What is Conformity?
by Saul McLeod published 2007
This change is in response to real (involving the physical presence of others) or imagined (involving the pressure of social norms / expectations) group pressure.
Conformity can also be simply defined as “yielding to group pressures” (Crutchfield, 1955). Group pressure may take different forms, for example bullying, persuasion, teasing, criticism etc. Conformity is also known as majority influence (or group pressure).
The term conformity is often used to indicate an agreement to the majority position, brought about either by a desire to ‘fit in’ or be liked (normative) or because of a desire to be correct (informational), or simply to conform to a social role (identification).
There have been many experiments in psychology investigating conformity and group pressure.
Jenness (1932) was the first psychologist to study conformity. His experiment was an ambiguous situation involving a glass bottle filled with beans. He asked participants individually to estimate how many beans the bottle contained. Jenness then put the group in a room with the bottle, and asked them to provide a group estimate through discussion. Participants were then asked to estimate the number on their own again to find whether their initial estimates had altered based on the influence of the majority. Jenness then interviewed the participants individually again, and asked if they would like to change their original estimates, or stay with the group's estimate. Almost all changed their individual guesses to be closer to the group estimate.
However, perhaps the most famous conformity experiment was by Solomon Asch (1951) and his line judgment experiment.
Types of Social Conformity
Man (1969) states that “the essence of conformity is yielding to group pressure”. He identified three types of conformity: Normative, informational and ingratiational.
Kelman (1958) distinguished between three different types of conformity: Compliance, Internalization and identification.
|Normative Conformity||Informational Conformity|
Sherif (1935) Autokinetic Effect Experiment
Aim: Sherif (1935) conducted an experiment with the aim of demonstrating that people conform to group norms when they are put in an ambiguous (i.e. unclear) situation.
It was discovered that when participants were individually tested their estimates on how far the light moved varied considerably (e.g. from 20cm to 80cm). The participants were then tested in groups of three. Sherif manipulated the composition of the group by putting together two people whose estimate of the light movement when alone was very similar, and one person whose estimate was very different. Each person in the group had to say aloud how far they thought the light had moved.
Sherif found that over numerous estimates (trials) of the movement of light, the group converged to a common estimate. As the figure below shows: the person whose estimate of movement was greatly different to the other two in the group conformed to the view of the other two.
Sherif said that this showed that people would always tend to conform. Rather than make individual judgments they tend to come to a group agreement.
The results show that when in an ambiguous situation (such as the autokinetic effect), a person will look to others (who know more / better) for guidance (i.e. adopt the group norm). They want to do the right thing but may lack the appropriate information. Observing others can provide this information. This is known as informational conformity.
Not everyone conform to social pressure. Indeed, their are many factors that contribute to an individual's desire to remain independent of the group.
For example, Smith and Bond (1998) discovered cultural differences in conformity between western and eastern countries. People from western cultures (such as America and the UK) are more likely to be individualistic and don't want to be seen as being the same as everyone else.
This means that they value being independent and self sufficient (the individual is more important that the group), and as such are more likely to participate in non conformity. In contrast easten cultures (such as Asian countries) are more likely to value the needs of the family and other social groups before their own. They are known as collectivist cultures and are more likely to conform.
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburg, PA: Carnegie Press.
Crutchfield, R. (1955). Conformity and Character. American Psychologist, 10, 191-198.
Jenness, A. (1932). The role of discussion in changing opinion regarding a matter of fact. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 27 , 279-296.
Kelman, H. C. (1958). Compliance, identification, and internalization: three processes of attitude change. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2, 51–60.
Mann, L (1969). Social Psychology. New York: Wiley.
Sherif, M. (1935). A study of some social factors in perception. Archives of Psychology, 27(187) .
Smith, P. B. and Bond, M.H. (1993). Social Psychology Across Cultures: Analysis and Perspectives. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2007). . Retrieved from
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