You’re at the mall with a group of friends, and your best friend Jen is trying on a new shirt. She asks everyone how it looks, and your friends all sing their praises. Personally, you think the shirt is drab and ugly, but you don’t want to be the only voice of discontent, so when Jen looks at you, you give her an encouraging thumbs up.
You’ve just fallen prey to conformity, the changing of behavior to fit in with a group. Don’t worry; you’re not the first. We humans are social butterflies. Whether it’s in a department store fitting room, on the football field, or in the office, no one wants to be the odd one out.
This scenario is a specific type of conformity, known as normative social influence. Normative social influence is when we change our behavior to appeal to social norms or avoid being rejected by a group. Conformity can also take the form of informational social influence, which is when we accept the opinions of others because we doubt our own. What if everyone you met today told you that your green shirt was purple? You might start to question your own eyes and agree with the group consensus.
Conformity isn’t always a bad thing. Perhaps telling Jen that her shirt looked great was the right decision; she really seemed to like it! To a degree, conformity can be useful in creating functional, organized groups. When everyone on the football team wears the same identifiable uniform, it helps the fans know which players they should be cheering for. If your friends are always talking about Game of Thrones, it might make sense to watch an episode or two to help you join in on their conversations. It’s important to remember when to be a trendsetter and when to go with the flow—there are times for both!