Conformity and Group Mentality: Why We Comply

Samantha P. Lumbert
Rochester Institute of Technology

The causes of conformity among individuals have long been debated and researched in recent decades. The research examined for this piece fits the categories of a model proposed to explain the five main motivational reasons to conform: the desire to be correct, the desire to be socially accepted and to avoid rejection and conflict, the need to accomplish group goals, the necessity of establishing and maintaining a self-concept/social identity, and finally, the alignment of oneself with similar individuals (Nail, MacDonald, & Levy, 2000). This piece will attempt to gather evidence for these five motivations using modern research findings.

Many people imagine themselves as unique individuals unlike anyone else; indeed, we all possess specific characteristics that distinguish us from the crowd. However, despite our imaginations and wishful thinking, the majority of human beings comply with some set of societal rules most of the time. Cars stop at red traffic lights; children and adults attend school and go to work; policemen are paid to protect our communities. These are examples of conformity for obvious reasons; without compliance with certain rules of society, the entire structure would break down. Why, though, do individuals give in to less important reasons to conform? Why do college students play drinking games and elementary school children shun the outcast child? A very promising model proposes five main motivations for conforming; according to this model, we conform to be correct, to be socially accepted and avoid rejection, to accomplish group goals, to establish and maintain our self-concept/social identity, and to align ourselves with similar individuals (Nail, MacDonald, & Levy, 2000).


Simply put, individuals strive to be accurate and correct in their judgments and observations; they often rely on social cues around them to aid in interpreting a given situation. An important study examined how an individual's motivation to be accurate was influenced by the social pressure created by a group of inaccurate individuals. It was observed that when a task of low difficulty (a task with an obvious solution) was presented to a subject, the subject's motivation to perform the task correctly lessened the impact of social pressure created by a group who answered the task incorrectly. In other words, even though everyone else answered differently, the subject knew the correct answer to the task with confidence and therefore felt less pressure to agree with the incorrect group. However, when the difficulty of the task was increased considerably, the subject looked to the group for cues on how to answer. Again, the group answered incorrectly on purpose; it appears that when we are unsure of how to perform a task or how to behave, we may take comfort in agreeing with a large number of other people. In a second study, confidence of the group was manipulated; the individual was again given a difficult task where the group answered incorrectly. This time, the group expressed very low or no confidence in their answer to the task. It was observed that the group's lack of confidence had no significant effect on the individual subject's reliance on the group for social cues. This implies that as long as there is agreement among the members of a group, this consensus will outweigh any doubt created by low confidence (Baron, Vandello, & Brunsman, 1996).

Another study examined levels of conformity across age groups; it was predicted that older adults would feel less impact from social pressure than would young adults. Subjects were asked to judge geometric shapes (an unemotional stimulus) and facial expressions (an emotional stimulus) by providing them with labels from a set given to them such as circle or square for the shapes, and anger or fear for the facial expressions. The question addressed by the researchers was whether or not the two age groups would be affected by surrounding social pressure when asked to judge the stimulus. For instance, if a 20 year old female was shown a picture of a rectangle, and the other members of her group all labeled it ‘square', would the subject give in to social pressure and mislabel the object? The hypothesis was confirmed; older adults showed less reliance on social pressure to make their judgments. It would appear that as individuals age, they gain a better sense of judgment and independence, which is augmented by their growing experience (Pasupathi, 1999). In the case of this study, both age groups were concerned with being correct, but the younger group seemed to rely more on each other when making decisions. It is clear from these experiments that people are very concerned with being correct, leading to conformity across many situations.

Social Acceptance

There have been numerous studies that illustrate the ways in which human beings strive to be accepted as part of--or at least avoid being rejected by--a social group. One such study was conducted to examine multiple reasons that college students engage in the risky behavior of playing drinking games. It was hypothesized that college students often engage in these drinking games because of an anticipated outcome, or rather, an outcome that some individuals intend to induce by participating such as new friendships, relationships, and greater popularity. Unsurprisingly, pressure to socialize, fit in, and conform proved to be a major motivator in the decision to engage in this risky behavior; it appears that our desire for group acceptance is so strong that we may temporarily disregard our own well-being simply to be perceived as one of the group (Johnson & Sheets, 2004).

