Why Do We Feel the Need to Conform?

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Why Do We Feel the Need to Conform?

Conformity offers a sense of belongingness and identity/ Photo By rawpixel via 123RF


Conformity is a type of social influence wherein individuals are willing to change their behavior and belief to copy that of others and to fit in with a group.


How Psychologists Really Define Conformity

There are various definitions of conformity. In a nutshell, conformity is giving in to group pressure.  

Breckler, Olson & Wiggins, in Social Psychology Alive (2006) gave this definition: "Conformity is the most general concept and refers to any change in behavior caused by another person or group; the individual acted in some way because of influence from others. Note that conformity is limited to changes in behavior caused by other people; it does not refer to the effects of other people on internal concepts like attitudes or beliefs...Conformity encompasses compliance and obedience because it refers to any behavior that occurs as a result of others' influence no matter what the nature of the influence."

Michael Eysenck, in his Psychology: An International Perspective (2004), had this description: "Conformity can be defined as yielding to group pressures, something which nearly all of us do some of the time. Suppose, for example, you go with friends to see a film. You didn't think the film was very good, but all your friends thought that it was absolutely brilliant. You might be tempted to conform by pretending to agree with their verdict on the film rather than being the odd one out." 

Informational influence is when people adjust their behavior based on what is the norm or what is correct/ Photo By Mark Bowden via 123R


Why is there a pressure to conform?

Kids learn by observing and copying others. As we grow older, the social pressure to act and think the same with what is established as group norms become stronger. Others who are already in the "group" will try to persuade "outsiders" to join and conform to them by using tactics such as bullying, praising, or teasing. Some people do not give in to the pressure and they are naturally non-conformist. They place independence above the approval of other people. 

Conformity offers a sense of belongingness and identity. However, it can also bring out impulses that might contradict with one's values and beliefs. 


Why do we conform?

There are a number of reasons why people conform. Sometimes, they are not sure how to act on a certain occasion or they worry about fitting in. These two concerns are the two reasons that cause conformity: informational conformity and normative conformity.

Informational influence is when people adjust their behavior based on what is the norm or what is correct. For example, if we are caught in a situation where we are not sure what to do, we look to others who know more and follow them as a guide on how we should behave. An example is a classroom situation wherein you are asked for an answer. Let's say your initial answer is apple, but then others answered banana and most of them are nodding in agreement. Normally, when this happens, people doubt themselves and then follow the majority. 

There are many uncertainties in our everyday lives. There is public and private conformity. Public conformity is when we conform thoughts and behaviors with others while private conformity is conforming thoughts or behaviors to oneself.

Normative conformity is conforming in order to avoid punishment and gain rewards. There are two types of normative conformity: descriptive and injunctive. Descriptive is what most people do while injunctive is what society dictates that people are supposed to do. 

Is it a good idea to follow what everyone else is doing?

The decision to follow the crowd is up to you. When making a decision, there are certain things to consider. Following the majority all the time does not mean that it is always correct. Here are some ways that can help you figure out if you should conform or not. 

-Getting caught up in the moment and conforming without giving it much thought is not a good practice. Before making a decision, make sure to stop and think about it. Weigh your options carefully unless it is an emergency situation. 

-Take a look at all the information presented. When we are unsure about something, we tend to follow others. If there are other details that can be gathered, make sure to know them. Each person has a different perception and decision-making capability. It is important to put one's beliefs, values, and morals when making a decision to follow suit or not. 

-There are different situations that may require an individual or social decision. Consider the situation if it is better to go with the group or not. For the situation that you are in, is that an individual decision or a group effort? Is the group needed to achieve a certain goal or is that the effort of a single person only?

-There are many ways of looking at things. See the different sides of the situation because a one-sided way of assessing things can lead to a poor decision. A good thing to do before deciding is to observe and ask others and then compare it with your own. After that, you can weigh your options and decide on what's best for you.