Chapter 8: Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience
There 3 kinds of Social Influence:
o Conformity: Any change in behaviour caused by another person or group.
Example: A spectator at a hockey game might boo the referee because
NOTE: Conformity is limited to changes in behaviour caused by other
people; it does NOT refer to effects of other people on internal concepts
like attitudes and beliefs.
o Compliance: A change in behaviour that is requested by another person or
They could of accepted or declined the request
Example: During an election campaign, a supporter of the NDP might
agree to put a sign on her lawn supporting the NDP candidate in her
riding because she was asked to do so by a party official.
o Obedience: A change in behaviour that is ordered by another person or group.
Failing to obey was not present as an option, but may have been
considered by the individual.
Example: A child may be ordered by a parent to go clean their bedroom.
People are often susceptible to listen to obedience by an authority
Conformity encompasses compliance and obedience because it refers to any behaviour
that occurs as a result of others’ influence (no matter what the nature of that influence).
For example, there may not have been any request or order given to the individual; the
behaviour may have occurred because the person copied, learned from, wanted to
impress, or was in some other way influenced by another person.
Compliance and obedience refers to behaviour that resulted specifically from requests
NOTE: Although conformity encompasses both these aspects, we will only refer to it
when behaviours are influenced by requests or orders in this section. We will refer to
action that are caused by “doing as others do.”
o This kind of conformity occurs because when we face new or unusual situations,
it’s natural to look to others in deciding what you do (in order not to feel stupid,
especially when the situation is ambiguous and uncertain about your decision).
Other people may have more experience, or more information, or better skills
than you do.
o Sometimes we end up complying to things we don’t necessarily agree with, but
do it because everyone else is.
Why Do We Conform?
Conforming behaviours occur for 2 reasons, which are captured by the terms
informational influence and normative influence.
o Informational Influence: Occurs when people are influenced by others because
of a desire to be correct and to obtain valid information.
This kind of influence reflects that people often rely on others as a
source of information – they trust other’s judgments to be useful in a
particular context. Ex: When young drivers alter their behaviour to conform to the
suggestions of their driving instructor.
Or, perhaps the judgment is ambiguous and the person is unsure about
the correct answer, such as when contestants on The Price is Right use
audience reactions to guide their estimate of the price of an item.
o Normative Influence: Occurs when people are influenced by others to gain
rewards or avoid punishment.
They might not necessarily think that others’ judgments or behaviours
are correct; they simply want to be liked or to avoid conflict.
Example: People sometimes obey laws simply to avoid being punished,
such as driving at the speed limit but would rather over-speed.
Example: When teenagers conform to certain words, deeds, or
appearances to popular peers whom they hope to befriend.
Informational and normative influence can occur simultaneously.
CONFORMITY: DOING AS OTHERS DO
Sherif’s Autokinetic Effect Studies
Muzafer Sherif conceptualized his research on conformity as addressing the
development of social norms (a source of conformity).
Social Norms: A rule or guideline in a group or culture about what behaviours are
proper and improper.
Norms can be formal (laws, contracts); or, it can be informal (customs, traditions) within
groups like family and peers.
The reward for following a social norm is social acceptance (approval).
The punishment for NOT following a social norm is social rejection (disapproval).
Social norms govern the way we dress, speak, and behave.
The Autokinetic Effect
Autokinetic Effect: In a darkened room, a stationary point of light will appear to movie
This occurs partly because no other frame of reference is available to locate the light,
and also partly because of the occasional rapid movements of your eye.
o In one of Sherif’s studies, it was seen that in a group environment, the
difference between people’s judgment of the light movement was very similar.
This supports the claim of conformity (people conformed to have
difference in light movement close to another person’s difference).
o After judging as a group, individuals were split and the test was repeated. It was
seen that difference correlated with the differences from the prior group test.
This proved that group norms are spontaneously established and carry
over to individual judgments. Multigenerational Norms
Many norms have been around for a long time; they’ve been passed down through
generations. Norms can persist long after their original instigators are gone
Asch’s Length Judgment Series – (read pgs. 291-292)
Individuals had conformed to the group’s unanimous incorrect answer, when they knew
the correct answer.
Summary: ~80% individuals conformed to group’s answers (matching the length of a
line to the original length); supports conformity pressure.
The Crutchfield Apparatus
Crutchfield Apparatus: A machine that consist of an electrical panel with several rows
of lights; it allows the efficient study of conformity by stimulating the responses of
numerous hypothetical participants.
Nature of the Task
Conformity is more likely when tasks are AMBIGUOUS.
o I.e. In a math problem with no solution, participants unanimously provided the
same incorrect answer (similar to the autokinetic effect).
Conformity is also influenced by the DIFFICULITY of the task.
On ambiguous and difficult tasks (i.e. Sherif’s studies), other people’s responses exert
both informational AND normative influence.
On clear and easy tasks (i.e. Asch’s studies), ONLY normative influence occurs.
Not everyone conforms. (i.e. ~20% in Asch’s study).
These people stay independent and are somewhat higher in their motivation to achieve
and in their leadership ability than those people who conform.
Also, people who are independent tend to be less concerned about obtaining the
approval of others, are less authoritarian, and less conscientious.
There is also evidence that people with high self-esteem are LESS likely to conform than
individuals with low self-esteem, especially when high self-esteem is based on intrinsic
qualities (honesty, generosity) as apposed to extrinsic things (achievements).
In summary: A strong sense of self is associated with remaining independent, as
reflected in such qualities as high self-esteem, high motivation to achieve, high
leadership ability, and minimal concerns about other’s approval.
Lastly, conformity DECREASES as age increases (after 18 years old). Effects of Group Size
Conformity INCREASED as the size of the majority increased. However, the size increase
had little or no effect after the group size was 4 or 5.
NOTE: This study was not conducted in very large groups (i.e. 20+). But, it seems that
larger groups do increase conformity than small groups.
How to Make Conformity Disappear
2 methods to reduce conformity:
o 1) In Asch’s alternate study, the critical participant wrote their answer down
instead of blurting it out like the other alleged participants. This resulted in less
o 2) In another alternate study, one of the confederates (alleged participant)
deviated from the unanimous incorrect answer to the correct answer. This
response agreed with the critical participant and resulted in less normative
influence (thus, less conformity)
Cultural Differences in Conformity
Individualism vs. Collectivism
Individualistic countries showed LESS conformity than collectivistic countries.
Individualistic countries are more independent, and thus will be less likely to conform.
Individual Differences in Independent vs. Interdependent Self-Concepts
People from individualistic cultures tend to have independent self-concepts, whereas
those from collectivistic cultures tend to have interdependent self-concepts.
People vary in self-concept within their own culture.
Gender Differences in Conformity
When responses are private, women do NOT conform more than men.
When responses are public, women do conform more than men (women are more
susceptible to normative influence).
However, there isn’t a very clear distinction yet.
COMPLIANCE: DOING AS OTHERS WANT
Sometimes our behaviour is influenced by direct requests from other people, a type of
conformity called compliance.
Requestors typically imp