Conformism: why do we submit to the pressure of the group?
Probably, have you ever considered why most people have a tendency to follow the dictates of the majority .
Psychology has tried to find out what makes people bend to the pressure of the group, what are the causes of gregarious behavior, what is the nature of group pressure and to what extent an individual is able to give up their own criteria in favor of the masses.
The conformism it can be defined as those modifications or changes that occur in the behavior or opinion of a person as a result of real or imaginary pressure of people or groups of people.
Several experiments that bring us closer to the phenomenon of conformism
One of the most significant psychological experiments was that carried out in the 1950s by Solomon Asch. I propose that you put yourselves in the following situation.
Acudes as a volunteer to participate in an experiment on perceptual judgment. In a room together with other participants, the experimenter shows you all a straight line (line X), at the same time shows you three other lines of comparison (lines A, B and C). The task is to determine which of the three lines has the same length as line X.
You clearly know that the correct answer is line B and so you will indicate it to the experimenter when your turn comes. However, the first participant answers that it is line A, logically you are surprised by his response. When the second person's turn arrives, line A also responds, probably this second answer will surprise you even more and you will begin to think, how can it be, if clearly it is line B? But when the third participant's turn arrives and it also says line A, you examine the lines once more and begin to doubt and ask yourself if you can be wrong. A fourth participant responds clearly on line A. Finally, your turn comes and naturally you answer line A, you knew it from the beginning.
This is the conflict experienced by the participants of the Asch study. The experiment was simple: it consisted of gathering university students and showing them the different cards with the standard line and with three other lines to compare. The participants had to answer aloud, and the experimental subject was never placed in the first positions to respond, in order that the rest of the experimenter's accomplices participants could give the incorrect answer agreed upon before the subject.
The pressure of the group 'modifies' our perception
The results of the experiment showed that when the subject was not subject to the pressure of the group and they were allowed to make a series of judgments about the length of the lines alone, there was an almost total absence of errors, given the simplicity of the task. In cases where the subject was faced with a unanimous majority that responded incorrectly, approximately 35 percent of all the answers were incorrect, they folded to the incorrect judgments made by the accomplices .
Other experiments similar to Asch's
The Asch experiment has been replicated in more than one hundred studies in different countries showing identical results. The results show that before a majority that emits a wrong judgment, people tend to settle for the wrong social perception .
In a situation in which there were no restrictions on individuality, nor sanctions against nonconformity, the participants tended to conformism. Why did the participants bend to the opinion of others?
The causes and factors of compliance
The conformity was due to two possible causes: they were convinced, before the unanimous opinion of the majority, that their opinion was wrong or followed the opinion of the others in order to be accepted by the majority or to avoid the rejection that the disagreement would produce in the group. That is, the subjects had two goals: to be right and ingratiate themselves with the rest of the group. In many circumstances, both goals can be met with a single action.
In the Asch experiment, if the opinion of others about the length of the lines were the same as yours, both goals could be met. But nevertheless, both goals were in conflict, producing the effect of compliance . The effect of accommodating the responses of others has not so much to do with imitation but with the need to reduce the dissonance between one's perception and the judgments made by others.
Factors that increase or reduce conformism
The unanimity or lack of unanimity in the opinion of the majority, is one of the crucial factors that determine the propensity of the subject to conformism. If one of the members of the group gives a different response to the majority, the pressure towards conformity is drastically reduced and the chances that the subject is more inclined to give their opinion increases.
That is to say, it is enough for a single person to provide a different response so that conformism is reduced and the power of the group decreases . However, if there is unanimity, it is not necessary that the volume of the majority be high so that it causes the maximum conformism in a person. The tendency to adapt to the pressure of the group, with a unanimous majority is practically the same regardless of the number of people who make up that majority.
The commitment it is one of the factors that can reduce conformism, when individuals have publicly committed themselves to a trial or an opinion before listening to the opinion of the majority, the person is more likely to hold his or her opinion and not accommodate those of the majority .
3. Individual variables: self-esteem and ability
There are certain individual variables that increase or reduce conformism. In general, people with a poor opinion about themselves tend more to bend to the pressure of the group in order to avoid rejection than those with high self-esteem. Another factor to consider is the person's belief in their own ability to perform the task successfully, for example in the Asch experiment those subjects who were previously allowed to experiment judge the length of the lines indicating the correct answer , they tended less to conformism than those who were not allowed to perform the task previously.
4. Group composition
The group composition that exerts pressure is another factor that modulates the effect of compliance. A) Yes, a group will be more effective in inducing conformism if it is composed of experts , if the members are important for the individual and if they are in any way similar or comparable to the individual, such as classmates.
5. Feeling of group belonging
The valuation of group membership It influences the degree of compliance. A) Yes, those who value belonging to the group and feel only moderately accepted will show greater tendency to adapt to the norms and guidelines created by the group that those who feel fully accepted.
Finally, the authority it increases conformism. In those situations in which the opinion or judgment comes from an authority figure, the appearance of authority can grant legitimacy to an opinion or petition and generate a high degree of compliance . As was found in another of the most famous experiments in psychology, the Milgram experiment in which most participants showed obedience to authority.
In conclusion, this experiment shows the great influence that others have on our own elaboration of beliefs and opinions. It also shows that in some cases we are easily manipulated and we can vary our most subjective beliefs such as ideals, political tendencies and even one's own tastes.
- Aronson, E. (2000). The social animal: Introduction to social psychology (8th ed. In Alianza Editorial.). Madrid: Alliance.
- Paéz, D., and Campos, M. (2005). Culture and Social Influence: Conformity and Innovation. Social Psychology, Culture and Education. (pp. 693-718) Dialnet. Recovered from: //dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codig ...