Conformity Esssay

According to Leon Mann, conformity means ‘yielding to
group pressures’. Everyone is a member of one group or
another and everyone expects members of these groups to
behave in certain ways. If you are a member of an
identifiable group you are expected to behave
appropriately to it. If you don’t confirm and behave
appropriately you are likely to be rejected by the group.
Like stereotypes, conforming and expecting others to
conform maintains cognitive balance.

There are several kinds of conformity. Many studies of
conformity took place in the 1950’s which led Kelman to
distinguish between compliance, internalisation and
identification. Compliance is the type of conformity where
the subject goes along with the group view, but privately
disagrees with it. Internalisation is where the subject comes
to accept, and eventually believes in the group view.
Identification is where the subject accepts and believes the
group view, because he or she wants to become associated
with the group.

Leon Mann identifies normative conformity which occurs
when direct group pressure forces the individual to yield
under the threat of rejection or the promise of reward. This
can occur only if someone wants to be a member of the
group or the groups attitudes or behaviour are important to
the individual in some way.

Apart from normative conformity there is informational
conformity which occurs where the situation is vague or
ambiguous and because the person is uncertain he or she
turns to others for evidence of the appropriate response.

Thirdly, Mann identifies ingratiational conformity which
occurs where a person tries to do whatever he or she
thinks the others will approve in order to gain acceptance
(if you make yourself appear to be similar to someone else,
they might come to like you).

The first major research into conformity was conducted in
1935 by Sherif who used a visual illusion, known as the
auto-kinetic effect. Sherif told his subjects that a spot of
light which they were about to see in a darkened room was
going to move, and he wanted them to say the direction
and distance of the movement. In the first experimental
condition the subjects were tested individually. Some said
the distance of movement wasn’t very far in any directio,
others said it was several inches. Sherif recorded each
subjects response. In the second experimental condition,
Sherif gathered his subjects into groups, usually of three
people, and asked them to discribe verbally the movement
of light. He gave them no instructions as to whether they
needed to reach any kind of agreement among themselves
but simply asked them to give their own reports while being
aware of the reports that other members gave. During the
group sessions it became apparent that the subjects reports
strarted to converge much nearer to an average of what
their individual reports had been. If a subject who had said
that the light didn’t move very far when tested individually
said ‘I think it is moving 2 inches to the left’ then another
who had reported movement of 4 inches, when tested
individually, might say ‘I think it may have been 3 inches’.
As the number of reported movements continued the more
the members of the group conformed to each others

This spot of light was in fact stationary so whatever reports
were made was the consequence of the subject imagining
they saw something happen. So they were not certain
about the movement they observed and so would not feel
confident about insisting that their observations were wholly
correct. When they heard other reported judgements they
may have decided to go along with them.

The problem with this study, for understanding of
conformity, as one aspect of social psychology is that it is a
total artifical experimental situation - there isn’t even a right
answer. Requested reports of imaginary movements of a
stationary spot of light in a darkened room when alone, or
with two others, hardly reflects situations we come accross
in our every day lives. Generalising from its conclusions to
real life might be innacurate. However, some of them do
have a common sense appeal.

Ash was a harsh critic of Sherifs experimental design and
claimed that it showed little about conformity since there
was no right answer to conform to. Ash designed an
experiment where there could be absolutely no doubt about
whether subjects would be conforming or not and it was
absolutely clear what they were conforming to. He wanted
to be able to put an individual under various amounts of
group pressure that he could control and manipulate and
measure their willingness to conform to the groups
response to something that was clearly wrong. Ash
conducted what are now described as classic experiments
in conformity. This is not to say they aren’t criticised today