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Conformity involves changing your behaviors in order to "fit in" or "go along" with the people
around you. In some cases, this social influence might involve agreeing with or acting like the
majority of people in a specific group, or it might involve behaving in a particular way in order
to be perceived as "normal" by the group.

Definitions of Conformity

Psychologists have proposed a variety of definitions to encompass the social influence that
conformity exerts.

Essentially, conformity involves giving in to group pressure. Some other definitions include:

 "Conformity is the most general concept and refers to any change in behavior caused by another
person or group; the individual acted in some way because of influence from others. Note that
conformity is limited to changes in behavior caused by other people; it does not refer to effects
of other people on internal concepts like attitudes or beliefs... Conformity encompasses
compliance and obedience, because it refers to any behavior that occurs as a result of others'
influence - no matter what the nature of the influence."

 "Conformity can be defined as yielding to group pressures, something which nearly all of us do
some of the time. Suppose, for example, you go with friends to see a film. You didn't think the
film was very good, but all your friends thought that it was absolutely brilliant. You might be
tempted to conform by pretending to agree with their verdict on the film rather than being the
odd one out." (Eysenck, Psychology: An International Perspective, 2004)

Why Do We Conform?

Researchers have found that people conform for a number of different reasons. In many cases,
looking to the rest of the group for clues for how we should behave can actually be helpful.
Other people might have greater knowledge or experience than we do, so following their lead
can actually be instructive. In other cases, we conform to the expectations of the group in order
to avoid looking foolish. This tendency can become particularly strong in situations where we
aren't quite sure how to act or where the expectations are ambiguous.

Deautsch and Gerard (1955) identified two key reasons why people conform: informational
influence and normative influence.

Informational influence happens when people change their behavior in order to be correct. In
situations where we are unsure of the correct response, we often look to others who are better
informed and more knowledgeable and use their lead as a guide for our own behaviors. In a
classroom setting, for example, this might involve agreeing with the judgments of another
classmate who you perceive as being highly intelligent.
Normative influence stems from a desire to avoid punishments (such as going along with the
rules in class even though you don't agree with them) and gain rewards (such as behaving in a
certain way in order to get people to like you).

Types of Conformity

As mentioned previously, normative and informational influences are two important types of
conformity, but there are also a number of other reasons why we conform. The following are
some of the major types of conformity.

 Normative conformity involves changing one's behavior in order to fit in with the group.
 Informational conformity happens when a person lacks knowledge and looks to the group for
information and direction.
 Identification occurs when people conform to what is expected of them based upon their social
roles. Zimbardo's famous Stanford Prison Experiment is a good example of people altering their
behavior in order to fit into their expected roles.
 Compliance involves changing one's behavior while still internally disagreeing with the group.
 Internalization occurs when we change our behavior because we want to be like another person.

Research and Experiments on Conformity

Conformity is something that happens regularly in our social worlds. Sometimes we are aware of
our behavior, but in many cases it happens without much thought or awareness on our parts. In
some cases, we go along with things that we disagree with or behave in ways that we know we
shouldn't. Some of the best-know experiments on the psychology of conformity deal with people
going along with the group, even when they know the group is wrong.

 Jenness' 1932 Experiment: In one of the earliest experiments on conformity, Jenness asked
participants to estimate the number of beans in a bottle. They first estimated the number
individually and then later as a group. After they were asked as a group, they were then asked
again individually and the experimenter found that their estimates shifted from their original
guess to closer to what other members of the group had guessed.
 Sherif's Autokinetic Effect Experiments: In a series of experiments, Muzafer Sherif asked
participants to estimate how far a dot of light in a dark room moved. In reality the dot was static,
but it appeared to move due to something known as the autokinetic effect. Essentially, tiny

movements of the eyes make it appear that a small spot of light is moving in a dark room. When
asked individually, the participants' answers varied considerably. When asked as part of a group,
however, Sherif found that the responses converged toward a central mean. Sherif's results
demonstrated that in an ambiguous situation, people will conform to the group, an example of
informational influence.
 Asch's Conformity Experiments: In this series of famous experiments, psychologist Solomon
Asch asked participants to complete what they believed was a simple perceptual task. They were
asked to choose a line that matched the length of one of three different lines. When asked
individually, participants would choose the correct line. When asked in the presence of
confederates who were in on the experiment and who intentionally selected the wrong line,
around 75 percent of participants conformed to the group at least once. This experiment is a good
example of normative influence; participants changed their answer and conformed to the group
in order to fit in and avoid standing out.