Another fascinating study examined the human fear of rejection; it was predicted that when people were asked to express their opinion on a particular topic, those who perceived themselves as holding the minority opinion would be slower to express that opinion than would the people who perceived themselves as holding the majority opinion. Not only was this prediction found to be true, but as the perceived size of the minority group decreased, the minority individual expressed even more hesitancy in the expression of their opinion. Interestingly, this slow response did not appear to be affected by the strength of the attitude being expressed nor the knowledge that the subject would have to make their opinion publicly known. It appears that when people feel they belong to the minority of a group they become reluctant to express their own opinions because they can foresee negative consequences of not fitting in with the majority. This demonstrates how social influence can be a powerful force affecting the expression of opinions (Bassili, 2003).

An interesting study was conducted to measure peoples' reactions to deviant behavior and how these reactions contributed to the maintenance of culture stereotypes. Participants were set up to lose a competition with either a "typical" or an "atypical" man or woman. In this particular study, gender deviance was the measure of typicality; if males and females behaved in accordance with what was expected of their gender and were therefore considered "typical", researchers believed there would be relatively little backlash from the loser subject. For instance, if a male subject lost a computer game to a female, the female would be viewed as having behaved "atypically" for her gender, and would receive greater backlash from the male subject than if he had lost to another male. Participants were then given the opportunity to thwart these individuals so that they would be unsuccessful in future competitions. It was found that people were more willing to undermine the atypical individuals, an action ultimately resulting in the increased self-esteem of the subjects; this behavior seems to imply psychological rewards for punishing deviant behavior. The study is also suggestive of how atypical behavior is frequently punished and is therefore less likely to grow and influence the established cultural norms (Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). People want to preserve social order; the consequences of atypical behavior are unfavorable, so we conform--and are rewarded--for doing so.

Another study conducted on the influences of social pressure on acceptance or rejection was a study in which it was hypothesized that perception of increased social pressure would weaken the connection between a person's attitude and their resulting behavior. It was found that under conditions of no social pressure from a surrounding group, participants' attitudes appeared to be fairly good predictors of their behavior. However, as perceived social pressure was raised, it was found that attitudes were less able to predict behavior accurately. For instance, if a subject had no objections to smoking cigarettes, in the absence of any social pressure, the subject would smoke. However, in the presence of several individuals who expressed negative views towards smoking and its effects, the smoker may decide not to smoke while surrounded by the group (Wallace, Paulson, Lord, & Bond, 2005). From these four experiments, it is reasonable to conclude that many times we choose to conform because--whether consciously or subconsciously--we all desire to fit in somewhere, with someone.

Group Goals

Another reason for conforming would appear to be the desire to accomplish group goals, which has been illustrated in several studies. In one study, subjects were first given a stimulus story to read and interpret on their own. The subjects were then exposed to the feedback of other participants and were allowed to change their attitudes if desired. Subjects were strongly influenced by the group opinion for some stories; however, for an emotional story involving relevant attitudes, the subjects seemed less willing to conform without question and only did so after lengthy discussions of the content of the story with other subjects (Buehler & Griffin, 1994). It appeared that the subjects worked towards a common goal together through discussion, eventually coming to mutual agreement and conforming.

In a study on cooperation in sports teams, it was found that the perception of one's own sacrifice and the sacrifices of other team members contributed to a feeling of togetherness and equity which, in turn, contributed to the team members' notion of conforming to the group norms. For the study, state-level sports teams were chosen because of the high degree of competitiveness in game play. Members of the teams were asked to complete questionnaires with scales ranging from ‘strongly agree' to ‘strongly disagree' regarding different types of sacrifices that individuals perceived themselves and other members of the team making for the advancement of the team. Such sacrifices included items such as those made in competition and training, at work and at home, and social sacrifices (such as giving up time with friends/giving up relationships). The study implies that personal sacrifice is an integral part of how a group functions as a whole; when a group functions well, there appears to be more conformity (Prapavessis & Carron, 1997). From these studies it can be concluded that accomplishing group goals is a relevant reason for conforming within the past several decades.

