Human life is dictated by conformity

Human life is dictated by conformity.

People are easily persuaded of the ‘truth’

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and necessity of almost anything

            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 - Human life is dictated by conformity 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 (Maddock, 1998).

            It can be easily understood that a Puerto Rican will deviate in his/her behaviours an appearance from the white-collar Manhattan (New York) neighbourhood residents. He or she will perceive such unwanted attention and will try to conform in behaviours and in appearance. If such conformation is too difficult or impossible, he or she will seek native community so adaptation process would not be so painfully difficult.

            Avant and Knutsen (1993) suggest to the readers the need to be more sensitive to the cultural diversity. The homeland’s group culture (i.e. schools) and macro culture i.e. government, religion) will stay with newcomers into the new land dominant culture of which is drastically different. It will take years for the newcomers to conform in their behaviours to the social norms, and perhaps never to be able to conform their appearance.

            Another writer’s work (Rapson, 1967) that still makes an impact on today’s literature talked so profoundly about the difference in perspective of the very conformity as a concept. He looked at the concept through the cultural lenses as in emphasis on individualism in American character and emphasis on “Group Conformity” in Eastern culture. Little by little he brought the readers to view conformity from the individualistic point of view: the desire to look, to act, to be as a part of the larger group. Perhaps as an implication, he meant to point our attention at the biological causes to desire to be a part of the pack.

            More recently some researchers (Kusumakar, Messervey & Santor, 2000) developed a study to look deeper at the issue of peer pressure (influencing behaviour) and conformity (influenced behaviour) among adolescents. Especially prevalent are those in the high school milieu. In that, the attention that the popular (for whatever reasons) students are demanding is contagious to many and thus the desire to conform to those “standards” is great. To the view of this writer, one of the conclusions that was reached by this particular study is the most illustrative, “that doing things in order to be popular with others is strongly related to feeling pressured by others to engage in certain activities.”

            Another similar study but in a different milieu (drink/sober conformance) was advanced by Vogel-Sprott and Zack (1997). Despite by the difference in the situational conditioning, the underlined fabric for the cause of conformation was the same as in the earlier described study. Those who engage in social drinking behaviours drink not because of biological urges but purely from the social pressures by others. Hence the definition of conformation in the beginning of this work.

            Although not directly in line, Welch (1999) brought an interesting point in equation (to some degree) the typical public and social conformation to the concept and reality of propaganda. Reading through the history of propaganda, as was practiced in Soviet Russia, Communist China, Hitler Germany, and other dictatorships, one will clearly see the conformist influence taken to the grand levels of influence.

            Here, the developing thought can lead us to the social norms as the ground or original infrastructure of conformity. To my understanding, social norms are created spontaneously to raise the chances of survival for individual members. Certainly, as the result, different societies will have different set of norms, much often contradictory from one society to another. People, when they are born, are conditioned to follow the certain norms through and with vicarious learning, mostly through the micro culture (family) and group culture (school).  We might consider asking questions of the type that would lead to a deeper understanding of what happens when people immigrate and have to adjust to a different culture and a different set of norms.

            Like in my case, I was born and raised under the regime of the Communist Party of Soviet Russia and at the age of 21 requested the political asylum into the US. My transition was rocky not necessarily because I had to learn the new language, but mostly because I had to understand the totally different set of norms. What makes it more challenging is that the native to that society members would have difficulty to list and to define many of the individual and unique rules that glue their society together. Those rules become like an unwritten and most of the time not verbalized rules violation of which can cause a social isolation. Only experience can help immigrants adjust to the norms of the host society. Perhaps, the complications in adjustments can explain why the immigrants of many cultures like to congregate together forming what we collectively know as “Little China,” “Little Korea,” “Little Russia,” “Little Italy,” et cetera. While living in these micro communities, violation of the host culture’s norms and its consequences are tolerated more and easier.

            My personally conducted violations of the host-norms came from my ignorance. When consequences were experienced and the causes understood, the feeling of the personal inadequacy was overwhelming. Example of violation of the host-norms can be as follows.

            In Russian society, it was accepted for people to eat sunflower seeds while walking on the street and dropping the seeds’ shells on the ground.  It was also customary to do the same in the movie theater. Growing up, observing others doing as described, and doing the same, I did not think twice of performing the same action while walking on the streets of Manhattan. Catching the strange glances of by passers I even then suspected that I was doing something out of their norms not realizing what exactly that was.  That suspicion made me feel self-conscious and out of place. Although no one ever approached me with the direct description of what wrong I was doing the feeling was strong and obvious.

