By Tanvi Vaghjiani

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth – John F. Kennedy

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There are many factors which contribute to our social interactions and influence the way we interact with each other. One major influence is known as conformity. Conformity is a type of ‘majority’ social influence meaning a change in behaviour in response to fictional or real social pressure. The term is used to indicate an agreement to the majority group with the idea to ‘fit in’ or ‘be liked’ (normative), to have a desire to be correct or even to conform to a social life/ identification.

Some forms of conformity include compliance and internalisation.

Compliance is defined as changing one’s behaviour in response to a request made by another person. This person changes their public behaviour but not their private beliefs, and just keeps it to themselves. For example, someone may laugh at their friends’ joke but may not find it funny, but instead offensive. In terms of consumer psychology, compliance is used to focus on how sellers can influence buyers and persuade them to purchase the goods/services.

In contrast, internalisation is a public change in behaviour to fit in with the group as well as agree with them privately. This includes both an internal and external conformity and is the deepest level of this social influence. For example, if someone’s friend was a vegetarian, they would also want to become a vegetarian as they agree with their friends’ beliefs.

Normative and informational influences can be used to explain the reasons for conformity. As mentioned before, normative influence is based on the desire to be liked and can be seen when one person does not want to feel alone or left out of their group. This tends to be a temporary conformity and can lead to compliance (e.g. smoking with your friends due to peer pressure). Informational influence is also known as the desire to be right, where one is unsure/ has a lack of knowledge and therefore looks to others who believes has more information. This can lead to internalisation.

Besides the majority influence of conformity, there is also Minority Influence. This occurs when an individual presents their own opinion different to one in the group that was previously overlooked by the majority and is now able to persuade and change the opinions of its peers. This process is known as conversion.

There are various reasons why one would accept social influence and allow it to affect their thoughts and behaviour. One reason is because we want to gain acceptance from members of a group: football voluntarily wear merchandise of the team to feel a part of the group. Group conformity therefore encourages cohesion and cooperation within a society and can have a positive effect on behaviour.

Additionally, the Social Impact Theory by Latané (a contemporary social psychologist) explains the higher the number of people supporting the conforming view, the higher the conformity andthe more important the people are to the individual, the higher the levels of conformity.