Social Identity

In terms of establishing and maintaining a self-concept and social identity, there appears to be much evidence supporting cultural and sex-typed reasons for conforming. An examination of the history of conformity in America and Eastern Asian cultures over the past few decades revealed that individuals' decisions to conform and to what extent are largely a product of culture. It is thought that uniqueness in America is often associated with the positive outcomes of freedom and independence. In Eastern Asian cultures, however, conformity implies the positive outcomes of harmony and connectedness. In the study, conformity was represented in the targets most preferred by East Asians and uniqueness was represented in the targets preferred by Americans. From these observations it was concluded that the choices we make are those relevant and appropriate to our own culture (Kim & Markus, 1999). Overall, the study showed that even simple and mundane preferences, such as the choice between a pattern of squares or a pattern of circles and squares, are heavily influenced by culture.

Another study involving the effects of culture on conformity looked at the change in conformity in the United States over the past five decades as well as the difference in conformity across different countries. It was found that levels of conformity have steadily decreased in the past five decades in the U.S. Also, the U.S. remains an individualistic country while other countries remain collectivistic. In individualistic countries, personal goals are regarded with higher importance and priority than group goals whereas the opposite is true of collectivistic countries (Bond & Smith, 1996). This study also illustrated how important an influence someone's culture can be in their decision to conform.

In addition to culture, another manner in which we form a social identity is that of conforming to sex-typed norms. In a study that described the construction of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI), eleven factors were found that contributed to the sex-typed norm of a masculine person including traits such as dominance and self-reliance. One of the hopes of the researchers for this study was to identify particular attributes, such as risk-taking behavior, that may be detrimental to men's health. Ultimately, the researchers were looking for information that would aid in improving men's health and lifespan. In identifying these eleven traits, the researchers demonstrated that there are established masculine norms to which men are encouraged to follow (Mahalik, et al., 2003).

A second study of this kind looked at sex-typed norms in the individual's social world and the role that these norms play in developing a self-concept. The study mentioned that standard norms associated with men are dominance, power, and aggression, and those associated with women are intimacy, emotions, and nurturance. It was found that when a member of either gender associated themselves with their respective sex-typed norms and were involved in a relationship which incorporated these standards, positive and motivational feelings resulted (Wood, Christensen, Hebl, & Rothgerber, 1997). From this study it would seem that the rewards of conformity depend on one's self-concept concerning sex-typed norms; if these are viewed as part of the social identity then positive feelings will result when the norms are expressed as part of a relationship. As demonstrated, these articles show how conformity and developing a social identity can depend largely on one's culture and one's interpretation of the sex-typed norms.

Alignment With Similar People

One final aspect of conformity involves incorporating ourselves into certain groups, or in other words, aligning ourselves with similar individuals and forming an in-group. In a study on behavioral consequences, it was found that when tested for prosocial behavior, people reacted more positively to in-group members (people they identified with). Also, fellow in-group members were more readily approached than out-group members. In addition, it was observed that the in-group members were reluctant to assign human emotion to the out-group; the members of the in-group saw the out-group as so dissimilar to themselves that it was difficult to even think of them as completely human (Vaes, Paladino, Castelli, Leyens, & Giovanazzi, 2003). From this study it appears that we often identify so closely with a certain group that we can form large, unsupported prejudices against an out-group.

In a final experiment in which in-group and out-group norms concerning discrimination and fairness were manipulated, in-group norms were found to be important in both natural and experimental groups. A group of participants were told they were detailed perceivers after reporting their estimation of the number of dots on a page. The detailed perceivers were then asked to allocate money between other detailed perceivers (the in-group) and a group of global perceivers (the out-group). The findings of the study included an in-group bias; there was a tendency to favor the in-group in terms of distributing a reward. Also, the in-group was evaluated more positively than the out-group on an evaluative scale; the participants were asked, with a 100-point scale, to describe the likelihood of detailed and global perceivers to exhibit behaviors such as creativity, intelligence, and irritability. This study emphasizes the significance of conformity to in-group norms as an influence on members' willingness to express their in-group bias (Jetten, Spears, & Manstead, 1996). Again, this study illustrates how one can become so closely identified with a particular group that unfair bias and preferences can emerge. The social advantage to conforming to an in-group is that one does not become part of an outcast group that receives a negative bias from another in-group.

