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Why Do Humans Conform?

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WHY DO HUMANS CONFORM? There has been considerable interest over the last decade concerning why humans conform. Before looking into evidence from theories and studies concerning conformity it is necessary to define what is actually meant by the term 'Conformity'. Conformity as defined, by Zimbardo (1992), is, 'The tendency for people to adopt behaviour, values and attitudes of other members of a reference group.' Conformity may be defined as that change of behaviour in an individual which is influenced by others. Aronson (1976) links this change to 'real or imagined pressure from a person or group of people'. When people identify with, and come to accept the beliefs of others they also adopt the norms of the group. From childhood children adopt the norms of their families, however some of these norms may be changed as they come into contact with new groups. Early work by Newcomb (1935) showed that first year students, at Bennington College tended to adopt conservative attitudes, as shared with their wealthy parents. As these students progressed through college, many of them changed their attitudes in line with their more liberal minded teachers and other peers. Some however preferred to keep to their families norms, even though this generally meant that they were less popular at college and did not participate so much in college social life. ...read more.


Informational Social Influence is based on the need to be right. When people are unsure of their own judgement, they often accept the judgement of others. When they are uncertain about what to do, they often accept the actions of others as a guide. Crutchfield (1958) found that conformity increased with the difficulty of the judgement being made. Crutchfield discovered that the group does not have to be visible to create an effect on their behaviour and that it is sufficient enough to know what everyone else is doing. Crutchfield thought that the level of conformity found in Asch's face-to-face studies might be responsible for the level of conformity found. He conducted an experiment whereby the participants sat in booths, where they could not be seen by the other participants, but could see the stimulus cards. In front of the subjects were a series of switches and lights. They were required to press the switch that corresponded with their judgement when it came their time to answer, and were told that the lights displayed indicated the answers of the other participants. In reality, the experimenter controlled the lights, and each participant saw an identical display. Despite the absence of face-to-face group, there was 30% conformity when using Asch's line comparison tasks, compared with 32% in Asch's study. Kelman (1958) produced a theoretically important analysis of the three types of conformity- Compliance, Identification and Internalisation. ...read more.


As well as taking into account Informational and Normative Social Influence, the two main forms of social influence, which encourage conformity, Kelman's three theoretical types of conformity offered an explanation into the positive and negative types of conformity. Lastly, both personal and external factors display the ability to influence or effect human conformity, for example, low self-esteem and cultural differences. However, in 1976, Moscovini, criticised the research of Asch, claiming that he had a bias view towards conformity. He conducted empirical studies on minority influence, showing that by adopting certain styles of behaviour, a minority may influence a majority. He suggested that it wasn't the number of people holding the same view that mattered, their consistency matters too. Another factor, which may have affected the rate of conformity, was the cultural background of the 1950's. Studies by Larsen (1974) and Perrin and Spencer (1981) failed to confirm Asch's results. Since the 1950's there has been a greater tendency, in both the UK and USA, to act independently. Smith and Bond (1993) reviewed 31 studies using Asch's procedure in different countries and found that more collectivist societies tended to show higher rates of conformity than more individualistic societies. For example, the lowest rate of conformity reported was 14% in Belgium, and the highest was 58% among Indian teachers in Fiji. From this evidence it would seem that humans today are steering away from conformity and working towards establishing individualism. ?? ?? ?? ?? 5 1 ...read more.

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