
Slowly, internalization also leads to public conformity. The person imbibes the norms of the group and the behavior change is permanent.
When you conform to norms and rules being a part of a specific social role, it is known as identification. Identification is willful regard to the social influence.
The person wants to initiate, create, and maintain a relationship with another person or the group as a whole.
This type of conformity relates to fellow feeling, togetherness, and good vibes with members of the group.
For example: when children wear school uniforms, they develop an identity that conforms to all the students in the school. The child feels ‘one’ with ‘all’.
Here, the social role is ‘student’ and the uniform is the identity that holds the student community together.
Some other social roles that operate identification conformity are policemen, nurses, firefighters, teachers, etc. The person follows the norms and expectations of the social role they belong to.
Thus, identification is not a permanent behavior change. It’s just a matter of society’s rules and obligations that people of a specific social role are expected to follow and imbibe in them.
Why do people conform? (Reasons for conformity)
People conform to group norms and imbibe group values due to several reasons. Some of them are as follows:
- Desire to be included in a group
- Fear of social rejection
- Fear of losing social regard
- Feeling of safety that comes from following the society norms
- The person doesn’t want to live like an outcast
- Need for identification
- To bring unanimity in group decisions
- Conformity occurs to bring group cohesiveness
- Person wants acceptance and admiration from society
- Following the crowd may lead to a unified society working towards a common goal
- Conformity happens because the person may try to avoid conflicts and disagreements
- To establish one’s social standing
- The person conforms to meet group expectations so that he doesn’t appear foolish in front of others.
Conformity is a social act. It involves thinking and behaving in ways that match with other fellow beings in the social structure.
Most of the time, conformity happens unconsciously because humans are naturally inclined to move with the flow.
People adapt to persuasion and peer pressure naturally because they want to fit in a social order that gives them psychological security.
You will adopt the attitudes and behavior of the group even without group pressure. It happens because you are needy of approval and acceptance.
A man is a social being, he/she possess a deep desire for love and acceptance.
Group conformity can give them recognition, validation, and social acceptance. Thus, the person experiences improved self-esteem and develops a positive self-image.
There are several examples of conformity that we come across in our daily life. Some of the most common incidents of conformity are as follows:
- A teenager follows the dressing sense and imbibes the communication style of her friends just to get accepted by them.
- Family members share the same values, follow family traditions, and adopt similar ways of celebrating family functions to represent family unity and solidarity.
- You will always follow the queue wherever you go. Because standing in a queue and waiting for your turn is socially acceptable behavior. If you don’t follow this norm, you will be insulted openly. So, you abide by what is expected from you in a social situation.
- We are expected to follow traffic guidelines because this is expected social behavior; otherwise one has to incur a heavy fine. We do it automatically because all others are doing it.
- Greeting people whenever you meet them for the first time is a social norm. All of us follow this norm without questioning. If you do not follow this norm, you might be regarded as rude or arrogant.
- You follow the ongoing fashion trends taking rounds around you because you fear social rejection. Even if the attire is nothing great, you still don’t mind wearing it because many others in your group have accepted it happily.
- People choose specific food habits of their group members due to peer pressure. For example, someone may turn vegetarian simply because of peer persuasion. They want social acceptance, thus don’t mind listening to their friends.
- Students opt for a career path by following their friends. One can choose a specific stream so that they can stay together with their close pals. Even if there is no genuine interest in the subject, the person can just take up to stay socially connected.
- At a social party, people try to match their dressing sense, accessories, hairstyle with one another. This is especially seen during family weddings and office get-togethers.
Factors influencing social conformity
Conformity is an act of adherence to group norms. It refers to a change in attitudes and behavior of a person so as to stay fit in a cohesive group structure.
There are some factors that directly influence conformity. These factors will tell you why you conform in some situations and not conform in others.
Conformity is a social concept so it’s obvious that daily life and decision-making play a vital role in conformity. The amount of conformity depends on various internal and external factors.