Clearly, much research has been conducted over the past several decades to determine why individuals choose to conform and why they choose to conform to a certain degree. This research fits into the five main motivations for conformity: correctness, social acceptance and avoidance of rejection, the accomplishment of group goals, the establishment and maintenance of a self-concept/social identity, and the alignment of the self with similar people (Nail, MacDonald, & Levy, 2000). This model is a promising structure for the explanation of conformity and group mentality. Possible future research might include longitudinal research involving many countries concerning conformity as a cultural norm, and closer examination of individual people and their reasons for choosing to conform in specific situations.

Peer Commentary

Life Without Conformity Is No Life At All: The Survival Value of Compliance

Jillian L. Anzalone
Rochester Institute of Technology

Every person conforms on a daily basis through a number of activities. Wearing clothes that are a trend, driving on the right side of the road, agreeing with a political movement, and following a particular religious group are all examples of ways in which people conform. There is no inherent value in conformity; it is the cultural context that provides the connotation that determines if an action of compliance or agreement will be experienced as positive or negative (Kim & Markus, 1999). Our individualistic society is quick to label conformity as deviant in order to emphasize and reinforce the cultural values and norms associated with personal freedom, independence, and being unique. Examples of the negative or detrimental results of conforming include cult mass suicides, peer pressure drinking among young people, and group silence within families with dysfunction. Whether or not conformity is viewed as negative or positive is dependent on the culture is which it takes place. What can not be argued is that conformity is effective and pervasive (Kim & Markus, 1999). Outside of cultural context conformity is an instrumental behavior that has been reinforced from early man up until the present time. The question to be addressed is not why people conform but why must they conform?

Simply stated, we must conform to survive. The earliest conformity took place when our ancestors formed tribes. The sole purpose of such alliances were to come together to hunt and gather food. One cannot live without sustenance so aligning with a group for the purpose of attaining food together would benefit the individual. It can be argued that an individual could surely find enough food on their own to survive but the point should be raised that human beings were not the only species in the world at that time. We had many predators in the form of animals but also eventually in other human beings. When fighting off inevitable attacks from wild animals the many are more effective than the one. If our early ancestors had not formed groups they would not have been as successful in fending off predators and therefore would not have survived. Conformity in this sense has survival value.

To this day people rely on the group for satisfying individual survival needs. In the United States people depend on being part of a group, a citizen of the United States, for protection. Having dominated, domesticated, or contained all wild predators' people now must protect themselves from other human groups. When an individual is threatened the group steps up to protect in the form of family, police, and military. As Lumbert pointed out in her paper, "Conformity and Group Mentality: Why We Comply," individuals may have different motivations for conforming and only conform to a certain degree. If viewing conformity as an instrumental behavior the degree to which people conform would have some base in the benefit they get from conforming in a particular situation. The more rewarding it is to conform the more likely a person is to go along with the group in that circumstance. Survival in the face of a threat is by far the greatest reward received from conforming. People prefer life over death so if living means they must conform then they will and they have. Early man formed groups to fight off predators and we continue this behavior today because we have been reinforced since the beginning of humankind.

Today's world is one made up of groups competing with and fighting other groups. Each group believes almost unanimously amongst its members that they are correct and the ‘other' is incorrect. People conform most to those around them based simply on the fact that they are in close proximity to them allowing for more exposure. People like aligning with those similar to them because they find comfort in this group identification. This is not to say that people of different cultures do not share ideas and beliefs. When there are the means (i.e., translators, cultural knowledge, proximity) varying cultures have conformed to each other. The best examples can be found in wars when countries have made alliances with each other to fight a shared enemy ensuring the survival of both groups. When both groups were threatened, they became more similar to each other, and therefore were more inclined to conform to each other. Most people only interact face to face with people of their own culture. From an evolutionary standpoint it makes more sense to form alliances with those people close because they will be the ones most readily available when your survival is threatened.

Lumbert provided adequate motivations for conforming but as they are all socially based there must be something other motivation as a starting point. Conformity is an innate life skill that has continued in human beings because it has been reinforced with the reward of continued survival of the human race. Each culture has different connotations for conformity. Whether one views conformity as bad or good is irrelevant next to survival advantage the behavior has. Humans live to conform because they must conform to live.