Factors That Influence Conformity

 The difficulty of the task: Difficult tasks can lead to both increased and decreased conformity.
Not knowing how to perform a difficult task makes people more likely to conform, but increased
difficulty can also make people more accepting of different responses, leading to less
 Individual differences: Personal characteristics such as motivation to achieve and strong
leadership abilities are linked with a decreased tendency to conform.
 The size of the group: People are more likely to conform in situations that involve between three
and five other people.
 Characteristics of the situation: People are more likely to conform in ambiguous situations where
they are unclear about how they should respond.
 Cultural differences: Researchers have found that people from collectivist cultures are more
likely to conform.

Examples of Conformity

 A teenager dresses in a certain style because he wants to fit in with the rest of the guys in his
social group.
 A 20-year-old college student drinks at a sorority party because all her friends are doing it and
she does not want to be the odd one out.
 A woman reads a book for her book club and really enjoys it. When she attends her book club
meeting, the other members all disliked the book. Rather than go against the group opinion, she
simply agrees with the others that the book was terrible.

 A student is unsure about the answer to a particular question posed by the teacher. When another
student in the class provides an answer, the confused student concurs with the answer believing
that the other student is smarter and better informed.

Prosocial behaviors are those intended to help other people. Prosocial behavior is characterized
by a concern about the rights, feelings and welfare of other people. Behaviors that can be
described as prosocial include feeling empathy and concern for others and behaving in ways to
help or benefit other people.

In The Handbook of Social Psychology, C. Daniel Batson explains that prosocial behaviors refer
to "a broad range of actions intended to benefit one or more people other than oneself - behaviors
such as helping, comforting, sharing and cooperation."
The term prosocial behavior originated during the 1970s and was introduced by social scientists
as an antonym for the term ‘antisocial behavior.’

What Motivates Prosocial Behavior?

Prosocial behavior has long posed a challenge to social scientists seeking to understand why
people engage in helping behaviors that are beneficial to others, but costly to the individual
performing the action. In some cases, people will even put their own lives at risk in order to help
other people, even those that are complete strangers. Why would people do something that
benefits someone else but offers no immediate benefit to the doer?

Psychologists suggests that there are a number of reasons why people engage in prosocial
behavior. In many cases, such behaviors are fostered during childhood and adolescence as adults
encourage children to share, act kindly, and help others.

Evolutionary psychologists often explain prosocial behaviors in terms of the principles of natural
selection. Obviously, putting your own safety in danger makes it less likely that you will survive
to pass on your own genes.
However, the idea of kin selection suggests that helping members of your own genetic family
makes it more likely that your kin will survive and pass on genes to the future generations.
Researchers have been able to produce some evidence that people are often more likely to help
those to whom they are closely related.

The norm of reciprocity suggests that when people do something helpful for someone else, that
person feels compelled to help out in return. Essentially, helping others means that they might
help us in return. This norm developed, evolutionary psychologists suggest, because people who
understood that helping others might lead to reciprocal kindness were more likely to survive and

Prosocial behaviors are often seen as being compelled by a number of factors including egoistic
reasons (doing things to improve one's self-image), reciprocal benefits (doing something nice for

someone so that they may one day return the favor), and more altruistic reasons (performing
actions purely out of empathy for another individual).

Situational Influences on Prosocial Behavior

Characteristics of the situation can also have a powerful impact on whether or not people engage
in prosocial actions. The bystander effect is one of the most notable examples of how the
situation can impact helping behaviors. The bystander effect refers to the tendency for people to
become less likely to assist a person in distress when there are a number of other people also
For example, if you drop your purse and several items fall out on the ground, the likelihood that
someone will stop and help you decreases if there are many other people present. This same sort
of thing can happen in cases where someone is in serious danger, such as when someone is
involved in a car accident. In some cases, witnesses might assume that since there are so many
other people present, someone else will have surely already called for help.