            I decided to repeat the same, this time as an experiment. I have enlisted a friend to act as “the loud mouth” to “blast me” in public for that “crime.” At the same time, he agreed to take notes that would describe other people’s reactions to our “confrontation.” I would to pretend that I do not speak English and thus to display the lack of understanding of what is going on. Feeling my pockets with sunflower seeds and heading toward the local mall, Arden Fair Mall, we were prepared to conduct an experiment on the aftermath of the norm violation.

            I picked a busy hour, Friday, 6:00 p.m., when the mall is packed. Walking and casually shelling the seeds, I was superstitiously watching the people’s reactions. At any time of my casual stroll, there were at least 20 to 30 people around me. Walking into an open space, my friend approached me loudly demanding me to stop. I pretended not to understand his words, “How dare you litter in the public place. Don’t you have shame in your actions? Stop this instance and pick those from the floor.” Staring at him and trying my best not to laugh, I pretended not to understand what he was saying, and meekly responded, “No Englis.” Meanwhile, he created quite a commotion. More and more people were surrounding us being attracted by the noise. Looking like dumb struck, I continued saying, “No Englis.” Now, more than before he started displaying the displeasure with my “criminal behaviour.” I knew then there was no easy way out but to continue playing my role and see what would happen. Some people were appearing almost mad if not hostile. What is interesting, people who were not privy to the initial encounter owned the hostile sentiments. I suspect, they did not even completely understand what was going on.  It ended with quite an embarrassment: security guards appeared, handcuffed me and brought me to their office ready to call the city police. All of these was happening with them thinking that I cannot communicate in English.  The air cleared when I finally explained to them the purpose of the occurrence and my actual “crime.” When they realized that they handcuffed me because I was littering in the mall, they immediately became apologetic and explained their actions with the statement that I was apprehended because somebody from the crowd of onlookers reported me as the potential shoplifter. Certainly, I was not even close to being inside of any store and had nothing in my hands. When my friend showed up and showed them his notes on the upheaval he created, they let me go with more apologies.

            The whole experience was very unsettling but very educational. Although, strong  emotions and the fear for physical harm ran through me, I, to my amazement, observed that members of the crowd were ready to get hostile to the one who seemingly did not understand the norms of their society. Such exhibition of hostility took place even with those people who were not in a complete aware of what was going on. It appeared that the emotions that were experiences by people who initially observed “my friend loud mouth” confronting me elevated as the rapid fire because of the rising number of onlookers. More people would gather around, more people would become agitated directing their agitation to one and only target: the helpless immigrant who was not even aware what wrong he had done.  I almost felt, that being an immigrant and not being able to speak in English created an easy target and a sure victim of the crowd’s hostility. It felt as well that people were feeding of each other’s rise in negative emotions and not experiencing any opposition directed that emotion toward the immigrant. The anger, perhaps was not directed to someone who was different but rather to someone who acted differently.

            My personal experiment/experience confirmed 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 “deviant” from the dominant group might be able to stand back and see the situation for what it really is: biologically progenital pack behaviour.


             Avant, G. R., & Knutsen, K. P. (1993). Understanding Cultural Differences:        Janteloven and Social Conformity in Norway. ETC.: A Review of General   Semantics, 50(4), 449+. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from Questia database:

             Berg, I. A. & Bass, B. M. (Eds.). (1961). Conformity and Deviation. New York:     Harper & Brothers. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from Questia database:

             Maddock, T. (1998). Autonomy and Conformity: Adorno’s Analysis of the Liberal          Theory of Education. Australian Journal of Education, 42(1), 90. Retrieved         April 26, 2007, from Questia database:

             Rapson, R. L. (Ed.). (1967). Individualism and Conformity in the American         Character: Problems in American Civilization. Boston: D. C. Heath.          Retrieved April 26, 2007, from Questia database:

             Santor, D. A., Messervey, D., & Kusumakar, V. (2000). Measuring Peer Pressure,          Popularity, and Conformity in Adolescent Boys and Girls: Predicting School          Performance, Sexual Attitudes, and Substance Abuse. Journal of Youth and          Adolescence, 29(2), 163. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from Questia database:

             Welch, D. (1999, August). Powers of Persuasion. History Today, 49, 24. Retrieved       April 26, 2007, from Questia database:

Zack, M., & Vogel-Sprott, M. (1997). Drunk or Sober? Learned Conformity to a    Behavioral Standard. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 58(5), 495+. Retrieved    April 26, 2007, from Questia database:   


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