Discuss about conformity, compliance and obedience as the areas of social influences.

Discuss about conformity, compliance and obedience as the areas of social influences.


Social influence is a phenomenon that involves a change in behaviour, actions or perspective as a result of a stimulus in our environment. It is widely evident in our everyday world, from how we adhere to unwritten social norms that systemize our lives to obeying instructions given by an authority figure. Social influence’s effect is especially conspicuous in the long history of humankind, particularly World War II, where individuals were observed to commit immoral acts because they struggle to act in sync with their personal judgments when faced with external pressure. The changes that precede social influences can be intended or unintended, instant or delayed, explicit or implicit. Because of the large generalization of social influence, they have been categorized into three different groups, conformity, compliance and obedience.

Conformity refers to the act of changing a particular belief or behaviour to fit in with one’s social environment. Before we go into details of conformity, it is important to understand the main factor that influences conformity, social norms. Social norms are the expected behaviour within a specific culture or society. Once a particular way of doing things is established as a norm, people will start conforming to it as it give the impression of being the ‘right’ thing to do.

Research shows that when a person is confronted with social norms, one will often adjust their behaviour to closer approximation of the perceived norm (Asch 1951, as cited in Bond & Smith, 1996). Contrary to popular belief, conformity is not personality-driven but highly situational (Goldberg 1952). In his experiement, Goldberg further observed that conformity usually occurs in the initial stages of exposure and any additional exposure thereafter does not affect the influence. The results from his experiment also demonstrated that the more disagreeable the subject initially was to the particular social norm in question, the greater the conformity, as the compromise in this case will be larger.

Conformity exists in two categories, normative conformity and informational conformity. Therein lay distinct differences between these two types of conformity. To start off, normative conformity is usually triggered by a need to fit in while informational conformity usually occurs when a person is looking for guidance in an ambiguous situation. While a person involved in normative conformity usually conforms for fear of being rejected by a group, a person involved in informative conformity usually conforms because he is unsure of the situation, and thus, do not have his own concrete set of viewpoint in that particular situation to begin with. Lastly, while normative conformity usually ends in compliance where the changes are evident in overt behaviour and actions (explicit), the influence of informational conformity usually results in internalization (implicit), where a person adopts the views and opinion of the group for his own.

A famous experiment done to test conformity is the autokinetic effect experiment done by Sherif (1935). The aim of the experiment was to test for informational conformity by placing participants in an ambiguous situation. They were first individually tested before being tested in groups of threes. Results show that the answers given in a group coincide with the rest even though the answer initially given in the first test was greatly different.

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