Some of these influencing factors in social conformity are as follows:
1. Task difficulty
If you face a difficult task, you may seek suggestions from others. Thus, you are more likely to conform to others if your answer matches with them.
Similarly, task difficulty can also lead to non-conformity. It makes the group accepting of varied responses, thus a person may not always comply with group members.
2. Individual differences.
This factor plays a crucial role in conformity. Gullible people are more likely to conform because they can easily be persuaded.
However, people who are dominating and prefer to have an individual opinion about everything are less likely to conform.
If a person possesses strong leadership ability, they will not conform to group opinions easily. Thus, certain personality factors may decrease conformity.
A person will conform to group norms if it serves their individual purpose. If you want group acceptance and approval, your motive will be to keep everyone in the group happy.
So, you are more likely to conform to group norms. But, if your motive is to take a separate stance on something, you may not conform to group pressure.
4. Situational clarity
If a situation is ambiguous and the person is confused about what to do, he/she will be more inclined towards making a unanimous decision with the group.
Thus, ambiguous situations increase conformity. On the flip side, if the situation is clear-cut and the person knows his next move, they are more likely to take an individual call.
In such a situation, group conformity decreases.
5. Size of the group
Larger social groups facilitate group conformity. If the group is large, then new members of the group are more likely to follow the norms of the group.
Larger groups make unanimous decisions because each and every member of the group is inclined to accept and obey group rules.
6. Cultural variations
The cultural differences between communities play an important role in group conformity.
People belonging to a cohesive, united, and collective cultural setup are more likely to change their values, opinions, and behaviors with the group norms.
Thus, for these cultures, people prefer to maintain a ‘we’ feeling.
Each and every member feels a strong affinity and attachment for all others in the group. This increases conformity.
None of the members wishes to stand out individually, rather they believe in solidarity together.
7. Age of the person
Conformity also depends upon gender differences. Small children and teenagers are more likely to conform to group pressures than mature adults.
Young people fear social rejection. Thus, they prefer to match their attitudes and behavior with the larger crowd.
8. Gender conformity variation
Another important determinant of social conformity is gender. Research studies have shown that women are more prone towards conformity.
It happens because they dislike social disagreements and don’t want to stand out from others.
Whenever it comes to fashion trends or opinionated judgments, women are more likely to follow the others in the group.
Men usually prefer to take an individual ground in decision-making. They prefer to work with freedom and may refuse to give up on peer pressure.
Advantages and disadvantages of conformity
Conformity is neither fully positive nor it is inherently negative. The pros and cons depend upon several individual and situational factors.
Social conformity has its share of strengths and weaknesses. Not everything that appears good has to be really good. This holds true for conformity as well.
On one hand, conformity brings a sense of belongingness and in-group feelings. When people conform to the group norms, values, and attitudes of others, they develop a deeper sense of unanimity and collective feeling.
But if conformity takes away your power of individual decision-making, it can lead to unhealthy patterns of behavior. Thus, maintaining a proper balance is important.
Let us discuss the positive impact of conformity first:
- Conformity helps in developing good habits.
- It helps you to see varied perspectives in life.
- Conformity helps you to become more disciplined and methodical.
- It helps to unlearn maladaptive behaviors.
- When you conform to group norms, it gives you protection from outside threats.
- Conformity renders an in-group feeling.
- Conformity is also good for social harmony and peace.
- Adherence to the moral standards of the group gives you a group identity.
- Conformity allows you to recognize and appreciate different opinions and viewpoints.
- Conformity reduces social disagreements and fosters unity.
- It reduces biased attitudes and unfair ideologies in the social structure.
- Conformity helps people to adhere to the norms and regulations.
- This social process makes you hum in the same sound of the interpersonal accord.
Conformity also has its share of downsides. Some of them are as follows:
- Conformity reduces your power to decide individually.
- It influences your choice and you may conform to something that you do not believe in.
- Sometimes conformity reduces personal growth and progress.
- Another pitfall of conformity is your loss of personal identity.
- It reduces your critical thinking ability; you may just follow the crowd blindly.
- Conformity leads to a lack of diversity. Everyone does what the other person is doing, so there is nothing new to look at.
