What Is Conformity Psychology And What Does It Do To A Person?

Updated February 14, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

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We all want to fit in. That's something that naturally happens to all of us. But did you know that there is a psychology behind trying to fit in? Yes, it's called conformity psychology, and here, we will discuss what it does to a person and the aspects behind why we conform. Conforming isn't just something we naturally do, there is a reason behind this, and here, we will explore the reasoning.

So What Is It?

Conformity by definition has a couple of different meanings. Most of the time when we consider conformity, the influence involves agreeing or acting in agreement with most people in a group, in a way to be seen as "normal" within one's sphere of influence.

But, there are a couple of other definitions of conformity, and psychologists define it as follows:

  • The general belief and concept that refers to a change in behavior that's created by other groups and people, and the fact that the person acted this way because of other people. It is limited to changes in the behavior of the people and not the concepts such as beliefs and attitudes. Conformity does involve compliance and obedience since it refers to behavior that happens because of another's influence.
  • It also involves yielding to group pressures, something that we all do, such as a disagreement on maybe a film or something that you may dislike, but others like. Because of this, we may tend to conform and say that it's good, when in reality, we may think it was kind of a flop.

The Reason For Doing This

So what is the psychology behind it? Well, there's another set of reasons that are put forward, and in many cases, it's looking to others for clues on how we should behave. We don't want to be seen as the "odd" man out because of our like or dislike for something. There is also the factor that others might have more knowledge than we do so that it could be instructive.

In many cases, it also involves preventing oneself from looking like a fool, and it can be strong in situations where we aren't sure on how we should act, or when the expectations are ambiguous. This is usually the case, and it's something that we should consider.

There are other types of influences as well that we must explore, and they are the following:

  • Normative Influence which comes from the desire not to have punishments happen, which means that you go along with something even if you don't agree with them. It also is used to gain rewards, such as acting a certain way to get others to like you.
  • Informational influence, which happens when people change behaviors to be right, and in some situations, where we aren't sure if it's right or wrong, we may look to others. For example, in the classroom, this one might be used a bit more, since we don't have all the answers, and are seeking out the truth behind each of these.

The Types Of Conformity

There are many different types of conformity that play a key part in this, and they are the following:

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  • Informational conformity, which happens when someone doesn't have the knowledge and needs help from the group.
  • Normative conformity, which involves changing the behavior of oneself to fit in with others
  • Identification, which happens when people conform to what's expected of them, seen in the Stanford prison experiment, where it shows people altering their behaviors to follow some roles.
  • Internalization which happens when we want to change ourselves, so we are like another person.
  • Compliance, which involves changing your behavior even though you disagree with the full group.

With conformity, we may know what we are doing, and we are aware of the behavior, but in many cases, it often happens without much awareness and thought on our ends, and in some cases, we may go along with things we don't like because of the other people that are around us. It's interesting, and it's why some people will do things that they normally don't believe in but will continue to engage them in fitting in.

The Influence Of Group Behavior

A big part of conformity psychology is not just one singular person and your response, but the response of the group, and it's the way people behave in certain situations, where people will get into groups for multiple reasons, and from there, start to develop the thing that follows the group. Many of us are in groups, and while groups aren't' a bad thing inherently, it actually can be something that influences you in ways that you may not even think about. People join groups for many reasons, whether it be survival, security, control and power, social status, achievement, and even companionship. Usually, it involves different characteristics, including the following:

  • An interdependence that is a huge part of the group
  • And the agreement that they are part of the group
  • Favoritism against other members, where they discriminate in their favor
  • Social interaction, which involves accomplishing a goal through communication
  • Conformity of purpose where people have a collective come-together to achieve the goals that they want

Groups play a huge part in the making of decisions and are influenced by the presence of other people, which can be both positive and negative. Groupthink is a huge part of the state of a group, and it's a type of conformity that one may engage in, even without realizing that they're doing it.

Groupthink involves people who want to conform with other people, start to conform directly to the groups and results in a decision making the outcome that is all universal, without any incorrect or deviant actions happening. It's also defined as a mode where people think in a cohesive group, with the members trying to override the motivation to appraise the other courses of action. It's essentially trying to minimize the conflict, and from there, deciding without the evaluation of different viewpoints. While they may work at times, it can be quite a problem in many cases, since it involves the following aspects:

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  • Isolation from outside forces
  • Loyalty to the group to prevent others from raising alternative solutions
  • A loss of creativity and independent thinking
  • The illusion of invulnerability

Usually, a group in this state has an impartial leader, and it can cause bad decisions to happen. While groups aren't bad, this is a part of conformity psychology that can have a bunch of negative factors, and it can cause people to engage in situations otherwise unsavory to others.

Influences Of Conformity

There are a few influencers that come into play here when it comes to conformity, and they do play a part in it, especially when it comes to group tasks:

  • How hard the task is: a task that is difficult on your own can cause others to come together, improving the conformity of people. Not knowing how to do something does make others conform, but it also can make people more accepting of other responses, but it also can lead to lesser conformity.
  • Size: If there are at least 3-5 people, there is a chance that they will conform.
  • Cultural differences: Usually, those that have collectivist cultures tend to band together
  • Differences individually: the personal traits such as the desire to be strong regarding leadership and similar goals are a factor in not conforming as much
  • Situational characteristics: the more ambiguous the situation is, the more likely people will conform.

Lots of research has been done on this, including Asch's experiment which is one of the most famous experiments which asked people to complete the ask that was simple, which involved choosing a line that matched one of the three other lines. When an individual, people would choose the right one, when asked in the presence of those who intentionally chose the wrong line, most of the time it was wrong, which was an example of normative influence, and conformity.

Conformity is both a good and bad thing. It's important not to lose your individuality, but this does play a huge part in the ultimate nature of how a person acts, and the way people respond to various situations.

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Become More Individual!

If you feel like you're losing your individuality, and you confirm a lot to other principles, then it's best to consider a therapist that works for you. Finding one that is rightful for yourself, and one that fits your sphere of influence can play a major role in your life, and if you feel like you suffer from too much conformity, you can ultimately push past this and become a better version through the extra help that you get from this and different actions.


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