What is conformity?
Conformity is essentially how individuals alter their behavior to fit in with the majority. This is to make sure that we are in line with others and don’t “stand out” or portray “abnormal behavior”. This instinct can be traced back to our primal times, where conforming was the way to ensure survival by “going with the crowd”.When conformity takes place an individuals moral and rational way of thinking is essentially non-existent, replicating our behavior to fit in with the “social norm”. Conformity could be a positive for policy makers as we can synthesize a socially acceptable norm, which could spread to the rest of the population to ensure people are abiding by laws and regulations. Conformity could also be extremely negative, as a groups way of behaving can alter that of others.
Conformity could positively affect our society and economy. In East Asian countries for example, it is the social norm to work in excess of 8 to 9 hours a day. As a result newcomers to the country as well as the entire work force, reciprocate such behavior. We could see positive GDP growth and productive efficiency due to increased labour efficiency. By doing this our economy could become more internationally competitive, giving us an edge over other countries as we firms are able to minimize cost. Governments could implement policies to pressure individuals to replicating behavior for example showing political figures receiving the vaccine. By doing this, we are creating an environment where citizens feel more inclined and “safe” to take the vaccine as people that are respected take it.
Another application of conformity could be the altering of ones mindset. In the early and mid 1900’s, the social norm was to perceive people of color as dehumanized and inferior. However, as society progressed to a more culturally inclusive environment, (e.g voting rights, desegregation of school), the mindset of society began to change. Since schools began to mix races, all individuals from different ethnicities were able to interact together, forming a cohesive society. The perception of white-supremacy was majorly annulled, and people of color were seen as equals. As those children in school grow up and have children of their own, the norm that they teach would be one of inclusion, which would in turn lead to a change in mindset over an entire society. This could therefore be used by governments to increase social cohesion, and alter negative stigmas and stereotypes people may have on certain culture. By doing this, we are encouraging minorities to enter the work environment which could improve our allocation of resources, and better the quality and standard of living. As the norm is set to be “inclusive” those with negative perceptions on minorities are likely to change their way of thinking to fit in with the majority. Governments and policy makers can easily employ conformity as a way to improve economic efficiency and improve the morals and integrity of society.
Conformity could be used as an oppressive tactic by regimes to try and minimize the risk of retaliation. In North Korea, the leaders of the country are seen as gods. Since the DPRK is closed off from the outside world, there is no external values that can change this social norm. This would therefore lead to oppressive regimes abusing and exploiting its citizens, at the cost of human rights to ensure that the leaders private objectives are met.
Firms can greatly use the power of conformity to alter the mindset of individuals, or gain brand loyalty. A prime example would be Apple. Having essentially invented a phone like none other at the time, they attracted a large following of customers due to their product being differentiated. Now however, in a largely competitive market, they still hold the majority of the share, due to the large following they amassed from the start. Since they have customers that are loyal to the brand, people will keep buying. As more customers buy the phone, it suddenly becomes the norm that “everyone has iPhones”. This is mainly due to the power that Apple has over society. Since most of society has apple products and infrastructure, it has become easier and more respected to use apple devices than others. As a result, apple can charge a premium for their devices, exploring their consumers, and profit largely. Consumers are often pressured by people in their environment to act in a certain way, and thus may not act rationally when considering a purchase.
Another way firms can utilize conformity is through marketing schemes and strategies. By presenting an option as a “norm”, the general public would deem this as socially acceptable, as a result more people would replicate this sort of behavior. For example, “1,000,000 sales of product X” makes the consumer believe that if they don’t purchase the product they will be “falling out of the trend” or are losing something. This is therefore closely linked to loss aversion, a common tactic by firms, inducing a sense of loss to the consumer for not replicating an action. For example, not buying the product would “cost them” for missing out, rather than “benefitting” them from saving that money. Consumers behave in such a manner since the pain from loss is greater than the satisfaction gained from not purchasing the product. The loss in this circumstance would be missed utility from the product, as well as the fear of not “fitting in”.
To summarize, firms can advertise and present products in a way that portrays it as the only logical and “normal” purchase to make. This in turn puts pressure on consumers to act in a certain way due to the fear of being excluded or having “abnormal behavior”. This is attributed to our ingrained psychological instinct to “blend in with the crowd” as showing abnormal behavior would make you more vulnerable in nature. Firms can exploit this to increase demand for their products by pressuring the consumer into a decision. Alternatively, this phenomena could be used by governments to counter problems in society or ensure that citizens behave in a “civil” manner.
What affects conformity?
There are many factors affecting conformity, however, individuals aren’t necessarily always going to conform. If individuals feel like they are more experienced than the crowd in a certain situation, they are likely to not conform with a group. For example, when small investors send price signals in a stock market that are against your belief, if you feel like you have more experience than those investors, you are less likely to follow in their lead. A large factor that firms especially employ, is status of group. By using influential people in advertisements, they can make the “fans” of those individuals to conform to their intended behavior, for example a footballer wearing a certain shirt.The final factor that we could explore is group size. If the group is of small size, the probability of conforming is lower than if the group was larger. There are several other factors that could affect the rate of conformity. Psychologists are constantly exploring the ways in which conformity works and its application to the real world.
Pryor, C., Perfors, A. and Howe, P., 2021. Conformity to the descriptive norms of people with opposing political or social beliefs. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6619767/
HubPages. 2021. Conformity and Anti-Conformity in Advertising. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2021].