- It lowers self-esteem. When you learn that you are expected to follow the group norms, you may lose your individual identity. Thus, your ability to view yourself as a worthy being may be hampered.
- Conformity restricts social change.
- It leads to second-guessing of what you knew were right for such a long time.
- Conformity may lead to cognitive bias. The most common one is the bystander effect. It happens when following the crowd doesn’t allow you to help others in need.
Does conformity influence behavior? How?
Conformity leads to compliant behavior. Thus, you change and alter your ideas, opinions, and overall behavior for the betterment of society at large. In this process, you might lose your own identity as well.
Some people prefer to move with others along the same path so as to avoid social isolation and rejection.
It may happen that the person holds a different perspective about something but prefers to follow others just to get acceptance from the group members.
Man is a social being. Living in isolation can bring symptoms of dysphoria and overall mental dissatisfaction.
Thus, the person remains open to social conformity. Voicing individual opinions may bring conflicting ideas to the table that can lower the chances of social acceptance.
For example, your friends want you to have a night out with them in a farmhouse. Even if you did not like the idea, you succumbed to peer pressure.
This is a simple example of conformity that almost all of us have experienced at some point in our lives.
Thus, we can refer to conformity as a behavior change due to some external pressure. Sometimes people conform because they may not have adequate information about certain things.
So they prefer to abide by what others are saying.
For example, you are in a new locality and may not know the best eateries around. In such a situation, you’ll call your friend who used to live in that locality previously.
The friend gives you many options and helps to select the right one. Thus, you blindly respected his opinion and conformed happily.
A person will be motivated to conform so as to develop a group identity. Forming group identity means better social acceptance and fewer disagreements.
It also means shifting one’s innate beliefs and values to fit into the group.
Later on, when group identification becomes very strong, conformity behavior strengthens and becomes an automatic response for the individual.
Is obedience the same as conformity? Why or why not?
Conformity and obedience are not the same things.
Both influence attitudes and behavior in various ways but there are subtle differences that underlie these two social processes.
Obedience occurs when people of lower hierarchy listen and abide by what the higher ranked people are saying or doing. It is more of following orders, requests or listening to someone.
Conformity may occur between individuals of similar social standing or from a different social standing. It can manifest directly or indirectly.
Conformity is a social behavior that leads to behavior change.
Obedience involves following the directions of others without experiencing any permanent behavior change.
The differences between obedience and conformity will become clearer from the under-mentioned table:
|Obedience occurs in a hierarchical social structure where compliance to an authority figure is probable.||Conformity occurs with the same social hierarchy also. People belonging to the same social status get involved in conformity.|
|The prime importance of obedience is power vs. submissiveness. The person complies with the orders and requests of someone from higher social strata. For example – a child shows obedience to the parent.||Here, the individual conforms in order to earn social respect, acceptance, and approval.|
|The behavior of the person who obeys is different from the authority figure.||Conformity leads to a behavior change that is similar to the person or the group that the individual wants to belong to.|
|Obedience is obeying dutifully without questioning.||Conformity can bring questions to the table before the actual compliance occurs.|
|Obedience may come out of a fear of punishment or disapproval.||Conformity comes out of a fear of social rejection.|
|It involves direct order.||It is a perceived social pressure.|
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
To end the discussion, it is clear that knowing the art of conformity helps to understand yourself better.
You will know the backdrop reasons of why you conform with certain norms and social trends and not to all.
Conformity comes from an innate human need for love and acceptance. The primary motive is to fit into a group otherwise leading to social rejection.
Frankly speaking, nobody would like to live an isolated life. Thus, conformity is the only way to achieve social acceptance.
Conformity also occurs in its peak levels at adolescence when peer pressure and group influence dominate the behavior and mindset of the person.
Conformity is good because it facilitates group thinking. It also gives a sense of social security to the person. It allows societies to function in order without conflicts and anarchy.
We always believe in first impressions when judging people. Know all about first impressions and their influence by reading our article on Halo Effect.
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.