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Social psychology is a field that focuses on social interactions, their development, and their influence on people (Hewstone, Stroebe, & Jonas, 2015). In that regard, it can be described as the scientific study of people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in the company of others or the context of society. This discipline is founded on the premise that people’s beliefs, choices, and behaviors are highly influenced by their perceptions of themselves relative to the world (Hewstone et al., 2015). Conformity is a social psychology concept that has been studied broadly by researchers for many decades. It is important in the study of psychology because it explains why people behave in certain ways.
Conformity refers to the tendency to align one’s behavior with that of others to gain acceptance and feel secure within a certain group (Serban, 2014). In many cases, it involves a change in one’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior to fit the norms of a certain group. Norms can be defined as a set of specific rules that members of a group share and that guide their interactions (Hewstone et al., 2015). Research has shown that the majority of people conform to societal values and ways of doing things because of the fear of social rejection (Serban, 2014). One of the causes of conformity is the desire for security and acceptance.
Research has established that groups that share a common feature such as age, religion, culture, or level of education are characterized by high levels of conformity (Serban, 2014). Scientists use the term group-think to describe a pattern of thought that prefers conformity and coerced consent over the rational appraisal of better alternatives (Harkins, Williams, & Burger, 2017).
Historical Background of Conformity
The scientific study of conformity can be attributed to the experiments of Muzafer Sherif and Solomon E. Asch. Sherif experimented in 1936 to find out the number of people that would change their opinions to match that of a certain group (Hewstone et al., 2015). The experiment involved the autokinetic effect, which is a visual illusion. The participants were required to estimate the movement of a dot of light in a dark room. On the first day, each individual reported a different amount of movement. However, from the second day onwards, a certain quantity was agreed on and everyone reported the same (Hewstone et al., 2015). Other experiments involved identifying suspects. The researcher found out that the majority of the participants conformed because of the need to be right (Harkins et al., 2017).
Asch conducted a variation of Sherifs’ conformity experiment in 1951 and assumed that clarity would reduce conformity drastically. The participants were given a set of lines and asked to compare them to a standard line. They conformed and gave an incorrect answer in 12 of the 18 trials (Hewstone et al., 2015). Asch noted that 74% of the participants conformed to at least one during the experiment. Variations of the study showed that the unanimity of a majority is more influential about conformity than its size.
Real-Life Examples of Conformity
Conformity is usually associated with teenagers who give in to peer pressure for them to gain acceptance. Drug use is rampant among young people because, even though it is detrimental to their well-being, they do it because of their friend’s influence (Harkins et al., 2017). The need for acceptance into groups compels teenagers to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use, alcohol, and unprotected sex (Serban, 2014).
Street gangs are comprised of people with similar goals, ideals, and beliefs. New members are compelled to conform to group norms to fit in and gain acceptance. As a result, they carry guns, steal, and engage in violent activities, even though they understand the dangers and legal implications of their actions. The need for identity and security is overshadowed by their obligation to behave and act accordingly. (Harkins et al., 2017)
Expert’s Opinion on Conformity
Experts argue that people conform for different reasons: a lack of knowledge on how to behave in various situations, feelings of inadequacy, and insufficient experience in certain social contexts. Two researchers (Deutsch and Gerard) stated that people conform because of informational influence (the need to be correct) and normative influence (a desire to avoid punishment). Factors associated with conformity in groups include unanimity, gender, age, high group cohesion, culture, and a perceived high status (Serban, 2014). Researchers have identified several types of conformity: compliance, identification, and internalization.
Identification involves confirmation to group expectations that are based on social roles (Mallinson & Hatemi, 2018). Compliance involves changing one’s behavior against an internal agreement that it is wrong (Hewstone et al., 2015). Internalization occurs when people change their behavior to be like others. Several studies have been conducted to study the influence of conformity on individuals. Studies by Asch and Sherif revealed that several factors are responsible for people’s tendency to conform: individual differences, the characteristics of a situation, a task’s difficulty, the size of the group, and cultural differences.
Conformity in the News
Cyberbullying has become widespread in contemporary society due to technological advancements. Cases of online bullying are on the increase in media outlets. People are using social media to attack others, discredit them, and destroy their reputations. Many teenagers have experienced some form of online harassment, including name-calling and rumor-spreading. Cyberbullying is an example of conformity that is regularly covered in the news. People are forced to bully others so that they can fit into a certain group. Research has shown that the two main causes of bullying among young people are the need for belonging and group status (Harkins et al., 2017).
Social norms have been identified as major reasons why students bullied others. The aspiration to be like others within groups coerces teenagers to engage in unethical behaviors. Racism, violence, and political hatred can be linked to conformity (Mallinson & Hatemi, 2018). People engage in these acts due to ideological brainwashing, which is founded on sociological concepts such as culture, race, and religion.
The research conducted has supplied numerous insights that have enhanced my comprehension of conformity as a social psychology concept. Conformity is the tendency to change one’s behavior, attitude, or beliefs to fit into a certain group. Types of conformity include compliance, internalization, and identification. Others include normative and informational conformity. People may conform because of the need to be correct or because of the desire to avoid punishment. Behaviors such as bullying, drug use, violence, racism, sectarianism, and alcohol consumption among teenagers are founded on conformity. Understanding of the phenomenon was greatly enhanced by the research studies of scientists, including Muzafer Sherif and Solomon E. Asch.
Harkins, S. G., Williams, K. D., & Burger, J. M. (Eds.). (2017). The Oxford handbook of social influence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hewstone, M., Stroebe, W., & Jonas, K. (Eds.). (2015). An introduction to social psychology (6th ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
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Mallinson, D. J., & Hatemi, P. K. (2018). The effects of information and social conformity on opinion change. PLOS One, 13(5), 1-22.
Serban, G. (2014). The mask of normalcy: Social conformity and its ambiguities. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.