Definition, Types and Effects of Conformity

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When you move to a new place or meet new people, you may experience conformity as you try to fit in. Learn about the most common types and the causes of this social psychology phenomenon.


What Is Conformity?

The act of changing your behavior, values, or beliefs to match the behavior, values, and beliefs of those around you is defined as conformity. Conformity comes in various degrees of severity, including compliance, identification, normative influence, and others. For many years, social psychologists have studied the effects of social conformity.


The Asch Conformity Experiment

Solomon Asch, a psychologist, asked participants in one study to complete a line judgment task in which they had to compare the length of one standard line to three other lines. Some of the "participants" in the study worked for Asch and purposefully answered incorrectly during the trial. According to the Asch conformity experiment, true participants answered in accordance with the group the majority of the time, even when they knew the answer was incorrect.

However, not all of Asch's study participants were conformists. One-fourth of the group disagreed and provided the correct answer. Nonconformity is another common response to group pressure in which people do not feel compelled to change their behavior in order to fit in. Minority influence also triumphs over conformity by grouping the minority so that they feel comfortable going against the group.


Milgram Experiment

The Milgram experiment was another experiment that tested the limits of conformity. Stanley Milgram instructed participants in this experiment to shock people in another room (they were actors and were not actually shocked). Despite hearing screams from the actors, they followed instructions and delivered more intense shocks.


What Causes Conformity?

One of the most common explanations for conformity is social influence. People want to feel accepted in the presence of others, so it is natural for them to succumb to peer pressure. Conformity is an embarrassment-avoidance behavior as well. You are less likely to be embarrassed if you act in accordance with social norms.


Types of Conformity

There are numerous types of conformity. Some examples are:

Compliance conformity: This occurs when you outwardly agree with group norms but have a different opinion that you keep to yourself. For example, if you go to see a movie with your friends and they all say they love it but you didn't, you may pretend to like it in order to comply.

Identification conformity: Identificational social influence occurs when you change your behavior or attitude to maintain your identity as a specific social role. This kind of conformity is common in the workplace ("playing the part"), especially among authority figures.

Informational conformity: When you seek information from the rest of the group, you are exercising informational social influence. This is common when you don't know what to do. For example, if a teacher instructs students to hold their answer to a question up on a small whiteboard, a student who doesn't know the answer may look to other students for the correct answer to avoid answering incorrectly.

Internalization conformity: Internalization occurs when you accept another person's behavior, interests, or beliefs as your own, resulting in unanimity. You may experience this if you make new friends and change your interests to match the members of the group.

Normative conformity: Normative social influence occurs when you change in response to group pressure in order to fit in (usually a social group).


Effects of Conformity

The degree of conformity experienced by an individual is determined by group size, individual differences, cultural differences (collectivist cultures value conformity more than others), and the type of social influence. Conformity's effects, both positive and negative, can be long-lasting. The following are the most common consequences of conformity:

A sense of belonging: Conformity can make people feel like they belong in groups. Conforming assists people in adjusting to new cities, friend groups, and schools.

Reduced self-image: If you discover that your groupthink contradicts your values or even causes you to change your appearance, it can harm your self-esteem and leave you wondering which beliefs are correct.

Distortion of judgment: Conforming to the behavior and decisions of others frequently distorts your own judgment because you place group acceptance above individual judgment.

Resentment: If group members engage in risky behavior with which you disagree, you may resent those people or yourself.

Reduced individuality: When you're constantly trying to conform to social pressure, you don't have time to try new things or figure out who you are on your own.

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