Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Conformity and emotion

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Conformity and emotion:
What role do emotions play in facilitating social conformity?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Conformity is a form of social influence in which a person succumbs with group pressure without any clear instruction or request from another person. Generally, it is a change in external behaviour to fit in with accepted social conventions or a compliance with the laws of society. To put it into perspective, imagine your friends have organised a trip to the beach, every one of them is incredibly excited and has been taking about it for weeks, but you are afraid of water and detest going to the beach. Do you go?  You could argue that it would depend on the type of friends, the other social aspects that the trip would entail or other variables but if your decision were to go, you would be conforming to your friend’s social norms. Upon first glance, the motivation behind conformity would be the basic psychological need to fit in, however the types of conformity and associated theories of social influence dictate that is not quite that simple. The problem outlining conformity is that is not distinctly conforming to others or changing your own personal views, personal and shared emotions play a sizeable part in the development of conformity.

Types of conformity[edit | edit source]

There are two distinct types of conformity, private and public conformity. These two types depend on whether you change your internal beliefs:

  • Private conformity
    • Private conformity is when you change your internal beliefs; and become convinced that belief is correct.
  • Public conformity.
    • Public conformity is changing your outward beliefs but keeping your internal beliefs privately. You hold your original views but do not share them in public.

Conformity can be very simple and also very complex depending on the subject matter that you are yielding to. Thinking of whether you change your internal beliefs based upon others interpretations and influence. The distinct difference in the types of conformity is what you do in public versus what you do in private. A very simple example of the two types is using political views, say you hold strong conservative political views and have someone influence you with liberal views, for private conformity your perception has completely changed and you will vote liberal in parliament, for public conformity you will still vote conservative but will not speak about it as you have done so.

Related theories of social influence[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Group polarisation[edit | edit source]

Group polarisation is the tendency for a member of a group to change attitudes and opinions towards the group’s predominant attitude, in which the member’s attitude become more extreme than they would usually exhibit privately. Serge Moscovici and Marsia Zavalloni introduced the concept in 1969. Moscovici and Zavalloni (1969) studied the concept and concluded that participant’s actions in a group are more extreme than on their own. The decisions of the individuals in the group, are thus amplified by being apart of said group and more extreme decisions can be made. Examples of Group Polarisation can be seen throughout history; most extremist group can be narrowed down as an extreme version group polarisation. An example of group polarisation would be sporting riots, people gain their confidence from the people around them but would not participate in such extreme actions on their own.

Obedience[edit | edit source]

Obedience is when a person succumbs to clear orders or commands from an authority figure. An example of Obedience is during World War II, many of the Nazi soldiers carried out categorical inhumane acts, which were justified by the soldiers as “just following orders”. In 1961, influenced by the soldiers in WWII Millgram[spelling?] studied this concept further. Millgram[spelling?] (1963) placed participants in lab setting where they were asked to ask quiz questions to another participant in a room they could not see, and if the other participant got these questions wrong they would have to give them a punishment via a shock generator. Unbeknown to the original participant, the participant answering the questions was an actor. The participants were given instructions to continuously increase the shock voltage even if it went to a dangerous level. 26 out of the 30 participants and administered the highest shock to the actor.

Compliance[edit | edit source]

Compliance is very similar to conformity. Compliance relates to when a person succumbs to pressure from another person with a clear instruction or demand present, but not particularly from an authority figure.

Normative social influence[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Portrait of Solomon Asch

Normative social influence can be described as the basic need to fit in and be accepted. It is altering your behaviour, attitudes and opinions even though you know it’s incorrect because you fear the social rejection. An example of normative social influence is Asch's line study.

Asch’s line study[edit | edit source]

Asch’s line study is a famous experiment conducted by Solomon E. Asch (1951), the aim was to discover the social and personal conditions that induce an individual to resist or yield to group pressure (Asch, 1951). Participants sat within a group of associates or actors aware of the study. The group was asked to match a length of a given line to a line in a group, in which the answer was obvious. There were 18 trials in total, and the associates gave the wrong answer on 12 of these, the participants sat at the end of the group and were asked for their answer last. Three quarters (75%) of participants conformed to the group answers on at least one occasion.

Informational social influence[edit | edit source]

Informational social influence is when you don’t possess information to know how to behave, you copy the behaviours and views of others around you to fit in.

Cultural conformity[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Cross-cultural conformity[edit | edit source]

There are two distinct types of cultures, individualistic and collectivist. Individualist cultures derive value from individual strengths where as collectivist cultures derive value from their contribution to groups eg. Family, friends or workplace groups. Being a part of a culture that intrinsically values group cooperation would suggest a higher level of conformity, A meta-analysis of studies from 1950 onwards by Bond, R., & Smith, P. B. (1996) found that overall collectivist countries and cultures tended to show higher levels of conformity than their individualistic counter parts. However, it is not quite as simple as one being more conforming than the other, both cultures share many crossovers, Triandis, H. C. (1989) stated that family size has an impact on the type of conformity that in put into place, a larger family size holds a stronger group cooperation than a small one, leaving less individualistic aspects.

