Feel compelled to question authority
Conformity: Psychology and Examples of Peer Pressure
Humans tend to conform. Always. Because it's more convenient, but also because he's a social being. Going with the flow makes us feel safe and correct. After all, they all do that. Lateral thinkers, on the other hand, have a much harder time.
Mixed feelings are already associated with the word: Anyone who does not conform can quickly be seen as a troublemaker, troublemaker and loner. Convention sprinkler. It is a contradiction in terms and at the same time the paradox of numerous managers who on the one hand demand lateral thinking and at the same time expect appropriate behavior. Conformity becomes a killer argument - even in the literal sense ...
➠ Content: This is what awaits you
➠ Content: This is what awaits you
What is conformity
According to the definition, conformity is the agreement and adaptation to the attitudes and behavior of others or of an entire group. It can therefore also be described as a “lubricant for social contacts”. Thanks to conformity, conflicts are avoided, communal cooperation is facilitated and in some cases even made possible in the first place. Viewed objectively, conformity is nothing more than the phenomenon of group psychology and peer pressure.
Almost always it is about behavior, opinions, attitudes, judgments, moral concepts or lived norms. The classic example of this is smoking or drinking alcohol among teenagers. If everyone has a cigarette in their mouth or a bottle on their neck, many feel the urge to take part in order to be “in” and to belong.
The engine of conformity is the fear of social exclusion. Man is a herd animal. Belonging to it and not attracting negative attention is a deeply human need. Put this status at risk by thinking differently? Then it's better to adapt and keep the social relationships. The second reason: laziness. It is more difficult to form your own opinion than to adopt the opinions of authorities. Anyone can repeat what everyone says. Getting informed, analyzing and reflecting is difficult. A distinction is made between two forms of peer pressure:
In this case, those affected adapt - mostly unconsciously - to the majority. For example, with fashionable trends or unwritten rules of a corporate culture, motto: “That's just how you do it here.” Opinions and behaviors are practically automatically adopted. The majority pressure is less based on authority and power, but arises from our social behavior and the instinctive desire to belong.
Adaptation occurs involuntarily. Those affected submit to an authority that has power over them. In professional life, this is usually the boss. But they can also be experts and luminaries in a field who exercise passive power based on their specialist knowledge and experience. The same is true for charismatic people and so-called "natural authorities". In the latter case, however, conformity is again voluntary.
Conformity is a game with power structures and power relationships in which the group as a whole participates. It is based on sanctions and rewards, on exclusion and affirmation, which anyone who belongs can grant or deny. Not having any support in a group or team is still psychologically stressful today. For our ancestors, being excluded from the group was actually a danger to life and limb.
Conformity on the job
Companies usually act in contradicting ways. They are constantly on the lookout for fresh ideas, innovations and original problem solutions, and require open thinking, creativity and a solution-oriented approach. At the same time, you generate enormous pressure to conform: Some corporate cultures could be described as “adaptation instead of contradiction”. If you think outside the box, you risk your job. The result is followers and dodgers.
Dangerous, after all, conformity can also make people swarm stupid. The glorification of “team thinking” and the so-called “swarm intelligence” that goes hand in hand with conformity in the job also denies their dangers: very often, interpersonal get-togethers are nothing more than marketplaces for power games and vanity - with high risks and side effects.
Numerous psychological experiments have already shown that the human tendency towards agreement extends to self-denial. Forced, equal thinking and acting, on the other hand, sometimes leads to rather foolish results and decisions. Just think of the experiments of the psychologist Serge Moscovici: He showed his test subjects colored slides, all of them blue areas: light blue, dark blue, aquamarine blue, cobalt blue, turquoise blue, etc. Then he had the test participants name the color that the slides showed. Not too difficult a task. What the test subjects didn't know: There were two initiated complainers in their group who vehemently claimed that the slide was green. And indeed: After that, the number of those who thought the slide was actually green increased significantly: A total of 8.4 percent of all answers were green. 32 percent of the test persons stated at least once that they had seen a green slide - although the color vision of all participants had previously been tested as completely normal and the images were clearly blue.
Conformity Psychology: The Asch Experiment
The psychologist Solomon Asch took peer pressure and peer pressure to extremes as early as the 1950s. In what is now the legendary “Asch Experiment”, he asked test subjects to name the two equally long four lines. A simple matter: the longer and shorter lines could be seen with the naked eye (see graphic). However, the group was not a random selection here either: with the exception of one participant, all of them were informed and unanimously named the wrong, short line.
Unsurprisingly, most of the test subjects opted for the majority vote - although they knew exactly that it was wrong: 50 percent of the participants gave a wrong answer in more than half of the voting rounds in order to join the majority. Around 5 percent showed downright blind obedience. Only 25 percent complained that a majority is apparently trying to influence the result.
The social psychologist later asked the participants why they decided against their own opinion and perception. There were also remarkable reasons for this: some said they were initially unsure. But because the majority seemed certain, they would have agreed. Others admitted that they feared reprisals if they stood against the majority. Still others just didn't want to stand out from the group because of their dissenting opinion. And some even claimed to have seen it as the majority did.
The minority effect
But there is also the opposite effect: the influence of a (closed) minority on the majority. Also called the minority effect.
A recent re-edition of the Asch experiment showed, for example, that the unity of minorities is crucial in order to attract others to their side. In that case, they can compensate for being outnumbered. In addition, the majority must have the impression that the lateral thinkers are sure of their cause. However, the cross-heads need additional social credit and credibility for this. Those who only stand on the fringes of a group and insist on their individual opinion are neither taken seriously nor respected. But for those who have proven their reliability beforehand, the sudden departure from the group can even be a boost to success: All of a sudden you stand out from the crowd, impressively document your strength of opinion and assertiveness. An effective career strategy - as long as it is used carefully and discreetly.
