Essay Example on the Impact of Conformity and Social Influence on Behaviour

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1828 Words
Date:  2023-01-12


Conformity is a concept that describes the change in the behaviour of an individual such that it aligns with that of another group. Conformity is restricted to changes in behaviour rather than internal perceptions such as attitudes and beliefs. Conformity involves a sense of compliance and obedience it relates to the behaviour that arises as a result of other people's influence. Social influence, on the other hand, is the change in behaviour that a person causes in another whether intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, the change in the behaviour of a person may be perceived as arising from an external influencer. This essay seeks to examine the social psychology of conformity.

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Research and Experiment

Existence of conformity and why it happens has been studied by various scholars. Though most studies agree that individuals are aware of the behaviour, they sometimes adopt behaviour without thought or awareness. This could explain why people identify with things they differ with or act in a manner they know is unacceptable.

Jenesse (1932, p.288) is considered the pioneer psychologist on the conformity theme. His investigation involved a vague situation of a glass bottle full of beans. Participants in the experiment were asked to approximate how many beans were in the bottle independently. Jenness then placed the group in a room and asked them to provide a group estimate through discussion. Then he asked the participants again, to estimate the numbers independently. The researcher then interviewed the participants individually and enquired from them, whether they could change their estimated number. Almost all changed their individual estimate to number closer to that of the group. Sherif's (1936, p.55) Autokinetic Effect experiment involved a small static dot that appeared as if it moved around the room. The experiment found most participants varied when asked individually and converged when asked in a group.

In another experiment carried out by the Asch (1951, p.180), participants were asked to complete a simple perceptual assignment. The experiment involved participants choosing a line that corresponded to the length of one of the three different lines. When they were directed to choose individually, the picked the correct line. However, when requested in the presence of confederates, participants purposely chose the wrong line, and 75 per cent imitated the group at least once.

The findings from the experiments demonstrated that conformity occurs for two main reasons, namely, normative influence and informational influence. The normative influence involves changing one's behaviour to fit into a group regardless of whether it is wrong, as evidenced by the Asch's experiment. In the case of the beans and the moving light experiments, the participants lacked knowledge of the occurrences and sought to align with the group for the sake of being right. This kind of conformity arises from informational influence where a participant looks into the group for information and direction. Informational influence is mainly based on the perception that the group is right. Hence on a fairly simple task, individuals accept other judgment as a valid source of information and as a result, influenced.

One of the behaviours that underlie our urge to conform to social influence is a shame. Shame offers a vivid explanation and the social context in which conformity occur. Individual conform to avoid being disapproved or looked down upon by others. Shame form one of the dominant factors in the normative influence which occurs when an individual alters their attitude or behaviour in a public context to avoid appearing different from the majority (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955, p.634). Conformity to social beliefs occurs because the consequence of non-conformity is a hostile emotion as a result of supposed disapproval by others (Cardwell, Clark, Meldrum and Wadeley 2009, p. 402). It thus follows that the concept of shame and the argument of normative influence share the same underlying explanation of conformity.

Minority Influence

The experiments by Asch, Sherriff, and Jenness are related in that they placed too much emphasis on the fact that it was the minority conforming to the views of the majority. This point of view was challenged by Moscovici (1976, p.123) who argued that it was possible for the minority to impact the majority. Moscovici (1976, p.131) defined a minority not based on numbers but on the ground that they are certain groups of people who act and think differently outside the normal sphere. The case of minority influence is exhibited by the small group of suffragettes that debated intensely and held that the female gender should be allowed to vote. The effort of the suffragettes paid off and led to the final acceptance of the point of view. Moscovici (1976, p.155) investigated why the minority, in the long run, change the majority's view. His study argued that majority influence is based on compliance. That is, they have the power to punish with approval and disapproval hence placing pressure on the minority. The majority are rarely concerned with what the minorities think of them. It thus follows that the influence of the minority is not normative-pressure to fit. It is grounded on informational social influence whereby the majority are supplied with concepts and new evidence that makes them rethink their position (Eysenck 2017, p. 103). This kind of influence is referred to as internalization.

