Examining Conformity

Posted on September 5, 2018

One of the most famous psychological study in the field is the Solomon-Asch study which examined the extent to which individuals conform to the group’s standard. The study was the first of its kind because it showed that individuals could be swayed by the group majority to give a wrong answer even when they knew a clearly better answer.

However, the Asch study does not end the discourse on conformity – the study was done on an American population in the 1950s and the question remains if the results of this study can be replicated across cultures and time periods, i.e. sociocultural circumstances.

In 1967, John Berry distinguished between high-food accumulating and low-food accumulating societies. The former is predominantly staffed by farmers and herders who place an emphasis on compliant and reliable individuals, whereas the latter consisted of hunters and fishermen whose community required more independent and assertive individuals.

Not surprisingly, Berry’s study found that conformity was higher in the high-food accumulating culture compared to the low-food accumulating culture, confirming the idea that conformity is higher in collectivist cultures.

The level of conformity depends on a few variables: size of the group, type of group members, type of stimuli and cultural context.
When the group increases in size, peer pressure increases and thus, larger majorities tend to produce higher levels of conformity in individuals. This effect is further enhanced when the members of the majority are in-group members, rather than out-group.
Ambiguous stimuli also tended to increase susceptibility to conformity pressures as compared to objective stimuli.

More significantly, the cultural context is the biggest contributor to the level of conformity according to a meta-analysis of existing published studies on the subject. Collectivist societies report higher levels of conformity as compared to individualist societies. This effect could be traced to the concept of the ‘collective self’. This term refers to the individual’s conceptualization of his/her role in the larger community, i.e. how social others view the individual. In a collectivist context, the collective self is more frequently accessed, which also means that the norms and standards of the recognized social group is also more accessible to the individual. As a result, the individual tends to be more likely to conform, even when they hold differing views from the group.

Cultural contexts play a significant role in conformity because certain beliefs are deeply embedded in the individual since early in life. In collectivist societies, because the idea of maintaining harmony is strongly emphasized and carries considerable weight, it stands to reason that collectivist individuals would value group harmony more than people from individualist societies.


Source material from Psychology Today

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