Peer Commentary

Group Conformity: An Evolutionary Perspective

Andrew B. Cutter
Rochester Institute of Technology

The idea that group conformity affects each and every one of us in some way is no surprise; it happens on some level to every socially integrated person multiple times a day, whether it be putting on appropriate attire in the morning, eating what is widely known to be a healthy diet, or stopping at a stop light, conformity is all around us. Civilization as we know it was built on the principle that we can all work together to establish a greater cooperative ability than any individual could manage on his or her own. Without the fundamental abilities to work together and conform to the ideas of those around us, humankind would never have reached the level of social modernization that it has today (Brewer & Caporael, 1990).

An interesting and pertinent point that should be addressed when considering the reasons for group conformity is: What do we gain from this conformity? In Lumbert's "Conformity and Group Mentality: Why We Comply," it was noted that the average person enjoys knowing that he or she is correct about judgments, and Lumbert mentioned that participants will change their perceived correct answer to conform with group norms; but a key point has been overlooked in this section that should be addressed: Science. Science is intended to be a collaborative approach to knowledge wherein every individual is no longer required to unravel the mysteries of the universe within his or her short lifespan. With the advent of science, we can now look to the minds and work of others to find the answers to our questions, as well as for guidance in ambiguous situations. Science provides us the ability to live longer, healthier, more knowledgeable lives, and we owe it all to conformity.

Accepting another's ideas and thoughts as reference for our own way of life seems to come naturally to us. Some believe that group conformity is the result of a genetic predisposition that humans have acquired throughout the course of history (Barresi, 1996), and they are probably right, at least on some level. If an evolutionary perspective is proposed, a reasonable question is: If this were the case, what would provide the transmission of these conforming genes? Fortunately, or, rather, unfortunately for those who did not conform to the masses, civilization has a history of being rather unkind to those who failed to meet their level of desired conformity. There are persistent messages throughout history that tell the same story from the Bible, to the Roman Empire, to the Salem witch trials, to the rules of our own government: Conform or be judged as we see fit. And who is going to stop the masses? They are in greater number, greater strength, and their way is law. The only choice is to conform or revolt against the judgment of others--the later often resulting in the destruction of the individual. This provides a good argument for the evolutionarily minded individual: Those who failed to conform were often eliminated, meaning that if there was any biological basis of nonconformity it was likely removed slowly over the course of human history.

Humankind's (now) current predisposition to conformity and group mentality was mentioned in Lumbert's "Social Acceptance" section, but there appears to be an integral aspect missing from the discussion: Why do we desire social acceptance? There appears to be a plethora of research stating that we conform in the face of opposition, but what activates this inherent desire for conformity? The fear of rejection is mentioned by Lumbert. An interesting perspective is conceived during a situation where your unspoken thoughts vary from those around you, and the social pressure is enough that conformity is elicited. Afterward, is there a sense of accomplishment in knowing that those around you have influenced you to speak their mind instead of your own? Likely not; but it is likely that your response has in some way lessened the burden of being an outcast, at least outwardly. Within your mind there is still the knowledge that you thought otherwise, and then bent the knee to those of unlike mind nonetheless; this often creates cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance, as many can agree, is unpleasant, and there is no way to rewrite history, so there remains only one plausible option: changing one's mind. In doing so, accepting the previously undesirable perspective is justified as being the more reasonable solution and is likely to remain a more salient perspective in the future because of the associative organizational structure of our brains.

Lumbert provided some interesting points in her discussion of group conformity, but she did little to investigate the reasons for this behavior. An analysis of the evolution of conformity would have provided a powerful argument for the reason conformity exits today. An evolutionary perspective on conformity can help explain the reason that conformity comes naturally, as well as give adequate reasons for our reluctance to be a nonconformist (on a whole), our interest in reducing cognitive dissonance, and the general level of conformity that is seen throughout humankind.

Peer Commentary

Group Mentality as an Influence on Behavior

Zachary T. Mott
Rochester Institute of Technology

When humans congregate together, the dynamics of interacting influence the actions of each individual. Conformity describes the degree to which an individual will change his or her behavior in order to be accepted into a group. Lumbert broke down the causes of conformity into five main motivations: correctness, social acceptance, group goals, social identity, and alignment with similar people. In my opinion, Lumbert was too reductive in neatly dividing motivation to conform into those categories. A member of a particular group is influenced in large part by the actions and expectations of his or her fellow group members. The strength of this influence can depend on several factors, including the self-esteem or confidence of the individual and the individual's status in the group. Effects of group influence on individuals are conditional upon the individual's inclusion in the group; once the individual leaves the group, he or she will usually resume his or her previous behavior.

