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‘Discuss the factors which
influence the extent to which a person will show conformity.’

 

 

 

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’ (Crutchfield 1995). 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 (Goldberg 1952).  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.

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 (Asch
1951).

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 2006, Sparrow, Soetjipto &
Kraimer 2006). 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 (Goldstein & Cialdini 2004). 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 (Crutchfield
1955), conversely more contemporary studies have displayed a smaller difference
between both genders to conform (Eagly and Carli 1981).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

 

Asch, S. E.
(1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of
judgments. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership and men.
Pittsburg, PA: Carnegie Press.

Bordens, K., &
Horowitz, Irwin A. (2001). Social psychology (2nd ed). Routledge

 

Hogg, M., &
Vaughan, G. (2013). Social psychology (Seventh ed). Harlow, England: Pearson

 

Kelman, H. C.
(1958). Compliance, identification, and internalization: three processes of
attitude change. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2,
51–60. 

Mann, L
(1969). Social Psychology. New York: Wiley.

Smith, P. B.,
& Bond, M. H. (1993). Social Psychology Across Cultures: Analysis
and Perspectives. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

 

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