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Conformity Case Essay

INTRODUCTION: Ever since the first experiment on conformity was conducted by Jenness in 1932, psychologists have tried to measure conformity under various situations. Historically, conformity has been measured in numerous ways, though the most widely used methods have been behavioural observations and self reports (Scher and Thompson, 2007). While Asch’s Experiment (1951) remains the most popular work on conformity, Zimbardo (1971) and Milgrams’ (1974) work are noteworthy. AIM AND HYPOTHESIS: We wanted to find out whether undergraduate students conform to social norms or not? Also, what are the likely reasons for their behaviour? For this, we created our own experiment. However, let us define conformity and other key variables first. Kalat (2008) defines conformity as changing one’s behaviour to match other people’s behaviour or expectations. It is the dependant variable (DV) in our experiment and we gave it an operational definition.

We measured DV by the subject’s correct gender identification and subsequent action of walking through the door assigned for their respective gender. This is further elaborated under the Research Method section. The independent variable (IV) in our experiment was self-monitoring attitude. We chose IV as our group believed that it is primarily high self-monitoring people are more conscious about their social image and are thus more likely to conform in general than low-self monitoring people and vice versa. The operational definition for self monitoring attitude was the score on Self-Monitoring (SM) Scale created by Mark Synder in the early 1970’s. Frayer believes that the personality test measures how much an individual would change his behaviour to suit situational cues. It has 25 questions in total and has been attached in APPENDIX 1 for your reference. The results were interpreted as high, intermediate or low score depending on how many questions the subject got correct using the answer key provided by lckes and Barnes (1977) attached in APPENDIX 2 for your reference.

Our goal was to examine therelationship between self-monitoring attitude (IV) and  conformity (DV). We expected a positive co-relation due to our group belief mentioned above. Besides, Scher and Thompson’s (2007) experiment, which was our inspiration, had found a significant positive correlation relationship between self-monitoring and behavioural conformity. Our target population was the undergraduate students at The University of Hong Kong (HKU). However, our sample consisted of only forty HKU students composing of twenty female and twenty male students. RESEARCH METHOD: Let us elaborate on how we went about conducting our experiment. Firstly, we chose to conduct the experiment at Chi Wah composite building since many undergraduate students go there to study. Secondly, we replicated Sarah Lisbene experiment on gender conformity. Lisbene had pasted gender signs on an entrance of a building to observe whether people would conform to the gender symbols on the doors.

We duplicated her gender conformity situation at the main entrance on the first floor of Chi Wah as it has precisely two doors. We stuck gender symbols on each door at the eye level right besides the door handles ‒ a male only sign on right door and a female only sign on the left door. Then, we shut both the doors at the entrance. Anyone who wanted to enter the building from this entrance was bound to read the gender sign before opening the door and thus would have to make a decision to conform, observable by his/her action of walking through the appropriate gender-marked door. Thirdly, we used simple systematic sampling method to choose our subjects. Every 10th person was invited to participate in our experiment by filling in a two paged survey. The survey was actually the SM Scale mentioned in AIM AND HYPOTHESIS section. We calculated their scores on the SM Scale by their marked responses to measure the IV and its relationship with DV.

Lastly, we tried to observe participants in their natural setting. To remain unnoticeable, we dressed up in casuals and stood far away from the entrance, trying to avoid giving any additional situational cues to the participants. We wanted to prevent any bias adversely affecting our study and carefully observed the behaviour of the subjects reading the signs, recording their decision of walking through either door and then approached them, requesting to fill in the survey. RESULTS AND ANALYSIS: Though the response and the reactions from the subjects varied, a common trend in our experiment emerged. The participant would read the sign on the door when he/she approached to open the door and get confused. Then, he/she would take a step back and try to locate the other gender sign on the other door and finding one would relieve him/her and change their emotion. Then they would make a decision to walk through either door. The mean score on the SM scale was 12.1, an “Intermediate Score” as it falls in the band width of 9-14. It suggests that HKU undergraduates self-monitor themselves to a moderate degree on average and would be conscious of their social image. Our hypothesis would suggest that undergraduates are likely to conform to their respective gender roles.

The statistics obtained from our sample were consistent with our expectations in general. In fact, 28 out of the 40 or 70% participants conformed to their respective gender role. We found a modest positive co-relation of .4049 between SM Scale and conformity. It suggests that self-monitoring attitude may lead to gender conformity. We observed two major group differences based on the data collected. The first group was divided on basis of gender while the second on their score on SM Scale. Firstly, the SM Score mean for females was slightly higher (12.2) than for men (12). The standard deviation for females (3.578) was lower compared to men (4.193) and the range for females was 4-21 and 3-18 for men. The data and statistics obtained are indicative of females conforming marginally more than males. Out of the 28 subjects that did conform, 16 or 57.1% were females and only 12 or 42.9% were males.

Secondly, a score of 15-22 is high and 0-8 is low on the SM scale. Out of the 7 subjects who scored low on SM scale, only 3 or 42.9% conformed. Out of the 23 subjects who scored intermediate on SM scale, only 16 or 69.6% conformed and out of the 10 subjects who scored high on SM Scale, 9 or 90% conformed. This suggest that people who score high on the SM Scale are more likely to conform than people who score lower on the SM Scale. A third group difference, which is based on our observation of arrival of participant in a party or not can be suggested. In a group of two females and three males, a male pointed out the discrepancy at the entrance which surprised the whole group. They talked among themselves and even had a laugh, pointing at the symbols. Nonetheless, the group split up and members walked through respective doors and then rejoined once inside the building. This may suggests that people are more likely to conform if they arrive in a party consisting of both the genders.


