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The aim of this essay is to critically assess features that influence a person to demonstrate and adapt to conformity. This will be executed by expanding on theories and studies performed to conclude behaviour in different environments; including Jenness (1932), Solomon Asch (1951, 1955) and Sherif (1935). Real life examples and stories will also be included to deliver a knowledgeable essay on conformity and the triggering factors.
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Conformity is a method of social influence concerning a variation in behaviour or belief in order to integrate within a group of people. Conformity can also be identified as ‘yielding to group pressures’. A person may choose to conform to a decision that is highly favoured by the majority or what appears to correspond with being socially acceptable; also known as majority influence. The term conformity can often indicate a desire to fit in or be liked within social interaction. Individuals often conform as they lean on people for guidance; whether it be friends, family, associates etc. Situational dynamics have a greater impact on shaping decision making than behavioural factors because conformity is not necessarily an everyday occurrence whereas a person’s characteristics are inbred within.
The value of conformity begins from childhood, this behaviour is essential for socialisation. Generally; children conform to be accepted and become part of a group; this gives a sense of belongingness and security. Kelman (1958) proposes that there are three types of conformity; compliance; going along with the crowd, even if you feel differently within. Identification; fulfilling a role based on social expectations rather than private opinion, and lastly internalisation; adapting or considering views compared to personal preference or intuition.
The first psychologist to study conformity was Jenness (1932). His experiment involved a glass bottle of beans and a group of people, they were firstly required to give their individual estimates of how many beans they thought were in the bottle. The participants were then divided in to groups of three and were then asked to provide estimates by talking and discussing the number of beans in the jar. Following the group talk, individual estimates were again requested to compare if their answers had been influenced from the group talk; which in turn the vast majority had changed their minds. The results demonstrate the power conformity holds in an ambiguous, group based setting. The participants changed their decision on the basis of believing the group estimate was more likely to be closer to the exact number of beans than their own presumption. Likewise, Sherif (1935) conducted an auto kinetic effect experiment similarly requiring participants to provide answers in a group environment and individually, the results revealed the answers given in a group were similar however the individual responses were greatly different. Individual behaviour and decision making can ultimately be shaped by the presence of others. There can be pros and cons to this attitude though, for example; work environment, team games and political activism display positive outcomes whereas, peer pressure and negative, unconstructive influences can lead to negative consequences.
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The reasons for people to join groups in the first place can also cause them to conform, for example; gain acceptance from group members, achieve aspirations other groups intend to reach. Social influence represents the habits and techniques in which external factors can have an impact and change in an individual. It guides the way we behave and guides our way in thinking. Compliance, obedience and conformity are all concepts of social influence. It is evident in everyday life, people adhere to unwritten social norms systemizing their lives by obeying guidelines provided by an authority figure. The changes that lead social influence can be instant or delayed, intended or unintended and explicit or implicit. Social norms are an expected way of behaving within culture or society, once a specific way of doing something has become established as a norm, people conform as it seems the right way to do things. Informational social influence. Research and paradigms have shown that when a person is challenged, they will adapt their behaviour closer to what is expected in society.
Solomon Asch (1951, 1955) organised a model on conformity focusing the subject on the social influence theory. The applicants in Asch’s experiment where shown a standard line and three comparison lines, after listening to other participants estimations, the applicants had to indicate which of the three lines best matched the initial diagram shown. A large number of the applicants that took part, displayed conformity as their answers were close if not the same as the participants who purposely estimated incorrectly. This experiment demonstrates that individuals put in a potentially uncomfortable position express compliance. Compliance specifically concerning conformity signifies efforts directly made to change a person’s behaviour in a specified way. Cialdini (1994) implied that there are 6 values for gaining compliance, the first being reciprocity, holding power over a person’s actions based on a previous favour or support. Secondly, social validation; leaning on others for guidance when uncertain. Another factor is commitment and consistency; acting in accordance to a promise already vowed. Authority; a person deemed with power is most likely to be adhered to and respected. Scarcity is the fifth value Cialdini suggested, indicating people appreciate rarity and do not want to feel as though they are missing on a good opportunity. Lastly, if someone is fond of another person, they are more likely to settle or compromise for the sake of that person, known as friendship/liking. Compliance generally does not alter a person’s internal views, this is a temporary phase whilst their behaviour is under observation. For example; a child asked to clean their bedroom may only submit to these instructions until they are no longer being watched. Compliance causes an individual who is driven by gain or reward to escape penalty, to succumb to social pressure whilst internally opposing. The request that the individual accepts is either implicit; a form of advertising an item without asking them to buy it, or explicit; a verbal wish. Another common example of compliance is driving; drivers comply with the road traffic rules put in place by the government authorities. Should road users not obey, not only would there be complete disarray but drivers would face penalties or fines for such performance.
Research has shown that conformity can vary amid different cultures. Western cultures are categorised as individualist; a liberated and independent society. Whereas Asian and a number of African cultures are seen as collectivistic. Dated views suggested women do not like to be in charge and would much rather take orders than assign them, conversely more contemporary studies have displayed a smaller difference between both genders to conform. Obedience is a further factor that influences conformity. Obedience refers to a person following exact instructions to avoid adverse consequences. Milgram (1963) constructed an experiment whereby the participants were ordered to administer electrical shocks to students in another room whenever they made a mistake. The results attained from this test revealed how individuals fought against their intuition or personal beliefs to obey commands from authority figures. Conformity is less likely to be accepted by the person complying as this is from external influences, whereas, obedience is formed from a hierarchy structure.
Conformity is a complex issue and is affected by a range of factors, which in turn makes it very challenging to predict which situation, to what extent and what type of individual will conform to social influences. Failing to conform is considered a strength in the Western society Kim and Markus (1999). Social influences arise in different environments where a minimum of one stimulus is current.
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