Why Do We Conform?

Throughout high school we had seen how people feel the need to fit in and seek approvable from others; we may have even been one of them. Some may change their actions, behaviors, beliefs, interests, and opinions based on their peers and group pressure. In high school, I always noticed how certain cliques of friends all dressed the same or even acted the same. I think teenagers in particular conform a lot because they still don’t know who they are, so they think they should just be more like whoever they admire most. Conformity isn’t always a bad thing; almost everyone today conforms to society in some way. There are definitely social norms and things that are acceptable to do in public that everyone conforms to. I wanted to know, why as humans do we feel the need to conform? Do we have a natural tendency to conform?

The Asch Conformity Experiments done by Solomon Asch in the 1950s were some of the most significant studies that showed how present conformity was. During this experiment, one innocent student was included in a large group of people who were taking a vision test. The large group in the experiment was told by the scientists to say a specific answer for each line segment that was presented to them. The innocent student was not aware of this and just thought he was taking a vision test along with the rest of the group. There was a total of 50 students in the trial and they were all presented with a line. They then had to choose another line that matched the first one they were shown. Out of 12 of the 18 trials, the large group of people who were “in on the experiment” gave wrong responses. This showed how people (the innocent student) would say the wrong answer even when they knew it was wrong. In these conformity experiments, 75% of people agreed with the rest of the group at least once. They were first told to write down their answers on the measurements of the line segment before saying it out loud; this showed people wrote down the right answer 98% of the time. People actually knew the right answer, but they decided to go along with the majority of the group’s answer. In addition, the study included 37 participants in a control condition in which one participant had to give their response with only the scientist in the room and no large group. This experiment showed that people faced a lot of pressure when in a group situation, so they felt like they have to say the same thing that the group did even if it was wrong. They did not want to be judged for saying something different and didn’t think they were as smart as the other people. The experiment also found that when there was more people in the group, the student was more likely to conform. Here is a video of the Ash Conformity Experiments being carried out.

Through this monumental experiment, it can be shown that a person will act in a certain way to go along with a group of people in order to be right. I think that “right” is not just defined as having the correct answer, but the accepted answer among all of the peers. This type of conformity is called acceptance. I think that this particular set of experiments done by Asch was very well done because it was a random group of people and included many different trials. It was not a blind study though because the scientist manipulated certain groups on purpose and even some of the people included were given certain instructions. The Independent Variable was the number of actors who gave wrong answers (Asch controlled this) and the Dependent Variable was if the individual being tested conforms or not. It also does not suffer from the file-drawer problem because the results were published and well known to the public. Many other experiments were also done to show the impacts of conformity.

In an experiment done by Peter Reingen the question was whether or not conformity influenced people to agree to donations. People were asked to comply in five different experiments after shown a list of how many other people complied prior to them. It was concluded that with more false donors on the list that participants were shown, the more likely they were to donate.

Stanley Milgram a psychologist from Yale University conducted a conformity experiment as well. When reading about this, I remembered learning about this particular study in my psychology class in high school. It can be slightly had to describe, but here is a video of the experiment being carried out.

Milgram asked a randomized group of people to do what they were told by an authoritarian in the experiment. There were a total of 3 people in the experiment: the experimenter (authoritarian), the person who was obeying the orders, and the person who was receiving what the order was. Even though all of these people were critical, only one of the subject was being tested while the other two were only actors. This however was unknown to the subject being tested. One of the participants was given an electric shock by another participant when trying to learn certain words. The subject being tested was the one who had to administer the shocks. What they did not know though was there were no shocks actually being given and the learner was just acting like they were in pain as the voltage increased. Through this experiment, it was shown that most people would actually obey even if it was causing another person pain. Conformity is greatly shown through this because the subject felt he had to go along with whatever he was instructed to do. This ensured that he would not be wrong and could not be punished for not doing the order. Fortunately, this well-known experiment was not a file-drawer problem because Milgram published his findings in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 

Why do people need to conform? All of these experiments show how people conform because of social pressures and the need to fit in. Everyone can be guilty of wanting to feel accepted into society or a certain group of friends or peers.  As Cook (2011) states, compliance is a type of “normative social influence” in which a person wants to be accepted so he or she will agree with a group’s beliefs even though he or she may not share them. Another type of conformity is internalization which is when someone agrees with someone else because he or she trusts and values the other person’s opinions. These types of conformity can not only be shown through these experiments, but can be witnessed on a daily basis. When working with a partner in class on a worksheet, we might agree with their answer just because we are not confident enough in our own.  Through this research, I learned that it is important to stand up for your own ideas and not just agree with others because you are not confident enough in your own answers. Do not conform to others because you think you are wrong or you will get judged for being different. Being unique is important and one should not conform just to feel that he or she is good enough.








1 thought on “Why Do We Conform?

  1. Michael A Lupo

    This is a very interesting post. I never really thought of conformity the way you described in the post above. The Asch experiments interested me the most. I find it hard to believe that someone who was in on the experiment was willing to choose the wrong answer on purpose just to be like the rest of the group. I also agree with the statement made about group work. It is very common for partners to just go with each other’s answer just because they have little confidence in their own. I would like to understand the psychology behind this to better my understanding because I have found myself doing this at points throughout my school career. However, when I was doing it, I never thought of it as conforming, I just figured it would be better to trust the other persons answer because maybe they had knowledge superior to my own. This may in fact be the definition of conforming, but I think it’s more of using your resources to your advantage. I completely agree with you when you say individuality is a key to success. I have always thought that it is better to have your own beliefs and ideas rather than just agreeing with the “popular” ones.

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