HIP Online Lessons
Lesson 1: Conformity and Peer Pressure
Everyone wants to be liked and included by the people and groups that are important to us. We also rely on the groups around us to gather important information about what is going on. Normally, these processes serve us well and help us to get along with each other, leading us to shift our behaviors in small ways to match the group’s and promote harmony. Sometimes however, this automatic tendency to go with the group can lead us to making decisions that we later regret, or that can even hurt us or get us into trouble.
Today you are going to learn about how peer pressure works through a psychological process we call conformity. Before you begin, try and define what conformity and peer pressure are to you? Can think of a few examples from your own life?
Now, you are going to watch two videos. For this activity, I have a challenge for you. I want you to imagine that you are a research psychologist; which is kind of like being a detective of social interactions. Your job is to watch the following situations as carefully as you can so that you can try and figure out what is going on in them, especially things which may not be immediately obvious. As much as possible, I want you to try and imagine what it might be like to be in each situation; hearing, seeing, and knowing only what these people do. Make an effort to put yourself inside the mind of the individuals in the videos and to go beyond the surface of the situations. Try and identify what each person present might be thinking and feeling, and how these perceptions might be influencing their choices.
Video: Dangerous Conformity
- What were the examples of peer pressure and conformity in this experiment?
- Can you think of a similar situation from your own life?
Video: The Asch Conformity Experiment
As you just saw in the videos, people primarily conform for two reasons:
After watching a group, we often come to the belief that the group has a better understanding of the situation than we do, or has special information or expertise. In this situation, we conform unconsciously because we honestly believe that the group knows better than we do. In psychology, we call this kind of conformity informational, because it is our need for information which gets us to conform.
The process: In informational influence, an individual first encounters the group. Next, information is received by the group that is in some way unclear or ambiguous, like the smoke filling up the room in the video you just watched. Next, the group interprets this information. Finally, the individual changes their perception of what is happening to match the group. Here conformity occurs because the individual actually believes that the group’s perceptions are more accurate than their own. Thus, the conformity in this case is entirely subconscious; the person never even realizes that it has occurred.
People tend to feel extremely uncomfortable when speaking out against a group, even when they know that group is in the wrong. The desire to be accepted and liked convinces group members to keep disagreements or uncomfortable questions to themselves. In this situation, we conform because we want the group to like and respect us, and we give in to their expectations, even when we know that they are wrong. We call this kind of conformity normative, because in this case, we conform out of our desire to fit in with the group, to be seen as normal.
The process: In normative influence, an individual first encounters the group. Next, information is received by the group that is in some way unclear or ambiguous. The group then interprets the information. Finally, the individual changes their perception or behavior to match the group because they want to be accepted and liked by them. Here, an individual will agree with and conform to something that they know is wrong, just to fit in. In this case, the person knows that they are making the wrong choice, but it is more important for the group to like them, so they go ahead with it anyway.
The Power of an Ally
Now as you just saw, even one person can help stop a group from behaving mindlessly or conforming automatically. What this means is that it is incredibly important that you stand up and speak out for what you believe, especially when you are not comfortable with the behavior of the group. Even though no one else is saying anything, it is quite possible that many or even most of the people in the group feel the same way that you do. By saying something first, you become the ally of everyone else who doesn’t agree with the group either, making it easier for them to do the right thing too. By speaking out first, you are acting as a leader; modeling healthy behavior, which in turn helps those around you. Keep in mind that you always are more powerful with an ally of your own if you want to resist group behavior. One or two people disagreeing with a group can totally shut down the tendency to conform by acting as the voice of reason in an unclear situation.