The tragic murder of a young woman named Kitty Genovese was what spurred much of the
interest and research on the bystander effect. In 1964, Genovese was attacked as neared her
apartment on her way home from work late one night. She was stabbed and left lying on the
sidewalk. She called for help and reports later indicated that many of her neighbors heard her
cries yet did not call for help or attempt to interfere with the attack that lasted approximately 30
minutes. A neighbor eventually called police, but Genovese died before reaching the hospital.
The story generated considerable interest in the bystander effect and in understanding why
people help in some situations but not in others, and experts have discovered a number of
different situational variables that contribute to (and sometimes interfere with) prosocial

 First, the more people that are present decreases the amount of personal responsibility people
feel in a situation. This is known as the diffusion of responsibility.
 People also tend to look to others for how to respond in such situations, particularly if the event
contains some level of ambiguity. If no one else seems to be reacting, then individuals become
less likely to respond as well.
 Fear of being judged by other members of the group also play a role. People sometimes fear
leaping to assistance, only to discover that there help was unwanted or unwarranted. In order to
avoid being judged by other bystanders, people simply take no action.
Lantane and Darley have suggested that five key things must happen in order for a person to take
action. An individual must:

1. Notice what is happening

2. Interpret the event as an emergency
3. Experience feelings of responsibility
4. Believe that they have the skills to help
5. Make a conscious choice to offer assistance
Other factors that can help people overcome the bystander effect including having a personal
relationship with the individual in need, having the skills and knowledge to provide assistance,
and having empathy for those in need.

Prosocial Behavior Versus Altruism

Altruism is sometimes seen as a form of prosocial behavior, but some experts suggest that there
are actually different concepts. While prosocial behavior is seen as a type of helping behavior
that ultimately confers some benefits to the self, altruism is viewed as a pure form of helping
motivated purely out of concern for the individual in need.
Others argue, however, that reciprocity actually does underlie many examples of altruism or that
people engage in such seemingly selfless behaviors for selfish reasons, such as to gain the
acclaim of others or to feel good about themselves.


Altruism involves the unselfish concern for other people. It involves doing things simply out of
a desire to help, not because you feel obligated to out of duty, loyalty, or religious reasons.
Everyday life is filled with small acts of altruism, from the guy at the grocery store who kindly
holds the door open as you rush in from the parking lot to the woman who gives twenty dollars
to a homeless man.

News stories often focus on grander cases of altruism, such as a man who dives into an icy river
to rescue a drowning stranger to a generous donor who gives thousands of dollars to a local
charity. While we may be all too familiar with altruism, social psychologists are interested in
understanding why it occurs. What inspires these acts of kindness? What motivates people to risk
their own lives to save a complete stranger?

Altruism is one aspect of what social psychologists refer to as prosocial behavior. Prosocial
behavior refers to any action that benefits other people, no matter what the motive or how the
giver benefits from the action. Remember, however, that pure altruism involves true selflessness.
While all altruistic acts are prosocial, not all prosocial behaviors are completely altruistic. For
example, we might help others for a variety of reasons such as guilt, obligation, duty, or even for
Psychologists have suggested a number of different explanations for why altruism exists,

Biological Reasons:
Kin selection - We may be more altruistic towards those we are related to because it increases
the odds that our blood relations will survives and transmit their genes to future generations.
Neurological Reasons:
Altruism activates reward centers in the brain. Neurobiologists have found that when engaged in
an altruistic act, the pleasure centers of the brain become active.

Social Norms:

Society's rules, norms, and expectations can also influence whether or not people engage in
altruistic behavior.

