Conformity is when people adhere to the attitudes, beliefs, values and the behavior of their in-group having been exposed to them. In other words, conformity is where people change their perspective of normative standards to that of society’s norms. There are two different types of conformity: private conformity where the individual privately adheres to the social norms, or public conformity where the individual overtly accepts the social norms but does not privately agree.

Conformity can be influenced by a number of factors for example normative influence, this is where the individual conforms to the expectation of others. This is based on our need to be liked and accepted, in fear of social disapproval and rejection.

A study which supports this theory is Asch’s paradigm study. Asch aimed to investigate conformity in a non-ambiguous situation (i.e. where the correct answer is explicit). This study involved 50 male American undergraduate students where they were unknowingly placed with a group of 6 other participants which were confederates. The group of the participant and the confederate were then tasked to take part in a visual study asking them to compare the lengths of lines and identify which line was equal in length to that of the model. The answer was so explicit that if the participants performed it alone, they would get the answers all correct. The group was then asked to publicly announce which line they thought was identical, however, the confederates were previously arranged to give the wrong answer to 12 out of the 18 questions. This was then repeated for every participant.

Asch found that 32% of the participants went along with the wrong answer, 76% of the participants conformed at least once to the wrong answer and 24% of them did not conform at all. Asch then asked the participants that conformed, why they did. The participants explained that it was due to them wanting to avoid criticism and social disapproval.

Another factor that influences conformity is informational influence, this is the conformity whereby there is no explicit answer of which is the correct decision or action therefore individuals would conform to the social norm. This can be shown through Sherif’s ambiguous study in 1935 which was based on the autokinetic effect. This is an optical illusion where a small spot of light is projected in a dark room, though it is still, individuals see it as moving. Sherif tasked his participants to individually estimate how much the spot had moved (eg 20 cm), this is was their personal norm. He then recorded this answer and put the participants in groups of 3 where 2 of the 3 participants had similar estimates and the other participant had a very different estimate. The groups were then asked to call out their estimate of the movement of the spot, this was repeated 100 times.

Sherif found that as the groups were asked more of the questions, the answer of the participant who originally had the most different personal norm started to conform to the answers of the other group members, this formed a convergence in the participants’ answers which became the social norm. Sherif concluded that in ambiguous situations where individuals doubt their own answer, they would often look to others as sources of information, thus conforming to the social norm which formed the basis of informational conformity.


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