In this article we will discuss about Conformity. After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Meaning of Conformity 2. The Value of Conformity 3. Factors Influencing 4. Asch’s Study.
Meaning of Conformity:
Conformity is a product of social interaction. “It refers to a type of social influence in which individuals change their attitudes and behaviours in order to adhere to existing social norms.”. To get along with the social norms one tries to conform with it.
Very powerful agents of the society put pressure on the person through social norms, social standards and through personal pressure to adjust with their demands and social norms and behave like other persons in the society.
They are advised, instructed and pressurized to think and act like other persons in the society. Social norms put powerful pressure on the individual in this regard. There are various traditions, customs, values, spoken, unspoken and of course written rules regarding how one should behave in around, or individually, how one should react to others etc. Conformity is an outward change of a person.
(1) Why people conform to social norms?
(2) Is there individual difference in conformity?
These and related questions come to the mind of many psychological thinkers.
People usually conform to social norms because every person in the society, wishes to be liked by others and gain acceptance. He finds that he behaves in accordance with the existing social norms, traditions and customs, he is appreciated, liked and rewarded verbally and economically.
He is reinforced and encouraged to conform to the social standards. So he wants to be liked by others by accepting the existing social norm and behaves like others. Thus to win the approval, appreciation and love of others, and to be in their good book, to be praised as a good boy, he conforms to social norms. This is called Normative Social Influence.
Conformity may take place because of “Formational Social Influence.” Every normal person has a desire to do the correct things in life and to behave accurately. This tendency forces him from within to behave as community desires, as most people do. Because right is always rewarded and wrong is always punished, people want to do the right thing, by developing right attitudes.
So a person is taught to be dressed as per the social norm and follows the right style in dress by the help and guidance of other people in this regard and they tell him what is appropriate as per the existing social norm.
We conform because we depend on the guidance of the agents of socialization like family members, teachers and friends to conform to the social norm and behave as the society wants. This cause of conformity is known as informational social influence.
Is conformity behaviour determined by personality factors? Some empirical evidences are there to support the view that certain personality traits are associated with conformity behaviour. He is less effective intellectually, less mature in social relations, less confident, more rigid and more authoritarian and in need of social approval than a non conformer.
If the tendency to conform is determined by basic personality and personality factors, a person should conform in all situations which is not a fact in reality. Conformity behaviour is perhaps the product of interaction between both personality and situational factors and situational factors are of greater importance in the shaping of conformity than personality characteristics.
The Value of Conformity:
In childhood, conformity behaviour is very much needed for socialization. By conforming to one group (In group) the individual may be able to counter the pressure of another group (the out group). Generally a person conforms to the in group and not to the out group. This gives him a we feeling and a sense of belongingness.
Thirdly behaviour may become more systematic, orderly, conflictless and predictable when people conform to existing group norms, which are accepted and followed by the society. Lastly, by conforming to a group norm, the person feels secured and safe. If any disaster happens to him the group comes forward to help him. These are the advantages and uses of conformity.
However, people should not over do the conformity technique as it may go against them and generate dislike rather than acceptance.
Factors Influencing Conformity:
Factors influencing conformity can be summarized as follows:
1. In a face to face group conformity is greater than when the individual gets a chance to express his view secretly. Such as open voting and secret voting. Conformity is more found in open voting than in secret voting.
2. If a person expresses his feelings in writing before he joins a group conformity is reduced to some extent.
3. In group feeling sense of belongingness to the group and the feeling that he is a part of the group increases conformity with the group.
4. A person having status influences another person’s behaviour and conformity and influence work together.
Asch’s Study on Conformity:
Solemn Asch (1952), a famous social psychologist who is responsible for encouraging much research on conformity behaviour has devised an experimental procedure for the study of conformity to group pressures. His study on conformity is considered as a mile stone in Social Psychology. In the said study of Asch a group of university students were told that their task was to match lines of equal length.
On the left side of the black board there was a card with a single line on it. It is the standard card (the norm or reference point). On the right side of the black board another card was there with three lines differing in length. It is called the comparison card. One of these 3 lines was equal to the standard line at the left side card.
Now, when the ‘S’ is individually asked to indicate which of the 3 comparison lines (on the Comparison Card) is equal to the line found in the standard card, very few errors in judgement are made.
But when the person finds himself in the company of six other persons who with the secret instruction of the experimenter (without the knowledge of the subject) gave their judgement loudly, the ‘S’ said that No 1 line in the comparison card is equal to the line in the standard card, which is of course an unanimous wrong answer.
Now through group pressure (pressure of six others) the correct answer of the single subject was opposed. Here the subject was faced with a situation in which a group unanimously contradicted the clear evidences of his own senses.
The results showed that of the total number of judgements given by the ‘S’ 37 per cent conformed with the judgement of unanimous majority and were in error.
Further, marked individual differences in resonse to majority pressure were found. While some showed complete independence from group pressure on judgement, some others showed complete conformity with the judgement of the group in all trials.
But about one third of the subjects conformed to the majority atleast 50 per cent of the time. Moreover it was observed that most subjects tended to give their judgement similar to the group. No one wholly disregarded the judgement of the majority.
Thus the findings of Asch’s experiment reveals the importance of group pressure. Even though he thinks that this judgement may be wrong he succumbs to group pressure in the fear of being ridiculed.
Some raised the question that the use of American students in Asch’s study might have showed significant group pressure on conformity behaviour.
To clear this doubt Milgram (1961) compared students of other cultures on a modified version of the Asch techniques and found that though it appears that cultural difference produces some difference in conformity to groups, cross cultural difference had not that dramatic effect on conformity to group as it was initially believed.
Thus, Asch’s and Milgram’s study support the influence of group pressure on conformity behaviour.
I newly joined as a lecturer of psychology in 1959 at Ravenshaw College Cuttack, and was taking a Pre-university Psychology Class. I still remember vividly that when I wrote the word ‘coming’ on the black board about 15-20 students of the class raised their voice and said Madam the spelling of coming is “Comming” and not “coming which you have written”.
Initially I was not only baffled but also amazed to hear this. But since 15-20 students raised their objection.
I for a moment thought perhaps I am wrong or else how so many students are objecting it? But since I’m quite independent minded and had confidence, after a second thought I told the students. Okay I will now consult the dictionary.
I called the peon, got the dictionary and found that I was correct and they all (15-20) were wrong. This personal experience of mine reveals that initially I had second thoughts due to group pressure, but immediately I recovered due to my self confidence and did not yield to their pressure.
However conformity behaviour is to a great extent influenced by group pressure as studies and experience show.