Types of conformity - Social influence

AQA A-level Psychology: Revision Made Easy - Jean-Marc Lawton 2017

Types of conformity
Social influence


Conformity occurs when a majority of people influence the beliefs and/or behaviour of a minority. There are 3 types, differing in terms of how much they affect individuals’ belief systems.

1 Compliance involves public, but not private, agreement with a group’s beliefs and behaviour, in order to gain acceptance or avoid disapproval. It is fairly temporary and weak, and only occurs within the presence of the group. For example, an individual claims allegiance to the local football team in order to fit in and be accepted, but in reality has little if any allegiance to the team.

2 Identification involves public and private agreement with a group’s beliefs and behaviour, because membership of that group is beneficial. A stronger type than compliance, it is still fairly temporary and weak, as it is not retained when an individual leaves the group. For instance, a soldier adopts the beliefs and behaviour of fellow soldiers while in the army, but adopts new beliefs and behaviour on returning to civilian life.

3 Internalisation involves public and private agreement and is not dependent on group membership. It is the strongest form of conformity. For instance, beliefs in a religious faith are not dependent on group members being present.


Fig 1.1 A religious conversion would be an example of internalisation

Focal study

Asch (1955) investigated whether individuals would conform to an obviously wrong answer. 123 American male student volunteers, having been told that it was a study into visual perception, were tested in groups of between 8 and 10. The participants sat in a line or around a table. A stimulus line was presented with 3 comparison lines, 1 clearly matching the stimulus line while the other 2 did not. Participants had to say out loud which comparison line matched the stimulus. In each group there was in fact only 1 real participant, who answered either last or next to last — the other group members were all confederates (pseudo-participants). From 18 trials, confederates gave identical wrong answers on 12 occasions. There was a 32 per cent overall conformity rate to the wrong answers, 75 per cent conforming at least once, 25 per cent never conforming, while 5 per cent conformed all the time. It was also found that most participants conformed publicly, but not privately, a form of compliance, in order to avoid rejection.


• Mori & Arai (2010) replicated Asch’s study (though using females as well as males), giving filter goggles to participants, so that one participant perceived a different comparison line to all the others. This meant demand characteristics (where participants attempt to guess the aim of a study and act accordingly) could not occur, unlike in Asch’s study where the participant might realise the confederates were lying and so just pretended to conform. Females conformed similarly to Asch’s participants, but the males a lot less. The study was unethical, as participants thought the goggles were to prevent glare.

• Bogdonoff et al. (1961) measured the stress levels encountered by participants on an Asch-type task, by recording galvanic skin responses — a measurement of electrical conductivity. High stress levels were found when participants gave true answers that went against the majority, but lower levels when individuals complied with obviously wrong answers, implying compliance to be a healthy response.

Positive evaluation

Image Mann (1969) believed internalisation to be true conformity, as it is the only type of majority influence where participants are actually converted to other people’s belief systems.

Image Internalisation relates to minority influence (see page 20), which allows carefully considered social change (see page 22) to occur.

Image Compliance allows individuals to conduct meaningful social interactions by constantly fitting in with and adapting to different groups’ social norms.

Image Compliance relates more to normative social influence, where individuals conform to fit in, while identification and internalisation relate more to informational social influence, as individuals genuinely agree with the behaviour they are conforming to.

Negative evaluation

Image There are other reported reasons for why people conform in Asch’s study, such as having doubts about individual perceptual ability and the accuracy of individual judgements. Therefore, it may not just be compliance that is occurring.

Image Most studies of types of conformity, such as Asch’s and Mori & Arai’s, are unethical and arguably should not be performed, as they involve deceit and therefore a lack of informed consent, as well as possibly causing distress through elevating stress levels.

Image Asch’s study was time-consuming, with only 1 participant being tested at a time. As 123 participants performed 18 trials each, the experiment was conducted 2,214 times.

Practical application

Compliance helps to maintain social order, through majority influence allowing people to unthinkingly know what behaviour and attitudes are expected of them and stick to them. Internalisation meanwhile converts people’s belief systems, so that social change occurs through innovative behaviours becoming accepted as mainstream.