Being in a group has a powerful effect on the individual. A person's behavior, especially negative behavior, may vary greatly depending on whether or not that person is a member of a group. Kiesler and Kiesler (1969) attributed this behavioral change to a reduced fear of negative consequences for an individual if he or she is acting within a group. This theory explains the actions of individuals in riots or mobs who would not perform criminal acts on an individual basis. Whereas a group member has less concern for those outside of his group, the opinions and behaviors of other members have a direct impact on the individual's behavior. Groups function on consensus, so there is pressure on each member to agree with the majority's opinion. Failure to agree can lead to rejection or banishment from the group. Fear of rejection is so strong that most of the time the dissenters end up agreeing with the majority opinion to remain in the group. The influence of group mentality to force an individual to change his or her opinion can depend on several factors, including the self-esteem and status of the individual.

Self-esteem can be a factor in how much influence a group has over an individual. Individuals with low self-esteem tend to have a low opinion of their abilities. When a group is given a problem, an individual with low self-esteem will be more likely to accept the group's conclusion and believe it to be correct even if he or she arrives at a different answer. However, an individual with high self-esteem who believes that his or her answer is correct may also agree with the group consensus in order to retain membership in the group. Kiesler and Kiesler (1969) termed this the difference between private acceptance and public compliance. The desire for group consensus can cause some individuals to change their opinions completely and to believe that the group consensus or norm is correct (private acceptance) or cause the individual to agree publicly with the group but still dissent in private (public compliance). When questioned in presence of group members, the latter would repeat the group consensus, but if asked in private, he or she would disagree.

In addition to the self-esteem of an individual, the relationship of the individual to the other members of the group also plays a role in determining whether or not the group norm is privately accepted. He or she will have an easier time privately accepting the group's consensus if other members of the group share the same general attitudes or opinions as the individual. The status of group members also contributes to the acceptance of the group norm. If one of the other group members has a much higher status, and therefore higher credibility, this increases the likelihood of the consensus being privately accepted by the dissenting individual.

Only individuals with high status in the group are allowed to deviate from the group norm or consensus with impunity. Although status can be achieved based on relevant skills or charisma, it has also been suggested that status is attained as a result of previous group compliance (Kiesler & Kiesler, 1969). In essence, because the person has agreed with the group many times in the past, he or she is now allowed to deviate more than other group members. Because the individual's status is dependent on the correctness of the group, he or she will deviate from the group's norms in order to shift the group to what that individual perceives as the correct path. Of course if this fails, then the person's status could be lost nevertheless. Otherwise the high status individual conforms very closely to the group norm in order to influence group members to comply and keep the group viable, retaining status in the process. Status also influences the actions that individuals perform in groups. A new member would be relegated to menial tasks owing to his or her status as the lowest-ranking member of the group.

Group dynamics are very complicated; thus motivations may be harder to separate and classify than Lumbert suggested. Although people try to maintain a social identity by belonging to certain groups, within each group members fit into individual roles on the basis of their status within the group. This status is also dependent on how the individual conforms to the ideals of the group. The accomplishment of group goals also affects individual status, as does failing to meet those goals. Motivation to conform is also affected by an individual's self-esteem his or her relationships with other group members. Certainly the five motivations outlined by Lumbert affect how a person behaves in a group, but attention needs to be paid to how these motivations are inter-related.

Peer Commentary

Complying With Society: A Cross-Cultural Experience

Shilp S. Shah
Rochester Institute of Technology

Given that everyone looks for reasons to be correct, the desire to be socially accepted and to avoid rejection and conflict, the need to accomplish group goals, the necessity of establishing and maintaining a self-concept/social identity, and the alignment of oneself with similar individuals (Nail, MacDonald, &Levy, 2000). However, we always view our selves as being unique or different from everyone else. We know we have the ability to possess characteristics that separate us from the crowd or bring us more closely to one group. According to the Nail, MacDonald, and Levy's theory on conformity, people comply with societal rules under most circumstances. Lumbert explained the reasons for conformity among society for without it there would be no rules and would result in the break down of society. Lumbert explained why we conform by referring back to the five main motivations for conforming.

