Group conformity is the change of behavior to suit that of a given group (Tilichi 23). It, therefore, entails the social influence that an individual or group has over another individual or group. People tend to change their behavior so as to get along or fit in a given social class. Conforming to a social group means that one has agreed to given facts or acts in a similar manner in order to be seen as normal, as society expects one not to act as an individual but in unison. Therefore, for one to conform to a given group there has to be a change of behavior. The individual changes the behavior that he/she used to uphold in the first place so as to fit in a given group (Wren 65). As such, conformity may also refer to one’s obedience or compliance to a given behavior associated with a given group due to the influence that the group has on the individual. For instance, association with a group that eats fast foods often for lunch may influence one to comply with the norm of eating fast food as when one orders for a different meal other than what the rest have ordered, the person will feel out of place because their meal will be different from what the rest are eating.
Conformity has a strong association with peer pressure as one yield to the demands of a given group so as to appease them and be able to do one thing at the same time (Kiesler 45). One may not be willing to be engaged in taking alcohol at the tender age of seventeen, but his relations with friends who already drink will try to convince him how ‘brilliant’ the idea of drinking could be an awesome feeling that a drink brings. Therefore, in order not to be left out, the person will yield to the demands of the friends on the idea of drinking.
Conformity is a wider concept that several experiments have been done so as to study the behavior of human beings in relation to the influence that they hold on other human beings. The first experiment on conformity was done by Jenness in which participants were asked to approximate the number of beans in a bottle individually and as a group (Kiesler 36). After the individual determination of the number of beans, the participants were asked to also repeat the same procedure as a group. The Jenness’ 1932 experiment noted that individuals shifted their guesses from what they had initially done at the individual level to what they had done as a group. This was the first experiment on the psychology of conformity and their later cropped up experiments, such as Sherif’s Autokinetic Effect Experiment, the Milgram’s Obedience Research, The Stanford’s County Prison experiment, and the Solomon’s Asch experiment. This study will majorly focus on Solomon’s Asch Experiment. The reasons and factors that make people conform to given societal norms will be featured in this study.
- Reasons for conformity
Various studies have been found to establish the reasons why people conform. In most instances, individuals tend to look up to others on how they feel they should be behaving. In other cases, individuals may feel that other people who are around them are more knowledgeable than them, therefore, following their instructions might be of great help to them due to the difference in knowledge capacity (Wren 79). However, in most instances, people conform to avoid looking stupid. This is evident in instances where one is not certain of the right path to take, so they follow what the rest of the society is doing so as to be seen to be acting in a group. A relevant example is in stock markets whereby investors might at times be uncertain about how the stock markets will behave in the future, thus, will hold a neutral position on their investment decisions. However, when the investor realizes that other investors have resolved to invest in a given stock, the investor will see it to be prudent to follow, as the rest are doing.
Studies done by Wren and Kevin indicate there are two major reasons why people conform to societal behavior: informational and normative. Informational influence is the change of behavior to avoid making wrong decisions. Individuals look up to others who are more knowledgeable than them so as to survive and use ideas brought up by knowledgeable individuals as a yardstick of coming up with their own decisions. The class setting provides an appropriate avenue for such influence. In a group discussion, individuals usually agree with most of the decisions or opinions brought up by the classmate that is deemed to be more intelligent than the rest. Normative influence is the desire to avoid punishments by conforming to a given set of rules and regulations even though in certain instances one may not agree with the rules. The traffic laws and regulations are clearly stipulated that one should follow the traffic lights. However, there are instances, one feels like ignoring the traffic rules but one has to comply so as to avoid the punishments that follow afterward if the law is broken.
- The ease of the task. The ease of a given task determines the level of independence one would have. A difficult task makes people conform to the ideas proposed by others who are much more knowledgeable. Such as in group discussions, people will tend to be independent when working on simpler tasks, but as tasks become increasingly difficult, students realize the need to hold group discussions in which they conform to the ideas of the most brilliant amongst them.
- Individual differences. These are one’s personal attributes that make one conform to others. Individual that has the desire to achieve and possess leadership skills will rarely conform to other people’s decisions rather they will always be the ones who influence the rest to conform to their ideas.
- The size of the group. The larger the group the more persuasive the group becomes. People have the notion and belief that a larger group reduces the probability of committing any error as any decision carried out in a group must be a well thought out idea that must have been scrutinized by several people unlike in a group of few people where one may need to think twice before conforming to the group.
- Characteristics of the situations. An ambiguous situation provides an avenue for people to conform to the ideas of the rest as one might be between a rock and hard place in certain decision-making. The ambiguity of the situation makes an individual have an unclear response to the situation, thus, the best option will be to conform to what the rest are doing. The weather of a region may be uncertain as one may not be sure if it may rain or not. However, when one finds out that most people are dressed for the cold, one may also resolve to dress in the same manner.
- Cultural differences. People from the same culture are more likely to associate together and therefore conform to their social way of doing things. Cultural barriers may inhibit individuals from different cultures to behave in the same manner. The Black Americans have a given norm of dressing that signifies their culture that is likely different from how the Whites dress. Therefore, black Americans will conform to their dressing cord that is different from the whites.
- Asch Conformity Experiment
This was a psychology experiment carried out by psychologist Solomon Asch during the 1950s where participants were asked to complete a given vision test in which they were shown a line segment and asked to identify a matching line segment from a set of three lines. The decision was initially done at the individual level and then afterward done as a group (Tilichi 53). On most occasions, everyone in the group chose the correct line at the individual level but chose a different line when in a group when under the influence of the conformity of Confederates who were also assistants to the experimenter.
The experiment showed that participants were accurate in their judgment of the correct answer at almost 98 percent, but they conformed to the incorrect group response at one-third. The experiment also studied the effect of the presence of the Confederates in the group on the degree of conformity (Oshimi 338). It was evident that as the number of confederates increased in the group the degree of conformity increased. At the end of the experiment, the participants were asked to state the reasons for conformity (Oshimi 342). In most instances, the students declared they did not want to face ridicule from the rest of the group while others believed that the answers of the rest must have been correct and did not believe in their own answers.
Therefore, this experiment reveals that the need to conform is driven by the desire to fit in with the given group and the belief that other people are more intelligent. Thus, as evidently shown by Asch’s experiment, conformity in real-life situations is highly anticipated in ambiguous situations or situations that are difficult to judge.
Kiesler, Charles A., and Sara Kiesler. Conformity. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1969. Print.
Oshimi, Teruo. “Self-conciousness and conformity. Moderating effects of conformity motives and task-interest..” The Japanese Journal of Psychology 71.4 (2000): 338-344. Print.
Tillich, Paul. Conformity. New York: New School for Social Research, 1957. Print.
Wren, Kevin. Social influences. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.