Conformity opposite: the power of nonconformity
Whether you're going to a wedding or an interview, you'll usually dress up and wear clothes that suit the occasion. In short: they are based on conventions and dress codes. So quite compliant - but not always successful: Harvard researchers Silvia Bellezza, Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan have examined this in more detail and found that under certain circumstances we associate an atypical and non-conforming outfit with a higher status of the person and with more competence.
Example: We regularly allow creative people or artists their quirks, quirks and idiosyncrasies. We even expect some of them. A lateral thinker who does not appear autonomous or unconventional at any point and thus proves mental strength, somehow cannot be such. This is also the case in certain situations: All speakers have shirts that have been ironed to the fore as well as presentation slides - only the one in jeans and a T-shirt has only brought ten slides with only one word on each. Nevertheless, he gives a completely free, flaming and refreshingly different lecture. He is certain to receive the best rating ... Even the opposite of conformity - “nonconformity” - has enormous power.
Whether you should appear for the interview in a shimmering tuxedo is still doubtful. But maybe the brightly colored socks, which flash out cheekily from time to time, give a positive echo. The bold creative sends his regards.
Conformity: 8 factors that influence our behavior
The deviation from the norm is rarely estimated. Even less often at work (see above). In order to find out more about our tendency towards conformity and group membership, we will therefore take a look at the following factors that have a significant impact on our behavior. There are mainly eight:
- Compliance and group size
One of the most important factors in people joining and adapting to other people's beliefs (even if they contradict one's own) is the size of a group. Studies show that compliance pressure peaks in a group of three to five people. This is also where the intolerance towards deviants is greatest.
- Conformity and Reciprocity
The power of this how-you-me-so-me-you behavior is often underestimated, but it is also one of the major influencing factors in terms of conformity. Quite a few people allow themselves to be manipulated - consciously or unconsciously - because they immediately feel obliged to provide something in return after they have received something (a gift, a compromise proposal, ...).
- Conformity and Affiliation
In order for the members of a group to readily adapt, the one who wants to influence them must be part of it. That sounds banal, but it is not: This does not mean a membership card or a club ID. Rather, it is about the feeling: “This is one of us. He / she ticks just like us. ”In short: It's about instinctive trust.
- Conformity and contradiction
As soon as someone vehemently contradicts, the willingness of the others to agree decreases. There are studies that show that a majority of opinion drops from 97 percent to a mere 36 percent as soon as only one single (but competent) dissenters loudly speaks out in the group. Conversely, this means: the stronger the contradiction, the more we feel compelled to give in.
- Conformity and Confidence
Willingness to adapt depends on self-confidence. People with less strong personalities are more likely to give in to peer pressure and join the majority (or the lead wolf). A classic case of followers. But people who have a great need for harmony and want to be liked by others are also susceptible to it.
- Conformity and culture
There are also cultural differences. In Asia in particular, there is a tradition of conformity. In Western cultures, more emphasis is placed on individuality. Correspondingly, the conformity rates in community cultures are between 25 and 58 percent, while in cultures characterized by individualism they are more likely between 14 and 39 percent.
- Conformity and mood
Our own mood of the day also influences our behavior and thus our willingness to conform. Those who are celebrating their fretfulness tend to be anti-attitude. High spirits, on the other hand, make us more willing to approve. However, this can also be misused for manipulation: The following scam is therefore very nasty: First fear of something is generated, then this fear is relativized, the mood improves, in order to finally obtain approval. The method is somewhat reminiscent of good-cop-bad-cop games, but is called in technical jargon: "Fear-Then-Relief Procedure".
- Conformity and authority
As soon as hierarchy or authority play along, the willingness to conform increases, which can then even extend to blind submission (“cadaver obedience”). Stanley Milgram's famous electric shock experiment, for example, shows how the authority of a scientist alone is enough for people to torture other people without conscience. However, one has to admit that authority is only a comparatively weak influencing factor.
Compliance Examples: Insane group dynamics
Suppose you cramped ten intelligent people into one room and asked them to develop a new car. Let's further assume that you call this get-together brainstorming or - quite originally - a meeting. What do you think will come of this?
Psychological studies (Stoner, 1968) warn: nothing clever. In fact, group discussions tend to polarize the group itself. You could also say: to “extreme”. No matter how moderate and sensible the individual positions were at the beginning - what comes out afterwards is more like an extreme. Scientists differentiate between three mechanisms of group dynamics and polarization:
- Influence: More and more panelists change their minds based on rational arguments.
- Comparison: People feel that some opinions hide group values and norms. In order not to expose themselves to social pressure, they adapt.
- Differentiation: In this case it is a variant of point 2: Here, too, the participants adapt to the majority, but differentiate the change of heart so that it is not so noticeable.
Behind these mechanisms is a constant urge to become independent: First of all, there is a kind of initial decision-making preference. Not all of them follow, but in the course of the discussion more and more participants agree with the majority opinion and turn the initial thesis to the extreme by means of additional differentiation.
Gaining freedom of choice with conformity
Even if you've learned a lot about influencers and compliance by now, that doesn't mean compliance is bad or good per se. Most societies, democratic ones anyway, and their institutions would be inconceivable, let alone function, without conformity. On the other hand, innovations or any creative act are usually based on a conscious break with traditions and previous social and structural norms. So in the end it comes down to being aware of when to adapt and why. Anyone who understands how and when the described effects take effect has gained a great deal of freedom of action and decision-making.
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