It has been said that as long as the human species is in a living state conformity shall be part of how human society functions and part of man’s natural tendencies. The more people already agree upon or share a particular idea, the more easily a newcomer will in turn be converted to that idea, and the more difficult it will be for one already converted to reject that idea. Therefore, man will most likely obey to what the majority believes is correct, even if he had a different point of view; he will convert and learn to reject all other ideas that do not match to the majority’s idea. This not only allows the newcomer to feel welcomed, yet it may also give him sense of belonging and of safety. This is the primary reason for why man is so prone and willing to obey.
People who study conformity, not only by current experiments but also by looking at humanity’s history regarding conformity, find that these tendencies have existed as long as Homo sapiens have belong to groups or tribes. However, when it came time to make a critical decision among the people, the majority always determined it; leaving the minority with the responsibility of having to carry out actions they didn’t necessarily agree with. Therefore, people in the minority may be convinced, sooner or later, that what they were ordered to do was the best choice, simply because they have learned to trust in the majority. Thus, they begin to loose individuality and gain confidence in the word of authority.
In Doris Lessing’s article, Group Minds, she says, “It is a portrait that may not have been acquired consciously, but is part of a general atmosphere or set of assumptions that influence our ideas about ourselves (Lessing 333).” In other terms, she is saying that man’s tendencies to obey have been gained, or obtained, without him having wanted to, unconsciously. She is also saying that man has obtained conformity because of the influences and authorities that surround him; when he goes out, watches TV, reads an ad in a magazine, etc., man is constantly and consistently being transformed from an individual to a group member.
One may also look at this type of obligation as evolution, so to speak. In Solomon Asch’s article, Opinions and Social Pressure, he says, “A child masters his ‘native’ dialect down to the finest nuances; a member of a tribe of cannibals accepts cannibalism as altogether fitting and proper. All the social sciences take their departure from the observation of the profound effects that groups exert on their members (Asch 336).” Here he is telling us that what may seem ill and inferior to one group of people may be proper to another; it’s the action of perceiving and observing of what is normal that allows them to do the same on their own. This is how one may compare conformity as evolution; to a certain extent. We all literally begin as individuals early in our lives, however, we begin that phase of metamorphosis once a tribe, group, or society starts to lay upon us their customs: their do’s and don’ts. And in this very manner, do the same to our children; creating a chain of customs that may last for centuries.
When we belong to a group of people, such as a club at school, a group of friends, etc., group cohesiveness is what may keep the group thinking and believing the same ideas over and over. Heylighen, in her article in the Journal of Ideas says, “Group cohesiveness increases the occurrence of conformity (Heylighen 76).” Meaning that there is a strong degree to which we are strongly attracted to a group and desire to maintain membership in it. Thus, the more people in this particular group the more pressure and likelihood that someone will conform.
There is also the most common reason why people conform or simply do things like others do. A person, who is new at something and isn’t sure of the norms in such a habitat, will simply do as others do because he guesses it’s the correct thing to do, additionally, he doesn’t wish to be looked at differently or laughed at. Such as when I first went to the spa, which was my first time and I was alone. I wasn’t sure of how things were run in that place, so I would do whatever the other people would do. Such as, when I was in the weight room and wasn’t sure of how to use the machines; I would then just look around and see how people did things in there, thus, I would do the same. Then in the shower room I didn’t know if people really took showers nude all together, without individual curtains. Yet, because I knew that if I were to show my embarrassment by doing this differently, I knew people would make fun of me. For that reason, I did things just as the other guys did, simply to prevent embarrassment. This is an example of how I conformed to the environment, by simply doing what everyone did, so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed nor looked at differently from the rest.
Some people may argue that conformity and obedience is simply part of the way things function best in society. In Stanley Milgram’s article, The Perils of Obedience, he said, “Some system of authority is requirement of all communal living, and it is only the person dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond, with defiance or submission, to the commands of others (Milgram 344).” In other words, he is saying that obedience is indeed a requirement in society and that only those who have achieved the strength, which allows them not to obey, are the ones who some people may regard as different or isolated. However, there is a word in his phrase that stands out. He used the word “forced” as a matter of explaining how someone who is being converted to a certain train of thought or an idea is being “forced”, or influenced, to think with those particular terms that are set upon him by others. And truly, if we think about this usage of terms to a bit more depth, we will see that a lot of these things we willingly do to ourselves. We force ourselves to be and think to such a manner that becomes a match to another group’s style. Thus, the word force may also be in conjunction with our key word, “prone”.
So, why is man so prone (or forced) to obey? The major idea is that human nature (to force others to obey) is the main artery that descends to new forms of making people convert to something that is set upon them. We know that it is human nature to form groups, we also know that in most groups there are leaders or a majority who say what is going to be done and what is going to be believed, thus man’s tendencies to obey come naturally. Man also has the tendency to seek safety and a sense of belonging within groups of people of a certain kind, therefore, obedience is not always a choice someone makes on their own, but rather it’s a choice that is naturally given to them by the given atmosphere. In other words, society is in charge of how someone is going to react, change, or to what degree someone will conform.
Asch S. (2000) Opinions and Social Pressure, Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, pg. 336-342, New York, Longman, 2000.
Heylighen F. (1992) Evolution, Selfishness and Cooperation; Journal of Ideas, Vol.2, #4., pp.70-84.
Lessing D. (2000) Group Minds, Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, pg. 333-335, New York, Longman, 2000.
Milgram S. (2000) The Perils of Obedience, Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, pg. 343-355, New York, Longman, 2000.