The science of conformity

I want you to think back to high school, however long ago it was. Remember how you were put into a group, whether it be jocks, nerds, the popular’s, and to be in the group you had a set of traits and rules you had to follow to be ‘in’. In order to be a jock, you had to be on a sports team, to be in nerd you must get really high marks, each clique has its own set of rules or regulations to be in it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about cults and their followers. This week I want to branch off to the main aspects of cults: conformity. Why do people follow others and is it bad?

Conformity is all evolutionary, we as humans are made to be social. For the sake of collectiveness people are driven to fit in. We will copy the actions of others or look to the group to know how to think and act. Conformity is varying it could be in appearance, behavior, or social norms, even non- conformists conform to society.

From our very first breath we begin to conform. Infants learn the correct behavior by mimicking the parents and siblings. Children also learn social skills by observing and copying friends and teachers. Children conform to the rules at home then conform to a whole new set of rules at school, the grocery store, even at friend’s houses.

There are two main types of conformity:

  • Informational: The lack of knowledge so someone looks to the group for information and direction on decisions and opinions
  • Normative: The change of someone’s behavior and beliefs to fit in with the group.

Of course, there are similar categories of conformity which are:

  • Identification: the conforming of people to do what is expected of them based on their social rules this happened during the Stanford prison experiment which I wrote about last week.   
  • Compliance: The changing of behavior while still disagreeing internally with the group. Ex. Phase one of cults which I wrote about a few weeks back.
  • Internalization: The changing of ideas and behaviors of someone who now believes what the group believes. Ex. Phase two of cults.

Conformity, though, happens everywhere, it changes strengths and amounts based on many influential factors:

  • Difficulty of the tasks
  • Personal individual differences
  • Size of the group
  • Characteristics of the situation
  • Cultural differences  

Conformity can be good or bad based on the situation since conformity could help survival or social harmony or it could be very bad and create outgroup bullying or fear. In the case of society we have laws and we expect those laws to be followed we expect the common people to conform and follow those laws in the case of being kidnapped you should conform to what they want in order to survive if you look at North Korea though that is negative conformity built off of fear.

Cherry, Kendra. “Why Do We Try so Hard to Be Like Other People and Conform?” Verywell Mind, 26 Mar. 2020,

“Conformity.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,

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