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Topic: How The Presence Of Others Affects Individual Behavior

In psychology, conformity is defined as the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms.

Conformity is the most common and pervasive form of social influence. It is informally defined as the tendency to act or think like members of a group. In psychology, conformity is defined as the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms.

Motivations Underlying Conformity

There are two significant motivators to conformity: normative influence and informational influence. Normative influence occurs when an individual conforms to gain social acceptance and avoid social rejection. Informational influence occurs when individuals seek out members of their group to obtain and accept accurate information about reality.

Several factors are known to increase the likelihood of conformity within a group. Group size, larger groups are more likely to conform to similar behaviors and thoughts than smaller ones. Unanimity, individuals are more likely to conform to group decisions when the rest of the group’s response is unanimous. Cohesion, groups that possess bonds linking them to one another and the group as a whole, tend to display more conformity than groups that do not have those bonds. Status, individuals are more likely to conform to high-status groups—culture, cultures that are collectivist exhibit a higher degree of conformity than individualistic cultures. Gender, women are more likely to conform than men in situations involving surveillance, but less likely when there is no surveillance. Age, younger individuals are more likely to conform than older individuals, perhaps due to lack of experience and status. Importance of stimuli, individuals, may conform less frequently when the task is considered important. Minority influence, minority factions within larger groups, tend to influence overall group decisions.

Research on Conformity


Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments are one of the best-known illustrations of conformity. The research participant was told he was participating in a simple “perceptual” task. The participant would enter a room and sit at a table with several other people. These people were confederates, or individuals who were posing as other participants but were working for the researchers. The participant and confederates would be shown a series of cards that had a reference line and another card that had three comparison lines. Throughout several trials, subjects were required to select the comparison line that corresponded in length to the reference line. The participant and confederates were instructed to provide their answers out loud, and the confederates were told to sometimes unanimously give a correct answer and sometimes an incorrect answer. When Asch had the confederates all choose the same incorrect answer, participants also chose the wrong line 37% of the time. In a control group with no pressure to conform, participants had an error rate of less 1%.

Solomon Asch and conformity: The image shown is an example from Solomon Asch’s landmark experiment in conformity (1951). An individual was asked to state which line, A, B, or C, matched the first line. If the other members of the group gave an incorrect response, the participant was more likely to also give an incorrect answer (A or B).

Asch repeated this experiment with different experimental variables and identified several factors that influence conformity. Presence of a true partner, who was another real participant and gave the correct response, decreased levels of conformity. Removing this partner halfway through the study caused increased levels of conformity after their departure. Group size also influenced levels of conformity such that smaller groups resulted in less conformity than larger groups. Public responses, those that were spoken in the presence of the confederates, were associated with higher levels of conformity than private, written responses.


Muzafer Sherif was interested in knowing how many people would change their opinions to bring them in line with the opinion of a group. In his experiment (1936), participants were placed in a dark room and asked to stare at a small dot of light 15 feet away. They were then asked to estimate the amount it moved; however, there was no real movement. The perceived motion was caused by the visual illusion known as the autokinetic effect. On the first day, each person perceived different amounts of movement, as they participated in the experiment individually. From the second through the fourth day of the study, estimates were agreed upon by the group. Because there was no actual movement, the number that the group decided on was a direct result of group conformity. Sherif suggested this was a reflection of how social norms develop in the larger society.

Practice Questions

Khan Academy


MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Practice Exam 1 P/S Section Passage 5 Question 23

Practice Exam 2 P/S Section Question 30

Key Points

• The two significant motives in conformity are:
1) normative influence, or the tendency to conform to gain social acceptance
2) informational influence, which is based on the desire to obtain useful information through conformity and achieve a correct or appropriate result.

•  Several factors are associated with increased conformity, including larger group size, unanimity, high group cohesion, and perceived higher status of the group.

• Other factors associated with conformity are culture, gender, age, and importance of stimuli.

• Minority influence is the degree to which a smaller faction within the group, maintaining a different position on an issue influences the group during decision making. This influence is primarily informational.

Key Terms

conformity: the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms.

confederate: an actor who participates in a psychological experiment by pretending to be a subject while in actuality working for the researcher.

norm: a rule that is enforced by members of a community

normative influence: occurs when an individual conforms to gain social acceptance and avoid social rejection

informational influence: occurs when individuals seek out members
of their group to obtain and accept accurate information about reality

unanimity: an agreement by all people involved; the consensus

autokinetic effect: a visual perception in which a stationary, small point of light in an otherwise dark or featureless environment appears to move

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