It has been determined that often individuals rely on social cues around them to help them interpret any situation that they are in. Going back in my own life I can find many times where I have conformed just because I did not want to be the minority or be in the "out-group." Even though the individuals that I was conforming to might have been wrong I still wanted to seem like I was in the "In-crowd." This situation was discussed in Lumbert's paper, which stated that so long as there is agreement among the members of a group, the minority will always try to become one with the majority and they will outweigh any doubt created by low confidence just to be in the majority. From the experiment it is shown that people are very concerned with being correct, which leads to conformity among individuals and groups (Pasupathi, 1999).

We all want to be accepted and want to feel like we are part of the social group. As growing up I moved around from one place to another going through different schools and different neighborhoods every year and to have friends I had to conform to the surroundings. After coming to college I did things to conform like party, drink, smoke, just to fit in and be accepted even though I knew it was bad for my health. Lumbert discussed how pressure to socialize, fit in, and conform proved to be a major motivator in the decision to engage in risky behavior and temporarily disregard the well being of ones self (Johnson & Sheets, 2004).

When working in summer of 2005 I was assigned a project to do with a group of people, which in return required the team to work as a group and comply with each other so we could finish the project. Lumbert also stated in her paper that when conforming one has to sacrifice one's own perceptions on things so it can benefit the team and to have togetherness among the group. When conforming to a group there is also a risk of not showing individualism, which in return can lead to a group not having a leader, and cause not togetherness. But if a leader is elected and the members of the group agree with the leader that in return also shows conformity. Every group does need a leader or a person who takes charge as to what actions need to be taken or not be taken.

Raised half my life in India and half my life in America, I have seen a lot of different ways that people conform in different societies. I agree with Lumbert when she mentioned culture has a lot to do with conformity. I know when I was India I was thought to not open my mouth until its need in class however after coming to America teachers wanted students to give them ideas and feedback and tell the teacher if they are wrong in what they might have said or done. This would have never happened in India because of the cultural difference and because of the power the teacher shows in class.

I agree that men are more aggressive, show more power, and dominance, whereas women are more intimate, emotional, and nurturing. For me, I think this is because when I was growing up I had seen that my father was the one who took charge in the home and provided for the family and showed aggression when things in the house weren't in the right way. Myself, my mother, and my brother conformed to his liking for he showed us his dominance and his power he had in the house. However my parents and I are from India and our culture is totally different from American culture. I have seen in American culture that women have the same say as does the man in marriage.

The last thing Lumbert stated was how one incorporates oneself into similar groups to feel like one is in the in-group. My first year of college, I had a very tough time feeling like I was in the in-group, just because I felt I was not aligning myself properly with the people around me, for they were not very similar to me. Things I felt like that helped me in this situation included making myself more outgoing and meeting new people. Coming from a different country made me also seem like I was often discriminated against just on the basis of my race, and therefore I had to find a group which was closely similar to me. Finding oneself in an in-group helps influence members of the same group to be more willing and understanding to one's needs, and in return the whole group confirms one's self-image therefore causing social advantage.

Everyone needs to feel belonging in the in-group. If cultural norms were closely examined, I would expected that different people in different countries would behave differently under different situations because of their cultures. Lumbert's paper supports that idea that a breakdown in a society would occur if individuals did not comply with society and its rules.

Author Response

Samantha P. Lumbert
Rochester Institute of Technology

Anzalone brought up an interesting point in her commentary; she looked at conformity as a basis for survival of the human race. She mentioned how the hunter/gatherer humans from thousands of years ago conformed in a group so they had a better chance of surviving against predators. This point would be more convincing to me if it was backed up with some references, because I doubt that twenty prehistoric humans would be any more successful than a single human when faced with a hungry leopard, unless of course gunpowder had been invented. I believe Anzalone confuses the meaning of conformity with inter-group dependence. The prehistoric humans most likely depended on their groups to gather enough food and build shelter for survival. A pack of lionesses will hunt together so they have a better chance of catching a zebra; however, we would not typically say that these lionesses are "conforming." That would sound awkward because conformity is a uniquely human term that refers mainly to social aspects of human culture. I agree with Anzalone that humans depend on each other for survival, but I would not label it conformity.