Moscovici (1976, p.277) identifies four factors that made minorities influential. These are; style of thinking, identification, flexibility, and behavioural style. The minorities demonstrated behaviours that were consistent, confident, appeared to be impartial and repelling social pressure and exploitation. Consistency gives the notion that the minority are persuaded they are correct and are dedicated to their view. Moreover, when a majority is challenged by someone from the minority group with dedication and self-confidence, they tend to back down. Another factor that rarely appears in the influential minority behaviour is the inflexibility, uncompromising, dogmatic and rigid elements. These elements have the effect of making them appear extreme, which is detrimental and unlikely to change the majority's view. To aid in the influence, researchers have argued that if the majority identify with the minority, they are more likely to adopt their views to align with those of the minority.

Resistance to Conformity

Whether influenced by the majority or the minority, the urge to conform is always there. However, there are studies that demonstrate some individuals resist conformity. Independent behaviour is the ability to fight back the pressure to align with a certain behaviour. A person who adopts this kind of behaviour does not go against the group's view for the sake of it but rather because they feel they are right and that their choice pleases them.

Asch (1951, p.184) revealed several areas where participants are less likely to conform to and more likely to be independent. For instance, when the size of the majority was reduced to just two, the chances of conformity were almost non-existent. When Asch asked one participant to give the correct answer, which obviously went against the agreed majority's wrong answer, conformity rates dropped. Moreover, for more easy and obvious correct answers, more individuals stuck to their answer. These cases can be attributed to the desire of the individual to retain a sense of individuality. This is demonstrated by Synder and Franklin (1980, p. 72) whose experiment compared two American groups to see which was more likely to conform. One group was told that their behaviour was similar to another 10000 other students while another was told their behaviour was different to another 10000 other students. Those that were told their attitude was the same exhibited more resistance to conformity. This shows individuals that were led to consider they had a conforming behaviour and hence strived to assert their individuality. Resistance to conformity can also be traced to the desire to maintain control, and pressure to conform is interpreted as a threat to that control (Burger, 1992, p.24).

The resistance as demonstrated by Asch (1951) shows that though individuals alter their public behaviour or attitude to align with those of the group, it is not representative of an individual's private attitude and is performed to avoid disapproval simply.

Authority and Conformity

Conformity is often disapproved on the basis of morality. This is particularly so in crimes committed on the ground of "obedience" or "crimes of obedience". Several studies have demonstrated that resistance is futile and that people will generally submit to the demands of authority; however, corrupt the outcomes. Milgram (1974, p.201) demonstrated a case of conformity that supported "crimes of obedience". The study involved men who offered to take part in scientific research on memory. The men were assigned the role of the "Teacher" and tasked with administering shocks to the learner. They were required to administer shocks of increasing magnitude ranging from 15V to 450V. The "learner" was Milgram's confederate, and the shocks were not real. The study sought to examine how far the participants would carry on with the task of administering shocks. Milgram's study concluded that they willing to go "very far". Participants were willing to administer as much as 300v. Zimbardo (1973, p.38) Stanford Prison Experiment's involved students assigned either as a guard or as prisoners. The study sought to examine the interaction between the two groups in the absence of close scrutiny. The result was similar in that the "guards" meted abuse on "prisoners". Zimbardo concluded that people exhibited brutality because they conform to the role of the guard prescribed by the authorities.

The two studies by Milgram and Zimbardo proved the idea of "conformity bias" in which compliance is greater to the extent that it obscures evidence of resistance. In "crimes of disobedience" as depicted in the Nazi atrocities, the actions are interpreted as being conformity to the request of authority. Another consequence of the study is that it gives evidence that crime is banal. Individuals will always bend their wishes to those in authority. Put differently, our desires conform to the desires or instruction of those in authority (Moss and Dyer, 2010).

The research by Milgram and Zimbardo have their importance in understanding what underlies obedience to conformity. Their studies particularly highlighted the dark side of obedience. In Milgram study, the obedience decreased when the learner was in the same room as the administer further declined when the teacher had to physically touch the learner to administer punishment.

Conformity is an essential tool for tools and underlies the reason why informal and formal social control is effective. The phenomenon has, however, been achieved through several means for negative purposes. Indoctrination, Manipulation, and Conditioning are three different concepts but have the same goal of conformity. In the modern era, conformity appears in the form social conditioning, need for approval, emotional dependency and have come to occupy the influence sphere.


The research by Milgram and Zimbardo are criticized for being unethical. The experiments raised concerns within the psychology field. For example, in the study, one person suffered from an emotional breakdown despite being selected as "normal and healthy". The studies, however, gave an insight into how social pressures and situational factors make people behave in ways that they would otherwise not behave.


Social influence on one's behaviour is experienced on a...

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