As the two types of cultures have different intrinsic values the subject matter of conformity is different also. Individualist cultures focus on independence and will derive ways to be able to stand out and show off this independence (Triandis, H. C, 1989). Because this independence is held in high regard, you could interpret that as being a form of conformity, conforming to what society deems worthy and attempting to stand out. Alternatively, in collectivist cultures the aim is to not stand out and to fit into their immediate group and the surrounding groups (Triandis, H. C., 1989). The other key difference of the two cultures is the focus on the two different types of conformity. In individualistic cultures, there are more groups to be able to enter, so you can find another group that fits with your own internal values, whereas in collectivist cultures there is a focus on the publics[grammar?] self and how you present yourself (Triandis, H. C., 1989). You could interpret these findings based on the two types of conformity, perhaps individualistic cultures are more likely to succumb to private conformity and collectivist cultures to public conformity.

Political conformity[edit | edit source]

Political norms in society are forever changing, as new generations come along new views follow suit. If you take a look at the current political agenda in the United States, it changed from left to right wing very quickly. If you look back a century ago, religion had the power in society. The amount of influence a certain group has will contribute to their rein of power, and this influence in current society comes down to the beliefs of the people, excluding communist nations. Accumulated evidence suggests that people often conform to political norms (Suhay, 2014). Suhay,( 2014) looked at the relationship between politics and conformity, it was found that social identity allows us to comprehend which groups will create political influence which can contribute to the identification of who to put in the running for political power.

Conformity over time[edit | edit source]

Conformity was originally discovered by Sherif in 1935, when looking into stereotypes in Turkey. As stated previously, norms are forever changing, including sociatal social norms and the definitions of conformity itself. In current society gathering information is much simpiler than it was 50 to 80 years ago, instead of recieving[spelling?] a newspaper with pre-proposed ideologies, you can freely access almost any information online. A meta-analysis of studies from 1950 onwards by Bond, R., & Smith, P. B. (1996) looked into the differences of social conformity over time. it was indicated that the date of studies analysed was significantly negatively associated to the effect size, showing that there had been a drop in the levels of an individual conforming (Bond, R., & Smith, P. B. 1996).

Emotions contributing to conformity[edit | edit source]

There has been significant research into the contributing factors of conformity. Being a form of social influence, emotions are drivers into the formation of conformity. In essence, emotions are an essential part of group life. (Heerdink, M. W., van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., & Fischer, A. H., 2013).

Fear[edit | edit source]

Fear is an important mechanism for the internal decisions we make, fear helps prevent harm and looks for the biological need for safety. Conformity is seen to come from the fear of being left out. Asch, S. E. (1951) stated that during his experiment participants were controlled by their exclusion from the group; they did not want to feel like the odd one out. This inherent fear of not being apart of the group or being looked down upon controls the urge to conform to a group even if you know it is wrong.

Fear for oneself is not the only contributing factor to conforming; a shared fear of what is to come can influence and create in-groups. Greenberg, Solomon, & Pyszczynski, (1997) stated that fear of death function as a moving power even if people are not focused on a particular issue, and will create a focus on that particular issue. Barth, et al. (2018) looked at the shared fear of global warming and its effects on conformity and ability to create in-groups. They found that there was no particular conservative shift within these groups but found that participants conformed within the in-group norms, a higher level of conformity correlated with a higher level of climate change threat. (Barth, et al., 2018)

Shame[edit | edit source]

Shame is an inherent driver of social interaction feeling shame would deter most people from engaging in certain behaviours, straying from social norms produces disapproval and can cause shame (Suhay, 2014). Scheff, T. (1988) proposed that not conforming to social influences could results in feelings of shame, which then lead to a stronger urge to conform prior. If you hold strong beliefs and others do not reciprocate those beliefs then you can feel ostracised and left with this feeling of shame. Going back to the first example of conformity and going to the beach with your friends, would you feel ashamed of not wanting to go with your friends or of not enjoying the water in the same way they do? Would this impact you further on your decision of going? That feeling is what motivates some people to conform. Scheff, T. (1988) suggested that whether an overwhelming feeling of shame is felt depends on a person’s level of self- esteem. The level of self-esteem factors in whether a person can cope with the feeling of shame, having a higher self esteem the feeling of shame is more manageable, and a lower self esteem it is harder to manage. An alternative reason shame could be a motivator for conforming is if you are apart of a collectivist culture. Collectivist cultures fundamentally view the needs of family and groups as a more prominent entity than individuals. Fessler, D. T. (2004) looked into the difference of shame and non-conforming between collectivist and individualistic cultures. Focusing on the collectivist culture in Indonesia Fessler, D. T. (2004) found that within collectivist cultures, people have a stronger sense to fit in, and if non-conforming occurs collectivist culture feel an overwhelming sense of shame for not being apart of the group.

Pride[edit | edit source]

Another emotion that can influence conformity into in-group norms is pride. Most people feel a sense of pride for their beliefs, and if those beliefs were reciprocated your pride for your held beliefs would intensify. Scheff, T. (1988) suggested that if a collective sense of pride for certain views was established a chain reaction would occur. The collective view would be heightened and consequently those of the groups would also, creating the reaction.

