The 3 Types of Conformity
Like most things in life, following the crowd has its pros and cons. We can be swayed by so many different influences – our family, our peers, religious institutions and educational ones, political movements, popular culture and so on. We conform because we need to feel a sense of safety and belonging, but doing so can have its dangers. Our desire to fit in is how bullying and abuses of power go unchecked. Conformity can leave us feeling stifled and inauthentic as individuals, afraid to stand out – but on the flip side, rebelling against the norm can leave us feeling lonely and rejected. So is it a good or bad thing to conform? And why do we do it? To help understand ourselves better, here are the three types of conformity that humans are susceptible to, according to social psychologists.
This type of conformity happens when we choose or fall into a certain crowd or group we identify with. It is common in adolescence, when we are looking to find a tribe of people that have similar interests, beliefs, fashion style, or other factors that create common ground. We identify ourselves as something and take on many of the expectations of that identity – we do it throughout our lives, and it might be around a certain profession, hobby, or spiritual belief, for example. It can also have its dark side, such as in the Stanford Prison Experiment – where participating students took to their role as prisoner or guard in such an extreme and violent way that the research project had to be shut down.
This kind of conformity is done to follow the norms of a group even if we don’t agree or identify with those norms. We adapt our behavior to fit in or comply with society, a community, peer group, or because someone has asked us to. It is the same vein as obedience, where we conform to the rules of an authority, but compliance doesn’t necessarily need a power imbalance to influence our actions. Research studies, such as the Asch Conformity Experiments, have found individuals within a group setting are likely to change their conclusions and beliefs to go along with the majority.
This form of compliance runs deep, and involves integrating external influences into our personal belief system. It means that our internal world mirrors the external world we are conforming to. This happens in positive ways, in which we learn from the people around us, get motivation, and are inspired in our spiritual and personal development. But we can also internalize negative ideas and conform to these – such as narrow ideals of beauty, fear-based dogma, racism, and sexism. When somebody is brain-washed or groomed, it is the result of internalization, and that can take time to reverse or change.
When to conform
For most of us, there’s a spectrum of conformity that influences what we do depending on the context. Normative conformity happens in circumstances where we don’t want to go against the grain because of social pressures, laws, or customs. Informational conformity happens when we don’t know what’s best and follow the general consensus. People in collectivist cultures are more likely to conform than those in individualistic cultures. But we all internalize some form of behavior and belief system as we grow up, and critical thinking can help us decide what we want to keep, and what to shift.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Compliance, Identification, and Internalization Three Processes of Attitude Change; Conformity: Definitions, Types, And Evolutionary Grounding.
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