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The library of essays of Proakatemia

Conformity



Kirjoittanut: Samu Nyqvist - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 4 minuuttia.

Working constantly in a large team, one can easily begin to wonder what’s behind the dynamics in a flock of people. Having recently dealt with a lot of decision making within my team, I started to reflect on the stuff I’ve learned about psychology and sociology. I knew there was a phenomenon that explains, for example, why individuals in a team are not voicing their genuine concerns and opinions. Then I remembered the concept of conformism.

 

What is conformism?

Humans are social beings whose lives are linked to the activities of other people. Social factors have a major impact on human beings, and the presence of other people has been shown to influence their psychological functions, as they adjust their behavior to the social situation. Many experiments in social psychology have investigated the tendency of people to adapt their own behaviour to the demands of the environment and the situation. This is perhaps most clearly manifested in the tendency to conformist behavior, also known conformism. Conformism is the process of conforming to public opinion without being ordered or requested to do so.

People have a strong desire to belong to certain groups, because belonging is a big thing; peers are the most important environment for us to fit to. This group, in the context of Proakatemia team enterprises, means the smaller groups of people within the team. But, while belonging to a group is a great thing and it improves the individual’s functioning externally, many people do not realize that it also causes de-individuation. As a member of a group, the individual loses some of his or her individuality, as interactions between people lead to a common interpretation of the nature of things, which the individual then adopts as his or her own opinion. Particularly in a new situation, people rely on the opinions of others through social comparison. This can be often seen in a way that the introverted members of the team conform to extroverted people’s opinions.

In a large group or crowd that functions coherently, like that of a team enterprise, the individual is less likely to focus on observing his or her own feelings. When surrounded by others, personal self-awareness is lower than when acting alone and individual identity is weakened. This allows people to behave in ways that are out of the ordinary for them.

The influence of the group on an individual’s thinking and behavior has been the subject to a lot of research in social psychology, and it was these very functions mentioned above that were revealed in Salomon Asch’s line experiments in the 1950s. In the line experiment, participants were shown a straight vertical line of a certain length from picture A. In picture B, there were three lines, and the subject had to tell which of the lines was the same length as the model line. The task was easy, and no mistakes were made when judging alone. Of the three reference lines, one was exactly the same length as the line in picture A and the other two were clearly different lengths. In the test, seven of the false answers were deliberately incorrect. The subject heard these incorrect answers before his own response and then had to decide whether to believe his own perception against the perceptions of the other members of the group.

Figure 1: lines shown in Salomon Asch’s line experiment

 

In the experiments, the majority opinion led a large number of subjects to conform to the opinion of the majority who gave the wrong answer, even if it did not correspond to their own perception. In post-test interviews, it became clear that the subjects’ reluctance to give in to peer pressure was a factor in their willingness to stand out. They also began to question the validity of their own observations in the face of majority consensus. Those who did not let the group’s opinion guide their own answers said that sticking to their own decision was due to self-confidence and the obligation to answer truthfully on the basis of their own observations.

Salomon Asch’s studies are just one example of research into human social functioning. The German-American psychologist, Kurt Lewin, observed similar features in his studies. He found that people can be influenced more easily as members of a group than as individuals. When an individual participates in group decision-making, and perceives decisions and norms as being produced by the group itself, he or she easily adopts them. On the other hand, it is difficult to influence an individual by rules imposed from outside. That is why large groups must be influenced by group phenomena: when groups are made to produce the desired norms and decisions themselves, the members of the group quickly adopt them.

How to avoid conformism?

Experiments suggest that a high degree of autonomy is needed to enable people to live as individually as possible and to resist conformity. The best way to do this is assertiveness. An assertive individual can draw boundaries between his own and others’ feelings and desires, and thus make independent judgements and decisions. If a person is unassertive, it will become difficult for him/her to resist social pressure. Another way to increase autonomy is self-confidence and good self-esteem. Self-esteem helps you to set limits on what you can and cannot do in response to the demands and wishes of your environment. If you’re self-confident and have a good sense of who you are as a person, you will not behave in line with others unless this behavior is in line with your own patterns of thought and interpretation.

 

Sources:

Mcleod, S. 2018. Solomon Asch – Conformity Experiment. SimplyPsychology 28.12.2018. Read on 3.12.2022. https://www.simplypsychology.org/asch-conformity.html

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