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Humans Conform Under Many Circumstances



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    Humans conform under many circumstances. There are two major types of conformity: informational conformity and social conformity. Informational conformity occurs when we conform to a new strategy because it grants us higher reward or enables us to be more efficient. Informational conformity is often rational, as it comes from socially compare our own strategy to others’ strategy to examine the validity of a behavior(Turner, 1991). Humans also conform because of the potential benefit of not being isolated or excluded by others, and that is when normative conformity occurs(Cialdini, 1993). Normative conformity is less rational, and can based on the concern of public presence alone(Haun et al., 2013).

    Studies have shown that human adults do conform due to normative peer influence, and the amount peer influence increases with the increase in number of peers (Latané & Wolf, 1981; Tanford & Penrod, 1984). The result indicates that social aspects play a large role in human’s decision-making, both in public setting, due to the presence of the crowd, and sometimes also in private settings, considering the consequences of actions. It is unsurprising that the amount of peer influence rises correspond to a rising number of peers, since the social benefit of conforming also increases with more members in the social group. Our ability tendency to conform socially developed in early stage of our lifespan, as children as young as 4-year-old confirm differently depending on responding in public or private settings(Haun & Tomasello, 2011). In a study conducted by Haun and Tomasello, they found out that 2-year-olds were “sensitive to the number of demonstrators” when given a novel task(Haun, Rekers and Tomasello, 2012). In a later study, however, the result contradicted to the previous finding, showing that children conformed equally often with the presence of one and three demonstrators(Haun, Rekers and Tomasello, 2014).

    The previous two studies both show that children change their strategy because of normative peer influence under these settings; however, their findings on the relationship between children’s normative conformity and the number of demonstrators contradict with each other because one test requires children to acquire an entirely novel task, which may cause them to conform informatively when an alternative solution is demonstrated repeatedly by peers, since they did not understand the intentions or mechanisms of the task. The other task, on the other hand, fails to control the number of peers further or control the number of tries allowed for the children when they are responding.

    In order to replicate results of other studies on older children and adults, and improve on some design flaws of these two experiment, we will conduct a follow-up experiment based on the Haun, Reker and Tomasello experiment. The result of this experiment should reveal a correlation between the amount of peer influence and number of instructors.


    A total of 40 children(n=40, 20 male, 20 female) living in San Diego County at around 24 months old will be selected for the experiment. This guarantees that each test condition group will have about the same number of samples as the previous experiment, and the total number of participants can be easily divided into 4 groups. Additional 8 children(n=8, 4 females, 4 males) will be recruited and trained before conducting the experiment as demonstrators.


    The experimental setup is mostly identical to the setup of Haun, Rekers and Tomasello experiment. It consists of 3 boxes with equal heights and different colors. There is a hole at the top of each box. The box will be placed on the ground for the participants. When the participant drops a ball inside one the boxes, a reward will be dispensed to the participants. In this case, it will be chocolate for children, which is highly desirable by them. Which box yields the reward will be fully counterbalanced and controlled by the researchers.

    The experiment will be a between-subject design with two levels. The participants will be divided into 4 groups(n=4), each with 10 children(n=10, 5 male, 5 female). The four groups will vary in the number of demonstrators each participant in the group receive. The groups will each receive one, three, five or seven demonstrators(see table below). This setting ensures that there are enough peers present for peer pressure to occur, and more than minimum amount of peers to further study the relationship between number of peers and the normative pressure they exert. During the first phase, a single participant will be brought into the room, and informed that all boxes are available for ball insertion, but only the correct one will yield reward. The participant will then be allowed to drop the balls freely into the boxes, until they drop the balls into the correct box 8 out of 10 consecutive trials.

    After the first phase, the participant will be led to stay a few meters away from the box. Depending on the group setting, 1/3/5/7 peers(demonstrators) will then enter the room, and drop the ball in the same box that is different from what the participant chose previously one by one until every one of them has demonstrated once. Their choice will be rewarded, and which box the demonstrators pick will be fully counterbalanced by the researchers. The participant has a clear sight of the demonstrators, their choices, and the reward they received.

    After the last demonstrator finished demonstrating, all demonstrators will move to a corner of the room, where they will observe the response of the participant but cannot communicate or interfere with the participant. The participant is then asked to drop a ball into one of the boxes again, and a reward will be dispensed for all choices. Only one trial is allowed, because this increases the cost of their choice, and gets rid of reinforcement from previous trials. The setup ensures that the choice that the participant makes will be more dependent on normative conformity, rather than alternative explanations of the previous experiment. The participant’s initial choice, the demonstrators’ choice, and the participant’s response after the demonstration will be recorded for analysis.


    We expect the result to correspond to findings on adults and 4-year-olds. With the increase in number of demonstrators, peer influence increases, and children switch their strategy more due to normative conformity. In the adult experiment, 3(n=3) is the minimum needed for crowd pressure and the most efficient number (Bond & Smith, 1996). Any further increase in number of peers have diminishing return. As for 2-year-olds we expect the most efficient number of peers to be 3(n=3) as well, and more demonstrators will also have diminishing return.


    The experiment provides a better setup for studying the relationship between peer influence and the number of peers present. One possible limitation of this setup is that number of demonstrators varies at an interval of 2 instead of 1 due to the rather small sample size. This setting may cause the finding of most efficient number of peers to be off; however, although direct conclusion based on for which group the peer pressure increased the most may be off by 1, a calculated quadratic regression line with variables of number of peer and the switch rate can still obtain the same result. Another possible limitation is the effect of subject bias, since in this experimenter setting, children are asked to response after watching the demonstrating, instead of choosing a strategy to obtain reward from one of the boxes based on their own agency. It is possible for children to infer what behaviors were expected by the experimenters, and act based on their assumption instead of normative conformity.

    There are many experiments about normative conformity across all age groups of human, and in some social animal species as well. Studies revealed that normative conformity occurs in non-human species such as chimpanzees(Hopper et al., 2011; Whiten et al., 2005); however, besides looking at whether normative conformity exists, most studies merely measure the correlation between the number of peers and the amount of peer influence. One possible direction for future research is to look into how social hierarchy, and probably familiarity with peers, play a row in social conformity. Another direction for research on normative conformity might be participant observation on selected participants’ normative conformity behavior, since normative conformity is frequently occurring in more complex social settings than the ideal experimental setting. There will be more possible confound variables, and less control variables in a participant observation setting, but it can still function as a direction complementary study on the topic.

    Humans Conform Under Many Circumstances. (2021, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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