Posted by Roger Mallett Posted on 4 August 2020

The Psychology of Conformity or Why Do We Have the Need to Fit in?

What are the answers to the psychology of conformity? Why exactly do we do it?

In today’s crowded society, we all seek to find something about ourselves that is unique. However, by its very definition, conformity means to change behaviours in order to fit in with the people around you. We want to be unique, but we want to fit in? And, what exactly is it we are all trying to fit in to?

Conformity, by definition.

Conformity has been examined by a number of psychologists.

Breckler, Olsen and Wiggins (2006) said: “Conformity is caused by other people; it does not refer to effects of other people on internal concepts like attitudes or beliefs. Conformity encompasses compliance and obedience because it refers to any behaviour that occurs as a result of others’ influence – no matter what the nature of the influence.”

There are a number of reasons behind the psychology of conformity. In fact, sometimes we actively conform, and seek clues from a group of people as to how we are should think and react.

The psychology of conformity: why do we do it?

Many people like to recognise themselves as an individual, or unique. Whilst we all possess specific characteristics that distinguish us from the crowd, 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. These are examples of conformity for obvious reasons. Without compliance with certain rules of society, the entire structure would break down.

However, there are other instances where we conform but for less important reasons. What is the psychology behind the conformity among college students playing drinking games? Deutsch and Gerard (1955) identified two main reasons we do this: informational and normative influence.

Informational influence happens when people change their behaviour in order to be correct. In situations where we are unsure of the correct response, we often look to others who are more knowledgeable and use their lead as a guide for our own behaviours.

Normative influence stems from a desire to avoid punishments and gain rewards. For example, an individual might behave in a certain way in order to get people to like them.

There are further breakdowns within the informational and normative influences, such as:

Identification which occurs when people conform to expectations of them in line with their social roles.
Compliance involving changing one’s behaviour while still internally disagreeing with the group.
Internalisation occurs when we change our behaviour because we want to be like another person.

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