Conformity can be defined as the tendency to align with others around us. When we conform, we modify our behavior or ideas to match those of the group.
Conformity can be both good and bad. It can be good because it helps society to cooperate and function in an orderly way. But it can also be bad when conforming leads to bad outcomes and people stop thinking for themselves.
Examples of conformity include wearing a uniform to work or school, following fashion trends, and following a typical career path because it feels like the safe thing to do.
1. Wearing a uniform to school – Uniforms at private schools are a way to enforce compliance. However, people who are against school uniforms say that they teach children to conform to rules blindly and stifle individuality.
2. Following current fashion trends – When a new fashion trend emerges, young people often run out to get clothes that look trendy. This helps them to achieve some degree of social status among their friends and helps them to fit into the crowd so they’re not teased.
3. Getting a haircut like everyone else – A lot of people get their hair cut in the same style as their friends or celebrities. This way, they feel like they’re a part of the group and they’re not sticking out like a sore thumb.
4. Going along with the majority opinion – In group settings, it’s often easier to just go along with what everyone else is saying, even if you don’t agree with it. This can be seen in things like jury deliberations, where people tend to conform to the majority opinion in order to avoid conflict.
5. Liking the same music as your friends – It’s not uncommon for people to like the same music as their friends. This is a way of bonding with them and feeling like you’re a part of the group.
6. Voting for the same political party as your family – People often vote for the same political party as their parents or other family members. Partly, this is because you were raised with the same values as your family. However, it could also be because you don’t care enough to go against your family’s opinions and feelings.
7. Watching the current TV show to be in-the-know – I remember when I was a kid at school I’d always watch The Simpsons as a child because I knew that’s what everyone would be talking about at school. I wanted to watch it so I’d be able to participate in the conversations.
8. Following the leader – This is a classic example of conformity. People often follow the leader because they want to feel like they’re a part of the group. This can be seen in things like social media, where people often follow the same people their friends are following.
9. Following cultural norms – Examples of cultural norms include things like shaking hands when you meet someone and standing up when the national anthem is played. We conform to these norms because we don’t want to be seen as strange or outsiders.
10. Standing up when a judge enters the room – This is an example of a legal norm. We stand up when the judge enters the room because we are expected to show respect for the law. If you don’t conform, the judge can have you kicked out of the room due to contempt of court.
11. TV news that promotes government propaganda – In nations like Russia and Hungary, the press is not truly free. Mainstream news is expected to repeat the government line. If they don’t, there’s a good chance the government will find a way to shut them down. As a result, the TV channels choose to conform to the government propaganda line.
12. Following a typical career path – Many people’s parents lean upon them to go to college, get a good job, and follow a typical career path. Some people may feel fine doing this, while others might prefer to become entrepreneurs or travel. Whether it’s right or wrong to pressure your children down a certain path, it certainly promotes conformity over individuality.
13. Waiting in a queue – When we’re waiting in a queue, we are conforming to the social norm of waiting our turn. This is a way of preventing chaos and ensuring fairness in society.
14. Going to college because your friends are – This is a common reason people go to college. They don’t want to be the odd one out, or don’t know what to do with their lives after school, so they simply go along with what their friends are doing.
15. Disposing of trash properly – Society has set a standard for disposing of trash in order to ensure our public spaces are clean and hygenic. Following this norm is an act of conforming to society. Here’s an example of conformity being a positive thing. It helps our society to be healthier and makes people more comfortable when moving through public spaces.
16. Standing for the Anthem – In many countries, standing for the national anthem is seen as a sign of patriotism and respect. Those who do not stand are often ridiculed or ostracized by society. For example, Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the Anthem led to his ostracization by the NFL.
17. Going to Church in the Bible Belt – In areas of the United States known as the Bible Belt, going to church is seen as a cultural norm. Those who do not conform by attending church are often looked down upon by their community.
18. Following another Culture’s Customs – When traveling to another country, it is often customary to follow the local customs and traditions. This includes things like greeting someone with a handshake or removing your shoes before entering a home. Failing to do so can be seen as disrespectful.
19. Wearing a Yarmulke in a Synagogue – Wearing a yarmulke is a sign of respect when entering a synagogue. Those who do not wear one may be asked to leave.
20. Dressing for a Job Interview – When going on a job interview, it is customary to dress in formal business attire. This shows that you are taking the interview seriously and are willing to conform to the company’s dress code.
21. Praying before Dinner in some Families – In many families, it is customary to say a prayer before dinner. This is a way of giving thanks for the food we are about to consume. It is also a way of conforming to our family’s traditions.
22. Staying quiet in the library – In order to maintain a productive environment, it is customary to stay quiet in the library. Those who break this norm may be asked to leave.
Types of Conformity
Many scholars have tried to come up with different types of conformity to more effectively classify the concept. There are at least 5 common types.
Two ways to classify conformity are through the contrast between normative and informational conformity. Normative conformity refers to the desire to be liked, whereas informational conformity refers to the desire to be correct.
- Normative conformity – occurs when an individual goes along with the crowd in order to fit in or be liked. For example, a student may decide to dye their hair black because it’s the cool thing to do.
- Informational conformity – Conforming to a group because you want to be correct. It can be defined as ‘believing the majority is usually correct’. For example, in an election where it appears that the majority are voting for one party, you’ll also vote for them because it seems like the right thing to do.
We can also look at conformity through the three categories of identification, compliance, and internalization:
- Identification: Adopting the behaviors or attitudes of a group because you want to be like them or identify with them. Generally, it’s also related to social roles, such as men identifying with and conforming to a traditional culture because they embrace their cultural role in that community (e.g. men being identified as natural community leaders).
- Compliance: Lip service or going through the motions of conforming without actually believing in what you’re doing. A good example of this is when someone at work who doesn’t like their job goes along with the company’s rules and standards because they have to in order to keep their job.
- Internalization: Completely adopting the beliefs and values of the group. For example, you might join a religious group and over time come to completely believe in their doctrine.
Pros and Cons of Conformity
1. Helps Maintain Social Order – Conformity helps to keep society functioning smoothly by maintaining order. It helps to ensure that people follow the rules and behave in ways that are acceptable to the majority.
2. Facilitates cooperation – Conformity also makes it easier for people to cooperate with one another. When everyone is following the same rules and behaving in the same way, it is easier to work together towards a common goal.
3. Reduces Conflict – Conformity can also reduce conflict by discouraging people from behaving in ways that are contrary to the norms of society. When everyone is following the same rules, there is less room for disagreement and conflict.
1. Restricts Individual Freedom – One of the main drawbacks of conformity is that it can restrict individual freedom. When people conform to the norms of society, they may give up some of their own personal beliefs and values.
2. Can Lead to Groupthink – Another potential downside of conformity is that it can lead to groupthink. This is when people blindly follow the group without questioning its decisions or actions. This can be problematic because it can lead to bad decisions being made.
3. Can Lead to Negative Outcomes – In some cases, conformity can also lead to negative outcomes. For example, if everyone in a group is conformist, they may be less likely to speak up against something that is wrong or to challenge the status quo. This can lead to a lack of progress and innovation.
Conformity is a powerful social force that can have both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, it helps to maintain social order and facilitates cooperation. On the other hand, it can restrict individual freedom and lead to groupthink. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of conformity before making any decisions.
Everyone conforms to some extent to another in order to be part of a society. Some common ways you might be conforming include wearing certain types of clothing to fit in with a group, changing your political beliefs to match those of your friends or family, and going along with the crowd even if you don’t agree with what they’re doing.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.