The norm of reciprocity, for example, is a social expectation in which we feel pressured to help
others if they have already done something for us. For example, if your friend loaned you money
for lunch a few weeks ago, you will probably feel compelled to reciprocate when he asks if you
if he can borrow $100. He did something for you, now you feel obligated to do something in

Cognitive Reasons:
While the definition of altruism involves doing for others without reward, there may still be
cognitive incentives that are not obvious. For example, we might help others to relieve out own
distress or because being kind to others upholds our view of ourselves as kind, empathetic
Some of the cognitive explanations:

 Empathy: Researchers including Batson et al. (1981) suggest that people are more likely to
engage in altruistic behavior when they feel empathy for the person who is in distress, a
suggestion known as theempathy-altruism hypothesis. Batson suggests that both empathy and
altruism are innate traits and other researchers have found that children tend to become more
altruistic as their sense of empathy develops.
 Helping Relieves Negative Feelings: Other experts have proposed that altruistic acts help
relieve the negative feelings created by observing someone else in distress, an idea referred to as
the negative-state relief model. Essentially, seeing another person in trouble causes us to feel
upset, distressed, or uncomfortable, so helping the person in trouble helps reduce these negative

Comparing the Theories

The underlying reasons behind altruism as well as the question of whether there is truly such a
thing as "pure" altruism are two issues hotly contested by social psychologists. Do we ever
engage in helpful actions for truly altruistic reasons, or are there hidden benefits to the self that
guide our altruistic behaviors?

Batson suggests that while people do often behave altruistically for selfish reasons, he believes
that true altruism is possible. Cialdini and others have instead suggested that empathy for others
is often guided by a desire to help one's self.

In psychology, the term aggression refers to a range of behaviors that can result in both physical
and psychological harm to oneself, other or objects in the environment. This type of social
interaction centers on harming another person, either physically or mentally.
The expression of aggression can occur in a number of ways including verbally, mentally and
physically. Psychologists distinguish between different forms of aggression, different purposes
of aggression and different types of aggression.

Forms of Aggression

Aggression can take a variety of forms, including:

 Physical
 Verbal
 Mental
 Emotional
While we often think of aggression as purely in physical forms such as hitting or pushing,
psychological aggression can also be very damaging. Intimidating or verbally berating another
person, for example, are examples of verbal, mental and emotional aggression.

Purposes of Aggression

Aggression can also serve a number of different purposes:

 To express anger or hostility

 To assert dominance
 To intimidate or threaten
 To achieve a goal
 To express possession
 A response to fear
 A reaction to pain
 To compete with others

Two Types of Aggression

Psychologists also distinguish between two different types of aggression:

1. Impulsive Aggression

Impulsive aggression, also known as affective aggression, is characterized by strong emotions,

usually anger. This form of aggression is not planned and often takes place in the heat of the
moment. When another car cuts you off in traffic and you begin yelling and berating the other
driver, you are experiencing impulsive aggression.

2. Instrumental Aggression

Instrumental aggression, also known as predatory aggression, is marked by behaviors that are
intended to achieve a larger goal. Instrumental aggression is often carefully planned and usually
exists as a means to an end. Hurting another person in a robbery or car-jacking is an example of
this type of aggression. The aggressors goal is to obtain money or a vehicle, and harming another
individual is the means to achieve that aim.

Factors Than Can Influence Aggression

Researchers have suggested that individual who engage in affective aggression, defined as
aggression that is unplanned and uncontrolled; tend to have lower IQs than people who display
predatory aggression.

Predatory aggression is defined as aggression that is controlled, planned and goal-oriented.

A number of different factors can influence the expression of aggression. Biological factors can
play a role. Men are more likely than women to engage in physical aggression. While researchers
have found that women are less likely to engage in physical aggression, they also suggest that
women do use non-physical forms such as verbal aggression, relational aggression and social

Environmental factors also play a role, including how people were raised. People who grow up
witnessing more forms of aggression are more likely to believe that such violence and hostility
are socially acceptable. Bandura's famous Bobo doll experiment demonstrated
that observation can also play a role in how aggression is learned. Children who watched a video
clip where an adult model behaved aggressively toward a Bobo doll were more likely to imitate
those actions when given the opportunity.