Zanzibar and Lippie (1991) describe conformity as a “change in belief or behavior in response to real or imagined group pressure when there is no direct request to comply”. One of these negative feelings that may be experienced due to refusal to adhere to social norms Is rejection from the rest of society. This fear of social disapproval was observed by Cash (1951, 1952, 1956) during his experiment which tested conformity within a group.
Participants were unaware of the real alma of the experiment and believed It to be a visual discrimination task. There were several groups of seven to nine people, the groups were shown four lines, one standard and three that were comparison lines, each member of the group had to call out which comparison line they thought was the same length as the standard line, however, only one participant in each group was naive and so it was rigged that he answered second to last after the majority of the group had given their answers which were wrong.
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This was an attempt to find out whether he would conform to the rest of the group’s opinions. Results showed that 75% of participants went along with the group at least once, 50% f participants conformed to the majority on 6 or more trials and 5% conformed on all 12 trials.
There was also a control group, of which no group pressure was exerted on the naive participants, results from this test showed that less than 1% of people gave wrong answers, Indicating that the task was clearly unambiguous so the naive participants knew that the confederate’s answers were incorrect, adding to the validity of this experiment as this suggests that even if an individual is certain that they know others are wrong and there is a clear and obvious correct answer, they still eave a tendency to conform to the rest around them.
Cash questioned participants as to why they conformed and was told that at first they all felt uncertain about their answers due to the answers from the rest of the group, leaving them with feelings of self-doubt which gradually left them with feelings of anxiety of the possible disapproval from the other group members and the possibility of rejection due to being out-numbered. Others admitted that they knew that the confederates were wrong but conformed anyway simply not to stand out.
From these confessions, Cash concluded that the reasons why people conform are possibly cause of fear of ridicule, rejection from others and social disapproval. Another one included sixteen naive participants and only one confederate who deliberately gave wrong answers in front of the group. The confederate was indeed exposed to ridicule and sarcasm from the others. Another experiment that aimed to measure conformity was that of Sheriff (1935) who used auto-kinetic illusion. He asked participants to estimate individually how far they thought a light moved when it was in fact motionless.
There were considerable differences between each participant’s responses but when they were then told how everyone else estimated, they each began moving towards each other’s opinions and they all became more similar, forming a group norm, by using each other as a frame of reference. Although these results suggested conformity, the test has been criticized due to the ambiguity of it, there was no correct answer anyway because the light did not actually move and participants were very unsure.
A better test of conformity is one of which has a very obvious answer Other reasons as to why people believe that it is necessary to conform include the possibility of reward or punishment. If a person believes that conforming to a particular norm will benefit them then they are more likely to do so, like-wise if someone believes that choosing not to conform will risk them having to suffer certain consequences, then this can also influence them to conform. For example, the majority of people conform to government laws in order to avoid any penalty.
Deutsche and Gerard (1955) suggested a theory that implies that the reason for conformity is due to informational influence and normative influence. Informational influence happens because of the way that humans feel the need to be right, and eave a clear perception of the world around them. Therefore, when one is feeling confused and unsure of something, they feel inclined to look to others and compare thoughts with them to help reduce their confusion in order to try and regain an understanding. Normative influence occurs due to the need that people feel to be accepted by other people.
Some may agree with others because they want to make a good impression or avoid isolation, humiliation and punishment, but in reality they do not really hold the same beliefs as them, they conform so that they won’t be made o look inferior or different in front of a group that they aspire and want to belong to. It has been suggested that conformity levels are extremely low when there is one participant and one confederate because the participant is only opposed to one other person who is not supported by any others, therefore the participant is not exposed to pressure.
Unanimity of the rest of the group is thought to have a bigger effect on levels of conformity rather than the actual size of the group. Cash (1952, 1959) observed that conformity levels rose when a participant faced up to three infiltrates but did not rise as more were added, inferring that no matter how many confederates there are, pressure on the naive person will remain the same as long as the confederates remain united in their opinions against the naive participant.
However, Mann (1969) did not agree with Sash’s conclusions and claimed new members of the group are perceived by the others to be independent thinkers who genuinely behave like the rest of the group and are not simply obvious conformers themselves. Latent (1981) suggested the Social Impact Theory that the argue the group and the amount of strength and importance it possesses will encourage conformity as well as how much an individual is exposed to the group. Other factors affecting conformity are gender and culture. Studies have shown that women tend to be more likely to conform than men.
This may be because women are concerned with maintaining harmony and being in agreement with others, whereas men feel it is more important to show independence as this is an indication of their leadership-status and masculinity which are important with regards to their levels of desirability from women (Buss, 2004). However, regardless of one’s gender, people that are most likely to conform are those with low self-esteem, low confidence, low I. Q and feelings of inadequacy because it offers a way of trying to gain better self- concept and avoid loneliness.
Conformity is more prevalent in collectivist cultures than individualist probably as a result of the stricter norms that people in collectivist societies hold due to religion, values etc. Whereas individualist cultures are considered to be more free with their behavior and opinions. Although conformity appears to be a deliberate change in behavior for reasons arsenal to an individual, Charlatan and Barge conducted an experiment that measured whether a participant would mirror the behavior of a confederate who interviewed them.
Results did show signs of non-conscious conformity; for example, if a confederate smiled often during the interview then it was observed that the participant also smiled regularly, the same mimic of behavior was observed when a confederate shook their foot during the interview. Confederates were also asked to act differently to participants or copy them; the latter resulted in these participants porting that they liked the interviewer more and felt more comfortable in the interview. In conclusion, conformity can be viewed as having advantages as well as disadvantages.