Social Influence, Comformity, Obedience and Compliance

Last Updated: 17 Oct 2022
Essay type: Conformity
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It refers to our need to be right. Sometimes, an individual does not know what is the correct behaviour for the particular circumstances. In these cases, the individual will look to and copy the behaviour of others (e. g. modeling). The behaviour of others provides information on what is the correct thing to do in this situation. There are three types of social influence - conformity - compliance - obedience conformity.

Conformity involves developing attitudes, opinions, and behaviors to match the attitudes of a specific group. Most people conform to the standard values, also called norms, of many groups without stress and often without even knowing that they are doing so. From an early age, a process of making children conform starts and continues persistently eg. Don’t speak to strangers. Conformity is neither good nor bad. Some degree of conformity is necessary for societies to function. For example, when you stop at a red light, you are conforming to the law and to the general agreement that for the good and safety of society, a red light means stop.

You stop, even though most of the time there is not a police officer on the scene to enforce the law. All people balance the need to conform and fit in with the need to express their individuality throughout their lives. Some research into birth order suggests that the oldest child in a family is more likely to conform, while later children are more likely to become non-conformists. However, these studies are open to different interpretations and, although interesting, should not be considered conclusively true. Young children tend to be the least aware of the group and society values and are the least influenced by the need to conform.

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However, with more social interactions and more awareness of others, the need to conform grows. Pre-teens and teenagers face many issues related to conformity. They are pulled between the desire to be seen as individuals of unique value and the desire to belong to a group where they feel secure and accepted. The result is that often teens reject conforming to family or general society values, while conforming rigidly to the norms or values of their peer group. An example of this phenomenon is seen when young people join gangs. In joining the gang they are rejecting the community's way of dressing and behaving.

Yet to belong to the gang, they must conform to the gang's own style of dress, behavior, and speech. Conformity within a group entails members to change their attitudes, perceptions, opinions, behaviours and beliefs in order to match those of others within the group. In order to conform, the group member must attribute someone as having the legitimacy and credibility to lead or influence the group's behaviour. Without this "leader", conformity toward the group's goals will be less prevalent. The ‘leader’ has the power to affect change in behaviour or belief towards a group's standards as a result of the group’s members who follow him/her.

If key members of a group accept messages about how to change behaviour to reduce risky activities such as needle sharing, drinking and driving, and unsafe sexual behavior, other group members often follow their lead and change their behaviour also. Conformity is tied closely to the issue of peer pressure. Although people feel peer pressure their entire lives, young people who are seeking to define themselves are generally most influenced by the values and attitudes of their peers. Adolescents often encourage friends to do or try things that they themselves are doing in order to fit into to a group.

The encouragement can be positive (studying hard to get good grades) or negative (drinking beer after the football game). Deciding how much and which group's values to conform to are one of the major stresses of adolescence. Trying to conform to the behaviors of a group that go against one's own beliefs in order to be accepted creates a great deal of internal conflict and sometimes external conflict with family members and friends from an earlier time. Defining oneself as an individual and developing a constant value system forces young people to confront issues of conformity and non-conformity.

This is a major challenge of adolescence. Many studies of young people show that if a person's friends engage in a behavior - everything from cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol to shoplifting to sexual activity - an adolescent is highly likely to conform to his or her friends' behaviors and try these activities. The alternative is for the young person to seek different friends with values more in line with his own. Often, however, the desire to be part of a group and the fear of social isolation makes it more appealing to change behaviors than to seek other friends.

Attitudes toward conformity are of particular interest in community health, where conformity may influence the willingness of people to engage in activities such as illicit drug use or high-risk sexual activities, or prompt them to avoid drug rehabilitation programs. The tendency to conform to a group's values is of interest to outreach workers because social networks may provide a link to reaching and influencing the behavior of a wide range of people involved in drug abuse and high-risk sexual activity.

If key members of a group accept messages about how to change behavior to reduce risky activities such as needle sharing, drinking and driving, and unsafe sexual behavior, other group members often follow their lead and change their behavior also. Although society tends to focus on teenagers' needs to conform and follow fads, and many parents worry about how the desire to conform will influence the decisions their children must make, issues surrounding conformity continue into adult life.

They may be as trivial as choosing the proper clothes to wear to the office so as not to stand out or as serious as choosing whether to have one's children vaccinated against diseases. Finding a rational balance between belonging and being an individual is a challenge for everyone. Many people who feel as if this area of their lives is out of balance benefit from seeking professional counseling to help them find a level of conformity that is more comfortable for them When Asch tested individuals alone they made fewer than 1% mistakes and when the same participants were in a group that made errors in judgments, they make more than 33% errors.

This indicates that: We make errors in judgments to fit in with the rest of the group - even when we know the judgment is incorrect. We rely on others for information about reality, about the validity of our feelings, decisions, behaviour etc. We conform because we are unsure of our judgement and not assertive enough. We conform because we need approval and validation. Compliance The concept of compliance is similar to conformity, yet it’s slightly different. For compliance to occur within groups, one must adapt his/her actions to another's wishes or rules.

Requests for and acts of compliance occur in everyone's lives. Simply asking someone to perform a task is a request for compliance. The most effective method to gain compliance is through rational persuasion and inspiration. Although this person is asking another to perform a task, he/she is not asking the person to agree or disagree with the task in question. The person requesting the performance of the task is not necessarily attempting to change the other's beliefs, but simply needs or wants the task to be performed. This notion is what sets conformity and compliance apart.

The central aspect of conformity is that the person being influenced by the group change his/her attitudes and/or beliefs while the main point of compliance is the achievement of some specified task. Foot-in-the-door technique (FITD) is a compliance tactic that involves getting a person to agree to a large request by first setting them up by having that person agree to a modest request. Therefore FITD is a two step compliance technique in which an influencer prefaces the real request by first getting a person to comply with a much smaller request

Obedience is the act of following orders without question because they come from a legitimate authority. When someone orders another to perform some action, and the person complies Variables affecting obedience:

  • the authority
  • the victim
  • the procedure

Milgram’s Experiment

The experiment involved two people one a confederate would play the part of a student trying to remember different words that they had heard the other person who was the subject played the role of a teacher and gave him the test. He was told to shock the "student" everytime he missed a word. Milgram thought that most people wouldn't shock another human being and especially not all the way up to deadly levels of electricity. As the "teachers" were told to increase the dosage as they got more answers wrong, he found out that most people would shock their fellow man in this experiment and would be obedient to all the demands made by the instructor since he was the one in a position of authority.

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Social Influence, Comformity, Obedience and Compliance. (2018, Jan 31). Retrieved from

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