Society thrives under norms and expectations, both of which it (society) expects its members to adhere. Any deviance from these norms and expectations is frowned upon, and often times, such members who deviate from these norms and expectations are labeled pariahs. While there are some members who prefer deviance, most endeavor not to disappoint, and therefore operate within the societal norms, surprisingly, even when the norms or people they look up to are wrong (Zollman 3). Denoting conformity, individuals strive to behave, act and according to societal rules. In the society, however, there is a diverse range of groupings. The groups bring special benefits to its members and require that any member who belongs or wants to belong to the group conform to its norms. Notably, however, conformity is a multidimensional phenomenon, and there are not only different motivations for individual to conform to a group, but also a diverse range of types, and factors that affect the phenomenon.
Conformity is the specific act of modifying an individual’s behavior to be similar to the responses of others (Caldini and Goldstein 606). The modification of behavior is out of social influence, and its purpose is to fit within a group. In conforming, members of the society respond to two factors; real or imagined group pressure. According to Cialdini and Goldstein, real pressure includes the physical presence of others, while the imagined pressure refers to pressure from social norms or expectations. Moreover, in conforming, the individual has the desire to either construct an accurate interpretation of reality and behave correctly, or simply act as expected as a way of gaining approval from others (Cialdini and Goldstein 606).
Among the first people to study conformity was Jenness in 1932, using the glass bottle filled with beans experiment (Caldini and Trost 162). In the experiment, Jenness asked the participants (separately and individually) to provide an estimate of the beans in the bottle. Later, the placed the individuals in a group and asked the group to provide an estimate of the beans in the bottle after a discussion. Jenness then asked the individuals to give an estimate after the group discussion, and found that each individual provided an estimate that was closer to the group’s estimation (Caldini and Trost 162). Even after asking the individual participants to revise their estimates at an individual level, each of the participants provided an estimate that was closer to the group’s estimation, a fact that points at the influence of conformity on the individuals.
Perhaps the most famous and widely referenced experiment on conformity is Asch’s line judgment experiment in 1951 (Caldini and Goldstein 606; Caldini and Trost 162). In the experiment, Asch’s goal was to explore the extent of social pressure emanating from a group, and its effect on an individual’s conformity. Using lines, confederates, and a participant, the experiment’s results showed that despite being wrong, often times, the real participant would go with the opinion of the majority group. A third of the times the real participant would agree with the majority, 75 percent of the participants agreed with the majority view at least once, while with no pressure, less than 1 percent of the participants gave the incorrect answer.
The experiments went on to show that conformity is real, and that individuals tend to be swayed by group opinion. Later experiments, however, went to show the motivations behind conformity. According to Caldini and Goldstein, informational and normative motivations drive conformity among individuals (606). For informational motivation, the individual has the desire to behave correctly through an accurate interpretation of reality. On the other hand, normative conformity refers to the motivation by the individual for social approval (Caldini and Goldstein 606). Asch’s line judgment experiment is an especially good example for normative motivation for conformity. Thus, despite being wrong, the participant agreed with the group’s choice, only to fit in.
While normative and informational conformity provide a window into the motivations for conformity, compliance, internalization, identification, and ingratiation are the different levels of conformity. In distinguishing between the types of conformity, Kelman analyses compliance/group acceptance as one of the types of conformity (53). Compliance occurs in an individual’s acting in according with the group’s norms in hope of achieving favorable treatment from the group or individual in the group. The individual may also act according to the induced behavior in order to escape punishment or disapproval (Kelman 53). To avoid being the pariah, the participant in Asch’s experiment chose the wrong line as unanimously chosen by the confederates, despite knowing that they were wrong. Compliance is temporary, and with the absence of pressure to conform, individuals revert to their normal behavior.
Internalization/acceptance as a type of conformity refers to whole acceptance of a group’s behavior. Here, the individual does not have any reservations on the group’s behavior, having accepted the behavior because it brings some form of intrinsic reward (Kelman 53). The acceptance of the group’s behavior by the individual comes from the fact that there is congruence between the behavior and the individual’s value system. Noteworthy is that while compliance involves only public conformity, internalization as the deepest level of conformity, involves both private and public conformity (Kelman 53).
Identification lies between compliance and internalization. Thus, while it is far deeper than compliance, it is not as riveting as internalization. In identification, the individual adjust their behavior in congruence with a group or individual given their desire for acceptance in the group and the group’s viewpoint (Kelman 53). The adjustments in this case are both private and public, although the private behavior is subject to change. Sometimes, such individuals do not change their private opinion all together.
Ingratiation is conformity with a purpose. Here, the individual adjusts the behavior as a way of impressing or gaining favor from the group or an individual in the group. The motivation for this kind of conformity is the social reward that comes with the group rather than the fear of rejection. Pressure from the group, therefore, does not play a role in the individual’s decision to conform.
In choosing to conform, there are factors that affect the individual’s choice for conformity or non-conformity. The factors include situational, individual and cultural factors, all of which play an important role in determining conformity (Caldini and Trost 165). For situational factors, the environment in which one is plays an important role in determining conformity. Situational factors do not consider culture or individual, but are in fact, a matter of observation and mirroring the observed. Fashion fad is one example of situational factors as a determinant of conformity. In-season hairstyles, clothing trends and designs tend to influence people into conformity.
Individual factors refer to the individual personality types and their reaction when faced with a conformity situation (Caldini and Trost 167). Introverts and extroverts are a direct opposite of one another in personalities. While introverts tend to keep to themselves, the extroverts are more outgoing, and quite often leaders. When faced with a situation that draws attention to them, extroverts are more likely to enjoy this; introverts on the other hand, will only join in when it is apparent that they will be the odd ones out.
Culture as a factor that influences conformity is perhaps the most important as it determines the level of conformity by individuals from the culture (Caldini and Trost 167). Each culture has its levels of conformity, which it passes down to members of the culture. For instance, while the American culture largely emphasizes on the individual and independence in action and taking responsibility for the actions, Japanese culture is more collective insisting on groups, social connections and hierarchy. Conformity for individuals from the American culture may therefore be difficult in comparison with individuals from the Japanese culture. However, even with such differences in cultural orientations, important to note is that there are social norms within the cultures that influence conformity.
Societal norms require adherence by members of a group. In adherence to these norms, individuals conform to the expectations of the different societal hierarchies in different ways according to their understanding and benefits they hope to get. Two factors influence conformity: information and the norms of a group. The two play an important role in determining the different levels/types of conformity by an individual. However, situational, individual and cultural factors all influence conformity in an individual.
Cialdini, Robert, B. and Trost, Melanie, R. “Social Influence: Social Norms, Confromity, and Compliance.” The Handbook of Social Psychology. Oxford: Mc-Graw Hill, 1998
Cialdini, Robert, R. and Goldstein, Noah, J. “Social influence: Compliance and Conformity.” Annual Rev Psychol., 55(2004): 591-621
Kelman, H. C.” Compliance, Identification, and Internalization: Three Processes of Attitude Change.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2(1958): 51–60
Zollman, Kevin, J., S. “Social Structure and the Effects of Conformity.” Synthese, (2008): 1-24