Conformity and Social Pressure
Conformity and Social Pressure
Bass and Berg, even in 1961, coined a definition for conformity “as behaviour reflecting the successful influence of other persons.” If an individual is accepting an influence of other people as a model for his/her own behaviour then it is said that individual is conforming - Conformity and Social Pressure introduction. Logically and empirically, the conforming behaviours might emanate from one individual. Since the observing individuals do not know his or her abilities, it can be presumed that the lower self-concept is prerequisite to follow conformist behaviours (Berg & Bass, 1961, p. 39). The above definition can be extended to larger situations in any society. Obviously, a representative of a different culture will deviate from the norms (conformed) of the dominant culture. Many immigrant incomers will try to conform to the dominant norms and attitudes, however difficult. First and foremost, such an incomer will observe a situation attempting to confirm to it. Bass and Berg referred such as the conformation to the situation. It is also an implication that act of conforming makes one feel as a part of the group, thus belonging, while the mirror image of conformation deviation is the rebellion against norms to stress out the individuality or what is perceived by it (Aronson, 2003).
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This particular writer exemplified in his ingenious examples how people tend to become influenced by the majority without giving a second thought of whether the information is legitimate. In his example (2003, 11), he retold James Thurber’s example from which we clearly observe people’s social pack-like behaviours. Only few will stop and question the source of the perceived information. Further, he gave an interesting insight. From the Western viewpoint, being a conformist does evoke a negative response. Perhaps people see an army of look alike and robot-like businessmen as Aronson cleverly has mentioned “came from the cookie cutter.” At the same time, being a non-conformist is perceived from the favourable point of view, perhaps some one who can have an opinion and leadership qualities. Playing with semantics, he broadens the definitions by replacing the term “non-conformist” to “deviate” and “conformist” to “team-player.” Resulting synonyms suddenly provide a totally opposite connotation: team player becoming a very favourable characteristic while being perceived a deviate is something to be avoided at all cost.
An offshoot from such a view point can be a deeper and quite contradictory scrutiny of the Western history in which at some time the society favours the idea of conformism and at other times favours individualism and con-conformity (Aronson, 2003). This duality in opinion seems to be inconsistent, but Aronson brought a very good point: even when the acts on non-conformity are praised long after the deeds were done they are being met with not-so-positive immediate reaction at the time when non-conforming views were discovered. This suggests the idea that the society rebukes anything that looks or feels different from the majority opinion. Aronson exemplified this idea with retelling an experiment of Stanley Schachter in which a group of college students were given a case of the youthful offender to deliberate on whether the treatment was lenient or harsh. Three out of nine students were paid participants of the researcher and played the following roles: the modal participant would agree with the majority opinion, the deviate participant would take a directly opposite view, and a slider participant who would slide from the “deviate” opinion to that of the majority during the course of the discussion. One of the interesting conclusions brought into the light by the researcher that the modal participant was immediately liked and accepted by the rest of the group while deviate and the slider were shown signals of displeasure and non-acceptance.
Thus, here we see that truth of the matter is of the secondary status while the desire to be liked and accepted by the group of majority is of primary motivation. This brings us to a more developed thought, which leads directly to the motivation behind the reasons why we, as members of society, do things in a certain way. Not the core of an idea is the primary mechanism of our acting (or verbalizing our opinion publicly) but a very strong realization that “if I verbalize an opinion or act directly opposite from the publicly accepted viewpoint and the majority opinion, I might run into a risk of not being liked or even accepted.” Such a consideration seems to be the stronger motivation in our acting than the thriving for integrated truth. This is seen even more profoundly when the group is faced with the meeting the deadline. The deviates of the opinion are rejected even more rapidly without the second look into their ideas that during the initial stages of the project and still far from the deadline (Aronson, 2003). This finding seems to suggest that the personal and self-cantered considerations of each group member can be at play. The non-conformist idea spoken close to the deadline might mean more work involved and more time invested into the project being diminished or even negated albeit the new idea sound better than that with which the majority of the group was working with. Perhaps, these data indicate that the reason why “establishment” (from Aronson) group like more the conformist ideas/behaviours because it is personally comfortable and safe to the individual members of the majority group. Basically, this conclusion might equate to the concept that the non-conformist run into the risk to mess up the personal considerations of each individual member thus leading us to the possible consequence of such decision: the personal consideration is more important than the integrated truth.
Following such a discourse of a thought development, I naturally stopped a n thought about Aronson’s example of extreme degree of conformity to exemplify which he retorted the memoirs of Albert Speer (Aronson, 2003, 13). From those memoirs I learned nothing different but a more escalated view on the Hitler Germany:
In normal circumstance people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them. In the Third Reich there were not such correctives. On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in the hall of distorting mirrors becoming a repeatedly a confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world. In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.
There are a few more examples of such extreme conformity in which people committing wrong actions if not crimes do not feel that they are doing something wrong, because every one around them is doing it. Such negative traits of conformity can be seen everywhere proliferated in the society. Many times teachers in urban public schools question what is normal and what is not. The idea of normality can be distorted and perceived at some new set of criteria. Take for example a class in a school where the majority of the students talk during the lesson time. The student who came in to that class to learn, thus to listen to the teacher teaching would be perceived as being different thus drawing a negative attention at him/her self. Many would submit to the majority thus overruling their own convictions.
My personal experience confirms my research and my understanding that people often attempt to conform to the social situations without really planning to do so. Such conformation can take place spontaneously producing group-initiated and group-accepted attitudes. Only strong and “deviate” from the dominant group might be able to stand back and see the situation for what it really is: biologically progenital pack behaviour.
Aronson, E. (2003). Social Animal. Worth Publishers, 9th Edition.
Berg, I. A. & Bass, B. M. (Eds.). (1961). Conformity and Deviation. New York: Harper & Brothers. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=24632134