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Conformity: Is it a Detriment to a Person?

Updated on January 27, 2017

To Conform or Not to Conform....That is the Question!

Dare to Be Different!
Dare to Be Different!

Conformity and Obedience...What Are They?

What exactly is conformity and why are some people more likely to conform than others? Conformity was first discovered in the early 1950s by a psychologist of the name of Solomon Asch (as cited in Constable, Shuler, Klaber, & Rakauskas, 2004). In 1951 Asch performed a series of studies that dealt with group pressure and conformity. In his studies, Asch found that 75% of the participants conformed to another person’s response at least once. However, Asch’s experiments on conformity were not the only ones that found people are more likely to conform when in a group or in the presence of other people (Constable, Shuler, Klaber, & Rakausakas, 2004). In fact, So, what is conformity? Conformity involves the changing of a person’s attitudes, opinions or even behaviors in order to match the attitudes, opinions, or behaviors of others (About.com, 2005). According to About.com (2004) most people will conform to the norms that are set forth for them without much thought for what they are conforming to. A good example of this conformity to norms occurs in everyday situations such as raising one’s hand to speak when in class or even tipping in restaurants. To some extent, people feel a need to belong to a group, thus they will comply with the requests made by that group. If we do what is out of the norm then we are generally considered different. Therefore, someone who does not tip when it is an expected norm might be considered different.

The next concept which is important to address is that of obedience. Obedience involves the act of following orders that are placed upon us by other people (Constable, Shuler, Klaber, & Rakauskas, 2004). People that obey someone else are not likely to question what it is that is asked of them, they will just do what is asked. There have been several studies which have focused on the issues of obedience, of which one notorious study has been instrumental in showing just how obedience plays a part in a person’s life. The first experiment was conducted by Stanley Milgram right after World War 2. This experiment involved a student shocking another student who did not get answer right. Students were subsequently told to increase the level of the shock if they got more answers wrong. In another study conducted by Philip Zimbardo the same type of procedure was employed. What Milgram and Zimbardo found from these studies was that the person administering the shock complied with the request of someone perceived as an authority figure, regardless of how they felt about it.

Why Do People Conform?

Why do people conform and what makes one person more likely to conform than another?

Research has suggested that group pressure is one key component that is more apt to make a person to conform or not ( About.com, 2004). People want to feel like they belong to a group, therefore they will be more likely to comply with requests made by that group. People know that when they disagree with or dissent against the group norms it can make them unpopular with that group. As a result, those who do conform to group norms are generally rewarded socially by the group, making them more likely to follow group expectations.

However, this is only one reason why some people conform. In fact, some people conform or comply simply because they feel a need to be informed (About.com, 2004). What does this have to do with conformity? Well, for example, some people do not like to be wrong, as it makes them uncomfortable. As a result, they rely on the judgment of a majority rather than a minority. Third, some people conform to pressures because they either fear that they consequences of disobeying a group or authority figure will cost them something that they value (ie. Their job), while others obey or conform because they believe they will gain something out of obeying the rules (ie. A promotion) (About.com, 2004).

Lastly, other people obey or conform because of either personality characteristics or because they respect and value the person whom the conform to (About.com, 2004). Whatever the reason, people are more inclined to obey and conform based on how their attitudes and opinions are easily swayed.

Is Conformity Good or Bad? You Decide.....

Conformity can be both a good and bad thing, yet it is important for young adults to develop a sense of self without pressure from others. If a person experiences too much conformity that person is more inclined to succumb to peer pressures and try things that are detrimental to their well being. For example, some people might engage in using drugs and smoking because it is the "cool" thing to do based on what their group does.

However, there are also other instances where too much conformity is not necessarily a good thing. Consider for example a person who is targeted by cults. Generally, cults have a great deal of influence over their members and many end up participating in rituals which are potentially dangerous to their life (recall the mass suicide attempts, one which was recently attempted over the internet). Too much conformity is not healthy for the development of an individuals self worth or self esteem. People need to make choices on their own without pressure from others. Those choices need to be something that will enable them to function in situations where no one else is around. If a person is not able to make a decision without pressure from others, he is more inclined to be helpless.

On the other hand, too little conformity is something which can lead a person into trouble with authority figures (we would generally call these people oppositional defiant). If a person is not able to follow basic rules which are set to protect society than they will not be able to function in society. Some compliance is needed for our own protection, especially when it involves the law.

Becoming More or Less Conforming

To a certain degree conformity and obedience are a necessary and welcome component to an individual’s personality. However, there comes a time when this conformity and obedience interfere with that individuals ability to think for him or herself. According to Mentalhelp.net (2005) a person who is too dependent on others is also someone who is more inclined to follow the lead of others. A study was conducted (as cited by Mentalhelp.net, 2005) in 1924 and again in 1978 which asked mothers what traits they hoped their children would acquire. In the 1924 study, mothers indicated that they wanted their children to be obedient and have good manners, while in the 1978 study mothers indicated that they wanted their children to be independent and have a certain degree of social mindedness. Results from this study demonstrate that the times have changed, possibly indicating a need for less conformity and compliance than once was expected. Consider this, society today is more diverse and open to new ways of life than we once were.

With that in mind, how do we help someone become less compliant or conforming to the pressures of everyday life?

A good place to start begins with the encouragement of independence in a person. Many children these days are too reliant on their parents doing things for them and getting them out of trouble. As a parent or even an educator it is important to encourage and support independence in a child (Mentalhelp.net, 2005). According to Mentalhelp.net (2005) if children have parents that are too over protective chances are that the child will not learn how to think for him or herself. On the reverse, it can be said that parents that are too permissive will end up having a child who is nonconforming or not likely to follow needed rules of society.

Another way to help someone become more or less compliant or conforming is to develop that person’s self esteem or confidence (Mentalhelp.net, 2005). People who are either too low of the self esteem continuum or too high may in fact have issues with conformity and compliance. A person who has low self esteem is more inclined to follow the pressures of a group and do as everyone else does, whereas a person who is overly confident is said to be exhibiting little conformity or compliance (ie, someone who is always questioning the rules and breaking rules because he or she believes he or she is above the rules).

In conclusion, we must remember to be ourselves and take a stand for what we believe in, even if it does go against the group. Sometimes conformity can be helpful, while other times it can break a person down. It is up to us to judge whether or not conforming to group pressures will eventually hurt us.

"He tried to be somebody by trying to be like everybody, which makes him a nobody." Author unknown

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