Anger and happiness[edit | edit source]

External emotional regulation is a large part of social norms, but emotional outbursts from others could lead to the feeling of rejection. Looking at the two most common publicly displayed emotions, anger and happiness could clarify the relationship between a persons security in a group or their isolation. Heerdink, M. W., van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., & Fischer, A. H. (2013) stated these emotional expressions influence the amount to which a person feels accepted or rejected by the in-group. To put these emotions in the context of social situation, imagine you are walking into a busy train station and you see a person suddenly burst out in furious anger, they are yelling at themselves and making all kinds of ambiguous arm gestures. Would you go out of your way to avoid this person? Now imagine the same situation and a person bursts out in excessive happiness, they are smiling at every person that walks past. Do you go out of your way to avoid this person? Chances are you will most likely actively avoid the angry person and either ignore the happy person or smile back at them. A study by Heerdink, M. W., van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., & Fischer, A. H. (2013) looked at the effects of these two emotions where participants held differentiating views to the in-groups. They found that depending on the emotion the group gave to the participant altered the reaction the participant had to the feeling of acceptance. If the group showed the participant anger towards their view the participant felt rejected, although expressions of happiness made the participant feel accepted. (Heerdink, M. W., van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., & Fischer, A. H. 2013)

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The effects and drivers of conformity are foggy there are no particular defining outliers that suggest that one particular emotion motivates a person to conform. Conformity itself is inherently a part of society, it is ingrained that conforming to social norms is the way to be an appropriate member of society. Although, personal and shared emotions influence the amount of pressure you feel to conform, the amount of acceptance you feel to a group, the increased and decreased likelihood of participating in certain conforming actions. As most studies into the differentation[spelling?] of conformity were promitnent[spelling?] in the 1950's[grammar?] to 1970's[grammar?] its would be benificial[spelling?] if more current studies are conducted to fit the social climate of current society.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Testing your knowledge - choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 What is private conformity?

The basic need to be accepted
Changing your internal beliefs
Changing your external beliefs
pressure and with clear instructions and demands present

2 What is public conformity?

The basic need to be accepted
Changing your internal beliefs
Changing your external beliefs
Pressure with clear instructions and demands

3 Who created the experiment on obedience?


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership, and men (pp. 177-190). Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie

Barth, M., Masson, T., Fritsche, I., & Ziemer, C.-T. (2018). Closing ranks: Ingroup norm conformity as a subtle response to threatening climate change. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 21, 497-512.

Bond, R., & Smith, P. B. (1996). Culture and conformity: A meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b, 1956) line judgment task. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 111–137.

Fessler, D. T. (2004). Shame in Two Cultures: Implications for Evolutionary Approaches. Journal Of Cognition & Culture, 4(2), 207-262.

Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Pyszczynski, T. (1997). Terror management theory of self-esteem and cultural worldviews: Empirical assessments and conceptual refinements. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 29, 61–141. 2601(08)60016-7

Guandong, S., Qinhai, M., Fangfei, W., & Lin, L. (2012). THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATION OF CONFORMITY. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 40(8), 1365-1372.

Heerdink, M. W., van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., & Fischer, A. H. (2013). On the social influence of emotions in groups: Interpersonal effects of anger and happiness on conformity versus deviance. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 105, 262-284.

Hurley, J. D., & Meminger, S. R. (1987). THE RELATIONSHIP AMONG NEGATIVE ATTRIBUTIONS, CONFORMITY, AND MODELING BEHAVIOR. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 43(4), 360-365.

Knight, E. L., Mark I., A., & Witt, R. E. (1976). VARIATION IN GROUP CONFORMITY INFLUENCE. Journal Of Social Psychology, 98(1), 137.

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 371–378.

Moscovici, S., & Zavalloni, M. (1969). The group as a polarizer of attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 125–135.

Nook, E. C., Ong, D. C., Morelli, S. A., Mitchell, J. P., & Zaki, J. (2016). Prosocial Conformity:Prosocial Norms Generalize Across Behavior and Empathy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42, 1045-1062.

Romano, A., & Balliet, D. (2017). Reciprocity Outperforms Conformity to Promote Cooperation. Psychological Science, 28, 1490-1502.

Scheff, T. (1988). Shame and Conformity: The Deference-Emotion System. American Sociological Review, 53(3), 395-406. Retrieved from Smith,

Suhay, E. (2015). Explaining Group Influence: The Role of Identity and Emotion in Political Conformity and Polarization. Political Behavior, 37, 221-251.

T. L., & Suinn, R. M. (1965). A NOTE ON IDENTIFICATION, SELF ESTEEM, ANXIETY, AND CONFORMITY. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 21(3), 286.

Sherif, M. (1935). An experimental study of stereotypes. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 29, 371–375.

Triandis, H. C. (1989). The self and social behavior in differing cultural contexts. Psychological Review, 96, 506–520.

External links[edit | edit source]