Conformity and Its Influences

There are ten “time­less influ­en­cers” of con­form­ity, sug­gests the lit­er­at­ure on the top­ic, and by under­stand­ing what these influ­ences are–and how to use and coun­ter­act them–we are provided with some insight into our and oth­ers’ beha­viour in many situ­ations.

To that end, PsyB­log help­fully provides a sum­mary of the ten core factors that influ­ence con­form­ity.

  • Group size: Max­im­um con­form­ity is seen in groups of between three and five people. More than five makes little dif­fer­ence, less than three and con­form­ity is “sub­stan­tially reduced”.
  • Dis­sent: A ‘com­pet­ent dis­sent­er’ in the group can reduced con­form­ity from 97% to 36%, even on obvi­ous visu­al judge­ment tasks. “Dis­sent­ers must be con­sist­ent, though, oth­er­wise they’ll fail to con­vince the major­ity”.
  • Ingroup bias: We like to con­form with those we per­ceive to be in our ‘group’, espe­cially if they are attract­ive. This is very strong, neg­at­ing even the dis­sent­er and group size influ­ences. We will also go to lengths to avoid con­form­ing with a per­ceived ‘out­group’.
    Pro­fess­or Richard Wise­man, in 59 Seconds, notes that “Regard­less of wheth­er the sim­il­ar­ity is dress, speech, back­ground, age, reli­gion, polit­ics, drink­ing and smoking habits, food pref­er­ence, opin­ions, per­son­al­ity or body lan­guage, we like people who are like us, and find them far more per­suas­ive than oth­ers.”
  • Mood: Good moods make us more likely to con­form than bad moods. The ‘fear-then-relief’ tac­tic (“make someone afraid of some­thing, then relieve that fear”) is par­tic­u­larly effect­ive.
  • Need for struc­ture: Those with a ‘need for struc­ture’ in their lives are more likely to con­form than oth­ers.
  • Social approv­al: “Non-con­form­ity and self-con­fid­ence go hand-in-hand”. Those with a desire for social approv­al will con­firm more often than not.
  • Cul­ture: Those from indi­vidu­al­ist cul­tures are less likely to con­form than those from col­lect­iv­ist cul­tures (typ­ic­ally West­ern and East Asi­an cul­tures respect­ively). Con­form­ity rates range from 25–58% in col­lect­iv­ist cul­tures and 14–39% in indi­vidu­al­ist­ic cul­tures.
  • Author­ity: Con­form­ity can be trans­formed into obed­i­ence in the pres­ence of a per­ceived author­ity fig­ure (think: Mil­gram exper­i­ment). Obed­i­ence levels range from 12–92%, “depend­ing on the social con­text”.
  • Social norms: Our level of con­form­ity is “strongly influ­enced by think­ing about how oth­ers would behave in the same situ­ation we are in, espe­cially when we are unsure how to act. The high­er we per­ceive the level of con­sensus, the more we are swayed. We are also more eas­ily swayed if we know little about the issue ourselves or can’t be bothered to exam­ine it care­fully”.
  • Recip­roc­a­tion: The desire to recip­roc­ate is “incred­ibly strong and influ­en­tial across all human cul­tures”.