Social Conformity: Positive & Negative Effects

Burgess, Marya (Dec 9, 2003). Is It Human Nature To Conform? Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3300635.stm

Zimbardo, Dr. Philip (uploaded Feb 19, 2012). Asch Conformity Experiment. Retrieved November 3, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyDDyT1lDhA

The opening statement on Burgess article states, “Would you electrocute someone if an authority figure told you to do so? Or give a response you know to be wrong if others in your group said it was right? For more people than you might think, the answer could be yes.” This article focuses on the evidence that people will most likely give in to certain situations to try to fit in with a group, even if what is being done is wrong. The article goes in to talk about an American social psychologist named Solomon Asch and one of his experiments. Asch went into his experiment believing in individual integrity but to his disappointment; find that one third of his test subjects conformed to the control group. The article also talks about experiments done by one of Asch’s students and about Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s controversial Stanford Prison experiment in 1971. All of these experiments gave evidence of social conformity.

As a side note: I have added a link to a You Tube video by Dr. Philip Zimbardo on actual footage of Solomon Asch’s line experiment for your own personal viewing experience.

I choose this source because I felt it tied into the article/podcast “Riding the herd mentality: A new Freakonomics podcast” from Freakonomics.com hosted by Stephen J. Dubner. All the examples listed in the podcast of experiments done for people to change their habits. What it actually took to make people start making a difference; came from social conformity or social “shaming”. Whether people choose to admit it or not, which most will not, people do want to be socially accepted in some way. It is human nature; most people like to believe that they are far from “following the crowd” but, in reality and according to all these experiments we are secretly engineered to follow. In Asch’s line experiment; which was a basic line test on a piece of paper, the test subject along with the control group had to state their answers out load. As the control group was told to give out wrong answers they all stated their answers first, leaving the subject to answer last. At the beginning of the experiment you can see (in the youtube video link provided) that the test subject would try to give out the right answers opposed to the rest of the group. But, as the experiment went on, the test subject started to give in and knowingly give the wrong answers in order fit in with the group.

Another example of social conformity comes from the Freakonomics podcast, the beginning starts off with a story of Bogota, Colombia and their traffic problem. In the early 1990’s traffic fatalities were four times that of New York’s. (Dubner, 2012) But, in 1994 Bogota voted in a new mayor, his name was Antanas Mockus. As mayor, he dressed up as a superhero and enacted all sorts of rules and programs that tried to change the way a government gets its citizens to do the right thing. He had an idea for the terrible traffic; he decided to replace the traffic police with mimes. “If you were crossing the street not using the cross walk, the mimes would follow you in a really funny and playful way. They would mimic they way you walked or did your hair, and you felt like you were the worst citizen in the world. After that, that was a lesson that you learned in your heart, not your pocket and you were shamed, profoundly shamed because of these mimes and everybody in front of you.” (Dubner, 2012) Mockus also handed out cards to drivers. One side of the card had thumbs up and the other side was a red thumbs down. “This was a very polite way to change people’s behavior and to take out the anger that you had when someone did something terrible. But also the other person felt like “oh I’m being seen, people don’t agree with what I’m doing” and it was also shameful.” (Dubner, 2012)

This story of Bogota, Colombia is a great example of how different we react when others are watching and what others are thinking of us. Shaming helped people make better choices and avoid traffic fatalities. On the other hand, experiments done by Solomon Asch and Philip Zimbardo proved that when people are under pressure they tend to follow the crowd even when they know it might be wrong. They want to be socially accepted. Both situations show how we fall into conformity but, the end result may not always be good.

Some questions I have from what I’ve learned and read are:

Why do some people fall into conformity to fit in, even though they know what they are doing is wrong?

Why are people not willing to admit to conformity when the result is for a positive change?

4 thoughts on “Social Conformity: Positive & Negative Effects

  1. ollysalder says:

    Great choice of article, And I like the questions at the end. Topics like this really get you thinking, why we are the way we are, and why do we do the things we do. Its like most people are robotic and just fall in line and do as programmed. Not all of us are wired that way, thank goodness. This world needs more people that are willing to stand up against conformity of modern society, just because it may seem like the easy way through life, doesn’t mean its the right one. We need to be ourselves and stand up for our beliefs and what is right.

    Like

    • anthonys90 says:

      Very true we do need to stand up for what we believe. It is hard to say what we would really do in high stress situations, I would hope to think that I myself would try to do what is right regardless of the outcome. I think the people that were in Philip Zimbrado’s Stanford Prison experiment got sucked into their rolls as prisoners vs guards they took that “make believe power” and really used it to cause harm to their fellow students. If you get a chance to look into his experiment there is video footage of it, very interesting but disappointing to see how they reacted.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bree says:

    Wow! I really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for starting this discussion with such a fascinating source and for connecting it so thoughtfully to our class readings. Very insightful look into the advantages and dangers of normative conformity. You’ve constructed a strong framework for Writing Project #2 in this post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • anthonys90 says:

      No problem, I thought these topics were very interesting. It is always interesting to hear how people react when put into certain situations; the good and bad choices that can come from it. Human nature is very complex but, I always enjoy learning more about it.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s