As humans we feel the need to belong to social groups. In these social groups we conform to the rules of other people, sometimes without even realizing it. We most often conform to these rules around complete strangers. We follow other people’s behavior and decisions because that is what is considered normal or accepted. This, in psychology, is known as normative social influence. Normative social influence is all about how people go along with social norms. According to www.changingminds.org, social norms are “the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.” We do this because people provide rewards and punishments for our behaviors. For example, there is a social norm of not singing loudly on a crowded bus. If a person were to sing loudly on a crowed bus, he or she would likely receive some punishment for it. The punishment would probably be weird looks from people, or possibly being made fun of. Another example of normative social influence, and a very common one among people my age, is the way people dress. People often dress a certain way to get the reward of being popular or people liking them.
Informational social influence occurs when we do not know what to do or how to act, so we copy what other people are doing. Those people thus act as information sources for us. We assume they know what they are doing, although we usually do not know for sure because information social influence is often non-verbal. We often follow what other people do because it is a very safe choice of action. We always look for the safest choice of action because we care what other people think of us. Private acceptance is when we believe the other person is right. This can sometimes lead to permanent changes in beliefs, values and behaviors. Public compliance is when we copy other people because we fear rejection or ridicule. Informational social influence occurs most often when the situation is ambiguous, there is a crisis or there are experts around. A situation is ambiguous when there are choices but we do not know which to select. In a crisis we have no time to think. A decision is required immediately. When there are experts around, we assume they know more than us, so we trust them.
People usually think of conformity as a bad thing. Some examples of conformity that people often think of are drinking, smoking, doing drugs and having sex because that is what other people are doing. Those are examples of conformity; however, conformity is not always bad. There are two types of conformity. They are public and private conformity. Private conformity is when your behavior is consistent with your personal beliefs and values. An example of private conformity is when you wear certain clothes because you like them, not because other people like them. Public conformity is when your behavior goes against your personal beliefs or values. An example of public conformity is when you wear clothes that you don’t like because other people like them. Solomon Asch is known for his research on conformity.
In my own life I conform and receive social influence just about everyday. Just the other day in one of the dining halls on campus one of the hand scanners was not working. There was no sign saying that it was not working, but I assumed something was wrong with it because no one was in line for it. After I passed through I asked the lady working there, and she confirmed that it was broken. This was an example of informational social influence. Another example of informational social influence I see everyday is at crosswalks on streets. There is often one person that is in a hurry so he crosses before the light changes. Other people see him crossing so they begin to cross without looking at the cross light or for traffic. This is a very common and dangerous form of informational social influence here at UGA. I am influenced by public social influence at all times. I could start singing or dancing in the middle of class, but I don’t because I don’t want to receive the punishment that comes along with it.
Social conformity and social influence are around us all the time. Most people do not recognize it in everyday life, but it is there. Social influence is a theoretical aspect of social psychology because you cannot see information being passed from one person to another. As long as humans care about what others think of them, there will be social influence and conformity. It has been a part of life on Earth for a long time and will continue to be in the future.