Depth Study - Social Conformity and Non-Conformity
Table of Contents
Conformity is change that happens as a consequence of group expectations and pressure.
This can be either real (explicit) or perceived, and usually involves an individual shifting their behaviour to better align with the majority.
Conformity comes in 2 variants: informational and normative.
- Informational conformity results from agreement with the status quo; in other words, you believe/agree with the behaviour of the larger group, and therefore participate in it voluntarily.
- Normative conformity results from wanting to be percieved as normal; this stems from a fundamental fear of exclusion and rejection, and is the foundation of principles like peer pressure.
Factors Affecting Conformity
Age is a major factor, especially during adolescent and adult years.
- As a child, fitting into society is less of a concern for the individual.
- However, teenage years typically involve seeking approval from one’s peers, and therefore results in an increased interest in conforming to the collective behaviour of one’s age group.
- In a similar manner, employment and being a functional adult requires a significant amount of conformity to societal norms.
Culture is also a significant factor, composed of religion, ethnic, national and regional traditions, customs, and expectations.
The size of the group also affects conformity. Larger groups tend to have shared moral values and are more difficult to reject (e.g. Australian Culture, religion)
- Obedience is typically a consequence of normative conformity.
- It is usually described as an individual’s willingness to change their behaviour on the command of an authority.
- An individual’s obedience is directly related to the influence of the authority and the respective imbalance of power between them.
- Typically, social groups will expect obedience to an internal authority, although the levels vary wildly between groups.
- For example, obedience to the government (through the law) is almost universally expected, while more informal social norms are malleable on an individual basis.
- The authority may not necessarily be a person: in religious communities, sacred texts are often treated as an authority which should be obeyed.
Factors Affecting Obedience
|Proximity||An authority who is visible to you is more likely to be obeyed than one who might not even be a person.|
|Punishment||Avoiding punishment is something most people try to do.|
|Setting||Formal settings are more likely to expect obedience (i.e. presentations vs classes)|
|Status||An easy example of this is rank in the military.|
|Rewards||Potential for progression (such as promotions) is a strong incentive for obedience.|
|Laws||The backing of the government is often a strong motivator for people to do things.|
|Religion||People who strictly adhere to their belief systems are unlikely to perform actions which contradict their beliefs.|
Sources of Influence and Authority
|Influence through threat of force to gain compliance||Through charisma, connection and personal affinity||Through access to or control of sensitive data||From those selected, appointed to or elected in superior positions||Positive/negative rewards offered for certain behaviours||Through detailed knowledge in specific field|
Forms of Obedience
|Similar to compliance, a person can be reluctant to conform. Acquiescence entails agreeing to something or even giving in. May see change in behaviour but not necessarily in attitude|
Evident through peer pressure - May acquiesce to please group members or avoid conflict
|Occurs when individuals modify behaviour if they link group to which they belong is right. Most permanent and pervasive response to social influence.|
People adopt opinions, behaviours and actions of group and incorporate them into own personal way of life and value system
Alignment of values what they want and what society wants are same thing.
|People agree to give in to group pressure as they want to attain qualities of characteristics possessed by certain members|
Make decisions or change behaviour in order to maintain positive and self-defining relationship
- De-individuation is the theory that as a member of a group, a person inherently becomes more anonymous and loses their sense of self-awareness.
- People will experience a lack of restraint, loss of personal identity, and diminished sense of responsibility.
- This often leads to anti-social and aggressive behaviour.
- This theory has been heavily criticised since the 1990s, and alternative theories have become increasingly popular in recent decades.
Causes of De-Individuation
- Being a part of a group is the fundamental driver of de-individuation.
- The theory states that because people want to fit in with the group, they adopt the behavioural patterns that are common to all members.
- As such, there are increasingly minute differences between group members, which causes them to only be able to function as a member of the group.
- The anti-social and aggressive behaviour is a consequence of being removed from the individual’s comfort zone (i.e. the group). This is effectively a reaction to percieved hostility.
- Additionally, the loss of identity means that the individual expects the backing of the group when committing to a course of action, whether or not this is explicitly provided.
Effects of De-Individuation
- Rise in aggression and crime (i.e. looting during riots)
- Heightened emotions
- Impulsive and irrational behaviour - A 2003 study1 found that 206 of 500 violent attacks in Northern Ireland were carried out by offenders who disguised their identities.
- Dehumanisation of victims - This is one of the main components of “institutionalised” or “systemic” racism/sexism/homophobia (i.e. “they shouldn’t have been wearing that” or “they shouldn’t choose to be gay”).
- Lack of personal responsibility - Easiest example is “keyboard warriors” who will happily argue with people online but are completely placid in person.
Non-conformity is any deviation from social norms.
This typically involved violating the rules or expectations of a group.
Society is based on the consensus of the majority, and as a consequence, foundational principles will often be challenged by minority groups.
“Social cues” are designed to bring awareness to inappropriate behaviours.
Social norms indicate what is considered “appropriate” behaviour by members of a society.
- These can take the form of legal, moral, or religious norms.
Non-conformant behaviour is often described as “deviancy”.
Costs and Benefits of Non-Conformity
|Benefits to Society||Costs to Society|
|Clarifies social norms||Increases suspicion of non-conformist groups|
|Serves as a precursor for change||Often perpetuates stereotypes|
|Increases unity within the group||Causes aggression and tension between and within groups|
|Challenges the status quo, causing people to re-evaluate their beliefs||Can lead to violence|
|Highlights the need for recognition of minority groups|
|Benefits to the Individual||Costs for the Individual|
|Allows the expression of identity||Erodes trust|
|Allows the application of civil rights||Can lead to social exclusion and stigmatisation|
|Enables independence and agency||Potential psychological damage as a result of uncertainty about acceptance|
|Celebrates the diversity of individuals||Censure/disapproval by the wider community|
|Provides opportunities for participation in decision-making||Potential for radicalisation|
|Increases diversity of viewpoints|
What are attitudes?
- Positive or negative view of something
- Involves evaluation of issues
- Ambivalence also considered an attitude → formed by individuals/groups experience for the past in addition to current circumstances
What is agenda setting?
- Related to media and its ability to manipulate public perception of issues by concentrating on just a few key issues and topic
- Agenda setting in media is about harnessing power of people to influence public opinion
- Able to use public opinion to influence public policy
- Achieved through frequent and prominent coverage of news items, therefore their audiences come to regard issue as important
Consequences of agenda setting
Particular groups in society may be unfairly targeted and portrayed in unjustifiably positive/negative light
Creates need for social and cultural literacy when approaching media
Demonstration or dehumanization of some groups
People tend to immediately form opinion about group rather than adopt neutral position and therefore do not engage in comprehensive analysis but rely on manipulated information
- This is called ‘priming’, and is a tactic used in relation to sensitive political issues
Salience of issues influence observable group behaviours
Strength of public opinion increases as news coverage does
Framing stories takes place at micro and macro levels necessary tool for relaying complex issues 🡪 journalists present stories that resonate with public and influences perception by using anecdotes and stereotypes
Influence of Non-Conformity on Social Change
- Nonconformist groups extremely important in instigating social change
- Groups draw attention to current inequalities
- Positive social change takes place when authorities alter practices and policies
- Well-represented nonconformist groups have been solely responsible for improving life chances of people at macro, meso and micro levels