Chapter 1 - Relationships Subchapter: Group dynamics

Groups and conformity

Groupthink is when individual members within a group go along with the majority even if they have doubts to avoid standing out as different or creating conflict with other group members.

Groupthink = we think

  • Pineapple on pizza is my favourite
  • Ewww! Pineapple on pizza is gross.
  • It is?
  • We all think it’s gross.
  • Oh right. I guess it is pretty gross.

 

You think one thing, but the group steers you towards something quite different. You can go against the group, but that just highlights the difference between you and the rest of the group. You feel like an outsider, and the other group members start to treat you as if you are.

 

What is conformity?

When someone conforms, they put aside their personal preferences and choose to go along with the group. The person could be subtly influenced or directly pressured to change their beliefs or behaviour to conform with group beliefs and behaviours.

 

Split-frame; top panel shows a character in a group not conforming by wearing a top hat instead of a backwards cap, and it irritates the others; bottom panel shows the character conforming and wearing the backwards cap like the others.

 

Conformity is aligning yourself with the majority. A willingness to conform stems from a desire to be accepted and have your membership to the group endorsed, not rejected.

The desire to be accepted and be part of the group is natural. Conforming to the group is not always a negative—if positive behaviour is a group norm then aligning with the group can be beneficial, for yourself and others.

It is important to understand how external pressures like teasing, criticism, persuasion, bullying, isolation, or threats of exclusion can encourage someone to behave in a certain way.

 

Types of Conformity

Typically, there are three different types of conformity.

Identification

A group of illustrated characters stand together happily. One of them is taking off their orange shirt to match the rest of the group wearing blue.

 

Identification occurs when you conform to the expectations of a social role. For example, your group’s identity is based on dressing a certain way and all group members are expected to conform to this way of dressing. Conforming to the dress code confirms your group membership, both to other group members and also outsiders.

You can choose to publicly identify with a group by complying with dress code norms, but not follow them in private. You might choose to dress however you want when away from the group.

Ingratiate is when you try to become aligned with someone by flattering them or trying to please them in some way. You are not being pressured into behaving a certain way but think you’re more likely to be accepted if you find ways for someone to think well of you.

 

Compliance

Compliance, or group acceptance, occurs when someone behaves in a way that will win approval from the group. To comply with the group, the person might have to go against how they might act if there were no external influences or pressures.

 

Pat is a new student. There is nothing particularly unusual or offensive about Pat but still they are targeted with teasing by other members of your group. The teasing gets some laughs and so it continues.

You are encouraged to join in, but you can tell that Pat is anxious and upset. You remember what it was like to be the new kid but don’t want to be seen to be supporting Pat, and so you mirror the group’s behaviour towards Pat.

Compliance is usually a temporary change in behaviour. Once the group pressure is removed, your behaviour will revert back to your instincts.

Next time you’re by yourself and you see Pat, you might approach them and offer a friendly word.

 

Internalisation

The deepest level of conformity is when the beliefs of the group become part of the individual’s own belief system. They publicly change their behaviour and privately agree with the changed behaviour. The belief is internalised resulting in a permanent change in behaviour.

Acceptance of group norms is most likely to occur when the majority of the members of the group have greater knowledge, and members of the minority have little knowledge to challenge the majority position. For example, you begin meditating daily because the majority of your group believes that it helps them concentrate more at school and would therefore lead to better marks and less stress.

 

Pat is a new student. There is nothing particularly unusual or offensive about Pat but still they are targeted with teasing by other members of your group. The teasing gets some laughs and so it continues.

You are encouraged to join in and can tell that Pat is anxious and upset, but believe that because they are new, they can’t yet be trusted. You mirror the groups behaviour towards Pat and publicly and privately agree with the actions of the group.