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Conformity refers to the social influence that involves a change in behavior or opinion so as to fit in with a given group. It is the act of matching manners, beliefs, and attitudes with group norms. It can occur in the whole society or just a group as a result of group pressure or peer influence. The psychological phenomenon can have either positive or negative effects on people depending on the situation. For instance, conformity helps in the formation and maintenance of social norms and prevention of perceptually dangerous acts among peers. The factors that influence conformity include peer influence, group pressure, and individual status. It calls for quantitative methods to measure the phenomenon from different aspects (Baumeister and Bushman 266). The paper focuses on group conformity and discusses how individuals are influenced by the behavior of people who surround them.
Specialists in the sphere of sociology have conducted studies on how people tend to behave in groups and how these groups affect their attitudes, perceptions and behavior (Gastil 68). The research has shown the importance of a group with regard to social life and the dangerous negative influence the groups may have on people. The difference between primary and secondary groups indicates the importance of group size for its functioning, the attachment nature of its members and the stability of the group. For instance, in a class of fifteen members, one can vividly notice that the atmosphere of the class differs markedly from a lecture class that usually involves presence of much more members. In the class with fifteen members, one gets to know and understand the professor better, and the students also know one another much better. Attendance in the class is regular compared to the large lecture class that may have a few absentees.
The groups’ influence on individuals is critical for social stability. It comes as a result of the roles the members of the groups play. Business organizations considered as secondary groups are essential to complex industrial societies. The social stability is developed there because they make their members conform to the values, attitudes, and norms of the social groups and of the society they belong to. Conformity has its downside when people adopt group values, norms or attitudes that are bad and may cause harm or destruction to others. It is, therefore, a double-edged sword. Psychological experiments reveal that conformity to wrong values occurs too often.
Solomon Asch once conducted a psychological experiment on consequences of group pressure on judgment modification and distortions. He drew three lines of different sizes and labeled them A, B, C. He then drew the fourth line with an equal length to one of the three labeled ones. Next, Asch divided the students into several groups of six members and told them that he was going to test their visual abilities. Each member of the group one by one was asked to identify a line among the marked ones that had the same length as the single fourth one. The students answered the test from the first to the last unit member. Each student gave the wrong answer and shared the answer with all other members in their group. The last students in each group did not know that all the other students were confederates. They used experimental jargon since Asch had required them to give a wrong answer to the question on purpose. Every final student in the groups was a naïve subject. The purpose of the psychological experiment was to discover how often the naïve subject from each group would give the wrong answer to the test even though it was clear that the response was not correct (Andersen and Howard 146).
Asch finally asked the last students who gave the wrong answers too why they did this. The response included the fact that the student knew the answer was wrong, but they decided to avoid being different from the rest of the group members. Other naïve students indicated that they started doubting their own visual perceptions and thought that since everyone else was providing a different answer, then they must have been not seeing the lines well. This experiment showed that group conformity arises for two reasons: members have a feeling that they must conform to prevent alienating from other members or people may doubt their perceptive capabilities and think they are wrong because every other group member perceives things differently.
Studies have shown that group process and roles its members play prompt severe behaviors. Phillip Zimbardo conducted an experiment to discover what causes the extreme behaviors witnessed in most of the prisons. Zimbardo’s intention was to see if the behavior was caused by the abnormal personalities of prisoners and guards or it stemmed from the prisons’ social structures including the roles the group members play in prisons. He chose male students and screened them for violence, drug use, and mental illnesses. It was done in order to ensure that any behavioral differences that would be witnessed later in the experiment between the two groups would come from their different roles and not from their variations in their preexisting personalities. Phillip Zimbardo divided them into two distinct groups, randomly assigning them the responsibilities of either being prisoners or guards.
The instructions for the guards were clear: to maintain order. The guards were dressed to resemble the real guards and wore glasses to prevent eye contact with the prisoners. The guards made the prisoners stand for long hours and verbally abused those who dared to complain about the treatments; they also had their individualities removed. The second day, the guards removed the prisoners by force and sprayed them with ice-cold extinguishers in order to expedite the process of getting them out of their cells. By the third day of the experiment, several guards who had initially indicated that they would have problems with the roles took their roles of keeping order seriously.