What Is Conformity?

Conformity is the tendency to align our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors with those around us. It's a powerful force that can take the form of overt social pressure or subtler, unconscious influence. As much as we like to think of ourselves as individuals, the fact is that we're driven to fit in, and that usually means going with the flow. Conformity is often motivated by our identification with a specific group. In order to be truly accepted as a member of the group, we must adopt the group norms, or the unspoken set of rules that governs their behavior. When we conform, we outwardly agree with the group consensus, though it may differ from our own personal views. In time, our beliefs and attitudes may begin to shift as we take on the same behaviors and opinions as the rest of our group.  

The Pressure to Conform

We learn social skills from an early age by observing and copying the behavior of others. As we grow older, the social pressure to conform with group norms becomes stronger. Established group members may use a variety of tactics to persuade outsiders to conform to the group, including praising, criticizing, bullying, or teasing. Some people are resistant to the pressures of the group; naturally non-conformist, they value their independence and self-reliance over the approval of others. At its best, conformity offers a sense of belonging and group identity, but it can also bring out one’s worst impulses, by pitting a person against his or her core values.

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