What is Conformity? Definition, Factors, Causes, and Experiment

What is Conformity?

Simple understanding conformity means accepting the views of the public. In psychology, Conformity is behaving in ways that are liked and accepted by friends, societies, or groups. People accept social norms in order to be liked by others and change their attitudes, i.e. they get back into line to fit in with other people around them.

To be accepted by others generally spoken and unspoken social norms, people have to accept.

Spoken Norms: In many contexts, there are spoken rules indicating how we should behave in a given situation. These rules are known as social norms, and often they exert powerful effects on our behavior. For instance, governments generally function through written constitutions and laws, athletic contests are usually regulated by written rules, and signs in many public places e.g. along highways, in parks, at airports, along the side of the busy road describe expected behavior. For example, speed limit: 55, no horn school area or hospital area, showing them pictures of children, etc.

Unspoken Norms: Other norms are unspoken or implicit. ‘Don’t stand too close to a stranger’ and ‘Don’t arrive at parties exactly on time.” Similarly, we are often influenced by current and rapidly changing standards of dress, speech, and fashion. Most people obey them most of the time. People stand when the national anthem of their country is played at sports events or other public gatherings. People waiting for getting public service have to form a line and wait the turn.

Solomon Asch Conformity Experiment

Conformity as a social process received relatively little attention in social psychology until the time of Solomon Asch (1951). In his research, Asch asked participants to respond to a series of simple perceptual problems. One each problem, participants had to match three comparisons line with a standard line in length. There were also usually six to eight persons present during the session who were the assistants of the experimenter. These persons were unknown to a real participant. As designed, all of these assistants unanimously chose the wrong line (answers) as a match for the standard line.

They stated their answers before the real participants responded in the experiment. This made the person’s in Asch’s study confused about these critical traits. Do they face the dilemmas that should they go along with the other individuals present or sick to their own judgments? Results clearly showed that a large majority of the persons in Asch’s research chose conformity. 76 percent of those tested went along with the group’s false answer. 76 percent made errors. When participants were tested alone later they made only 5 percent of such error.

Solomon Asch conformity experiment

There were large individual differences in this respect. Almost 25 percent of the participants never yielded to the group pressure. At the other extreme, some persons went along with the majority nearly all the time.

Asch’s research served as the baseline in social psychology to investigate the nature of conformity, to identify factors that influence it, and to establish its limits.

Factors Affecting Conformity

Conformity does not occur to the same degree in all settings. For example, wearing an ear-ring and long hair (especially for teenagers) are in fashions now. Yet, many do not go with it. There are teenagers who have short hair and don’t put on earrings. Why? Systematic research suggests that many factors play a role. These factors are:


Accepting influence from those we like. Cohesiveness is defined as the degree of attraction felt by individuals toward some group. We are not influenced by those people who are viewed as unusual and unpopular. When cohesiveness is high we like and admire some group of people, when cohesiveness is low, pressures towards conformity are low. We don’t especially like or admire.

Group Size

Asch (1956) and other early researchers found that conformity increases with group size, but only up to about three members, beyond that point, it appears to decrease. More recent research (e.g. Bond and Smith, 1996) found that the larger the group, the greater our tendency to go along with it.

Descriptive and Injunctive Social Norms

Social norms can be formal or informal in nature. There are two kinds of social norms descriptive and injunctive. Descriptive norms are ones that simply describe what most people do in a given situation, usually seen as normal and effective or adaptive in that situation. E.g. throw your waste in a dustbin. In contrast, injunctive norms specify what is approved or disapproved behavior in a given situation, e.g. always drive at your left side and don’t pick up flowers from others’ garden. People may disobey or ignore these strong norms if sense they are alone. Injunctive norms may exert stronger effects usually in antisocial behavior.

Causes of Conformity

Many people often choose to go along with the norms of their groups, values, social results, or expectations. They fear resisting them. This is a basic fact of social life. All human beings have the motive to be:

  • Liked or accepted by others: normative social influence
  • The desire to be right: informational social influence
  • and, their cognitive processes how to view the social world

The Desire To Be Liked By Others (Normative Social Influence)

Group norms play important role in our everyday life. Violating these norms creates complex problems. People do not want to be rejected and ignored by others, they want to be loved and wish to share, receive affection, and warmth. It forces us to agree with the persons around us, like parents, teachers, friends, and others. We have learned that doing so can help us to win the approval and acceptance we crave. Often we praise people around us. This source of conformity known as normative social influence.

Based on individuals’ desire to be liked or accepted by other persons. We fear being rejected and thus conform even more with existing social norms. One way of doing this is to stick more closely to what is viewed as “acceptable” or “appropriate” in our group. For example, we are embarrassed if we show up at a wedding party in a casual dress and find everyone dressed formally. Research of Jean and Olson (2000) showed that when people fear rejection from others they show a greater tendency to conform.

The Desire To Be Right (Informational Social Influence)

People gather information to have an accurate perception and understanding of the social world. They tend to depend on others as a source of information where they are uncertain. For example, if we want to know our blood pressure we can measure them directly. But to know social views on which dress and colors suit us best we need others help. There are no physical tests or measuring devices for solving these problems. We need others to help to get answers to such questions. We use their opinions and actions as our guide. Such reliance on others is a powerful source to confirm. This is known as informational social influence.

It is usually happening in situations where we are highly uncertain about what is correct or accurate, then in situations where we have more confidence in our own ability to make such decisions.

The Cognitive Consequences of Going Along With The Group

Some people easily express that they wrong and others are right. While other people find it more difficult. Such persons feel that their own decision is correct, but at the same time, they don’t want to be unusual. These persons conform even if their views are not in agreement with other beliefs. This explains their desire to conform to the group. These acts forces to alter perceptions. Studies showed that they are faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, e.g. “Teej Ko Dar” (in Hindu Culture) and other formalities of life indicate such pressures.

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