Is conformity ‘liberating’ or ‘enslaving’? Discuss with reference to the
influence of groups, group behavior, etc.
Conformity as a means of enslaving or liberating is an issue which is relatively practical and can be experienced or observed in many societal forums. This paper will seek to examine the concepts of conformity, analyzing its effects with the aid of research based data, observations and my own experiences.
Before any proper analysis could be done, a functional, working definition of conformity and how it relates to groups, should be established.
Dr. C. George Boeree in his online article, Conformity and Obedience approaches the topic of conformity by stating that conformity is actually a rather complex concept, and there are a number of different kinds, which includes:
Conformity to norms is often quite unconscious. It has been
internalized (learned well), probably in early childhood. Our societal norms are
seldom doubted; rather, we take them as givens, as "the way things are." The
learning is supported throughout life by the "validity" of the norm i.e. it works
because it is the norm.
Sometimes we choose, consciously, to conform, as when we join a group
voluntarily. We adopt certain norms because the group is attractive to us and we
identify with the group and its values or goal. In its more dramatic forms, this is
In other cases, we conform because we are forced to, i.e. we are conscious of our
conformity but it seems a lot less voluntary. This is often called compliance, and it
can be brought on by anything from a gun to the head or the promise of candy. In
other words, it is conformity due to the sanctions the society or group has in
But most of what we call conformity in the research literature concerns something
"somewhat conscious" and "not quite voluntary." It is usually brought on by social
anxiety, fear of embarrassment, discomfort at confusion, a sense of inferiority, a
desire to be liked, and so on. I think it should be called defensive conformity.
Credence being given to each of these definition, we will however only be looking at conformity as it relates to groups. Thus conformity is defined as the process by which people's beliefs or behaviors are influenced by others. People can be influenced via subtle, even unconscious processes, or by direct and overt peer pressure.
Many people imagine themselves as unique individuals unlike anyone else; indeed, we all possess specific characteristics that distinguish us from the crowd.
However, despite our imaginations and wishful thinking, the majority of human beings comply with some set of societal rules most of the time. Cars stop at red traffic lights; children and adults attend school and go to work; policemen are paid to protect our communities. These are examples of conformity for obvious reasons; without compliance with certain rules of society, the entire structure would break down. Why, though, do individuals give in to less important reasons to conform? Why do college students play drinking games and elementary school children shun the outcast child? We conform to be correct, to be socially accepted and avoid rejection, to accomplish group goals, to establish and maintain our self-concept/social identity, and to align ourselves with similar individuals (Nail, MacDonald, & Levy, 2000).
Another definition of conformity that would aid in answering the above mentioned question is explained to be, changing one’s behavior or beliefs to match those of other group members, generally as a result of real or imagined, though unspoken, group pressure (p. 637 Bernstein, et al. 2000). To fully understand exactly what this definition is implying let’s examine the dynamics of human behavior. According to the behavioral approach, human behavior is determined mainly by what a person has learned in life, especially by the rewards and punishments the person has experienced in...
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