Cutter's commentary made a point of discussing evolutionary societal reasons for conforming; this is an interesting point to discuss. His point about conforming to the theories and ideas that the world of science has revealed to us is especially relevant. I agree: if we could not accept the discoveries and experiences of those before us, we could never become intelligent and experienced enough to have our own. We could not discover new medicines and healthcare techniques if we did not comply; many would die of curable diseases and treatable ailments without modern medicine. In this sense, we need conformity to survive. However, I must disagree with Cutter's final statement saying that my paper did little to find the reasons for the behavior known as conformity, because that is precisely what my entire paper is about. Perhaps Cutter meant that he would have like to see an evolutionary perspective on conformity included in my paper.

Mott added a relevant perspective to my paper; he mentioned how conformity is related also to group mentality and an individual's self-esteem, and is more complicated that the categories I broke it down into. I agree with Mott; in no way, shape, or form do I consider my dozen page paper a comprehensive authority on conformity. Group mentality and self-esteem are two issues that should be included if I were to expand on the paper.

Shah gave a cross-cultural interpretation of my paper in her commentary; she added support to the arguments made in my paper from her experience as someone raised partly in India and partly in the United States. As someone born and raised entirely in the United States, it is interesting to note how Shah's experiences lend support the arguments in my paper regarding the various reasons for conformity.


Bassili, J. N. (2003). The minority slowness effect: Subtle inhibitions in the expression of views not shared by others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 261-276.

Barresi, J. D. (1996). Group selection and 'the pious gene.' Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 19, 777-778, 786-787.

Baron, R. S., Vandello, J. A., & Brunsman, B. (1996). The forgotten variable in conformity research: Impact of task importance on social influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 915-927.

Bond, R., & Smith, P. B. (1996). Culture and conformity: A meta-analysis of studies using Asch's (1952b, 1956) line judgment task. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 111- 137.

Brewer, M. B., & Caporael, L. R. (1990). Selfish genes vs. selfish people: Sociobiology as origin myth. Motivation and Emotion, 14, 237-243.

Buehler, R., & Griffin, D. (1994). Change-of-meaning effects in conformity and dissent: observing construal processes over time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 984-996.

Jetten, J., Spears, R., & Manstead, A. S. R. (1996). Intergroup norms and intergroup discrimination: Distinctive self-categorization and social identity effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1222-1233.

Johnson, T. J. & Sheets, V. L. (2004). Measuring college students' motives for playing drinking games. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 91-99.

Kiesler, C. A., & Kiesler, S. B. (1969). Conformity. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Kim, H., & Markus, H. R. (1999). Deviance or uniqueness, harmony or conformity? A cultural analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 785-800.

Mahalik, J. R., Locke, B. D., Ludlow, L. H., Diemer, M. A., Scott, R. P. J., Gottfried, M., & Freitas, G. (2003). Development of the conformity to masculine norms inventory. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 4, 3-25.

Nail, P. R., MacDonald, G., & Levy, D. A. (2000). Proposal of a four-dimensional model of social response. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 454-470.

Pasupathi, M. (1999). Age differences in response to conformity pressure for emotional and nonemotional material. Psychology and Aging, 14, 170-174.

Prapavessis, H., & Carron, A. V. (1997). Sacrifice, cohesion, and conformity to norms in sport teams. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 1, 231-240.

Rudman, L. A., & Fairchild, K. (2004). Reactions to counterstereotypic behavior: The role of backlash in cultural stereotype maintenance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 157-176.

Vaes, J., Paladino, M. P., Castelli, L., Leyens, J. & Giovanazzi, A. (2003). On the behavioral consequences of infrahumanization: The implicit role of uniquely human emotions in intergroup relations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 1016-1034.

Wallace, D. S., Paulson, R. M., Lord, C. G., & Bond, C. F. (2005). Which behaviors do attitudes predict? Meta-analyzing the effects of social pressure and perceived difficulty. Review of General Psychology, 9, 214-227.

Wood, W., Christensen , P. N., Hebl, M. R., & Rothgerber, H. (1997). Conformity to sex- typed norms, affect, and the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 523-535.

Last modified November 2005
Visited times since October 2005

Home to Personality Papers

Home to Great Ideas in Personality