From our data and observations in the experiment, we can make a few conclusions. Firstly, though HKU undergraduates are likely to conform to gender roles, females are more likely to do so. Secondly, there is a modest correlation between self-monitoring attitude and conformity, though we could not establish a direct causal relationship between the two variables. Thirdly, it seems that people who are scored higher on the SM Scale are more likely to conform to gender roles than those who scored lower on the SM Scale. Lastly, subjects are more likely to conform to gender roles when they arrive in a party consisting of both the genders. CRITICAL EVALUATION: Booker (2012) says that behavioural conformity is linked with youth happiness. Conforming behaviour enables us to create a strong social world and experience belongingness to a group, thereby facilitating social identification and security, leading to equilibrium of contentment. This suggests the importance of conforming in order to achieve happiness. Secondly, conforming behaviour is actually a “self-defining act” and people conform to keep their “state of peace” (Santee and Jackson, 1982). This too may explain why people conform in general.

Furthermore, there is a difference in the view of conformity between both the genders ‒ men regard non-conforming behaviour as “self-image enhancing” while women regard conformity as “positive” and “self defining”. This helps explain why women are more likely than men to conform. Another plausible explanation for gender differences in conformity is given by Maslach, Santee and Wade (1987), who believe conformity is based on personality traits of men and women. Men are supposed to be “assertive” and “independent” while women are supposed to be “sensitive”. Recently, researchers from University of London (2011) have even found a mild genetic influence explaining gender conforming traits (31%) in women. According to Fraser, most people would like to maintain a positive public image and are perceptive to what people think about them. This may explain why high self-monitors who actively apply impression management are more likely to conform than low self-monitors. The fear of distorting their public image or even dampening their social popularity would be a powerful incentive for high self monitors to conform.

Lastly, individuals composing a group face a stronger effect of normative social influence than a collection of individuals who do not form a group (Deutsch and Gerard, 1954). This may explain why the conformity increases when subjects arrive in a party consisting of both genders. I would now like to talk about potential flaws in our experiment and some methods to improve our model. Firstly, conformity is not completely dependent on a single variable and we should have used a multi-variable regression model to estimate it instead. In our experiment, one of the omitted variables is lack of social pressure or incentive to conform. The subjects may not have sufficient incentive to walk through their gender assigned door as there was no reward or penalty in terms of social acceptance or rejection.

Also, as many as 9 subjects reported that they did not notice any gender symbol and walked in using random door. None of them was suffering from any eyesight problem like colour blindness. Furthermore, Livingstone brings to light a potential confounding variable ‒ civility. Civility primarily depends on disposition of the subject, which in turn depends on parenting, school education and cultural background. We could have included all these variables in our model. Another potential flaw in experiment is not having a control group. Maybe the female lavatory near the left door favoured the female participants to walk through the left door, increasing their conforming number. Either a control group or interchanging the symbols on the doors after the first 20 subjects had filled in the survey would have removed this bias. To improve our model, we could have used better operational definitions too. The SM Scale is controversial and walking through a door marked by a sign may not be a relevant gender issue. Secondly, we could have used a larger budget and more time to improve our model. For instance, it took us four days to get permission to conduct the experiment at Chi Wah.

If we had more time, we would have conducted the experiment in the Main Library and Medical Campus to get a representative sample. Increasing our sample size would have enabled us to detect micro trends and be more accurate. We could have offered subjects who refused to fill in the survey monetary compensation. Our study may have been subject to experimenter bias in spite our full effort to minimise the bias as we were expecting a positive correlation. Blinding was too expensive an option for us. PERSONAL REFLECTION: Though this experiment answered some questions, it has left me wondering about many more. If given the opportunity, I would like to conduct a few follow up experiments to seek some answers. Firstly, I would like to find out if there is any link between stress levels and gender conformity.

This relationship arises from my observation that some subjects in our experiment who walked through the wrong door and also refused to fill in the survey seemed to be impatient and rude. Though there may be some other reasons behind their gender non-conformity behaviour and mood like being short on time, we cannot say for sure and will have to find out for ourselves. Also, I would like to find out if there is any threshold level for conformity? For instance, participants may refuse to conform by walking through a door in our experiment but they would probably conform while using a lavatory. If non-conformers conform if they know they would be severely rebuked for their actions, what precisely is that threshold level? The experiment also cleared my misconceptions of conducting experiments.

I thought that it would be very easy to design and conduct an experiment. However, given our goal, there were so many ways of going about it that was very hard to select the best method given our resources and time constraint. Carrying out the experiment has its own fair share of struggles. I would also like to mention my experience with experimenter bias. While drafting the experiment, I was very confident that I could not be susceptible to experimenter bias. However, when we started the experiment, it was very hard not to hand out the survey to our friends and acquaintances who happened to come in through the doors but were not the 10th subject as per our systematic sampling rule. Finally, after having finished the experiment, I think it was painstakingly work involving a lot of planning and careful evaluation. Nonetheless, I had fun conducting the experiment.

1. Scher, N., & Thompson, T. (2007). Self-Monitoring and Conformity: A Comparison of Self-Report and Behavioral Measures. UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research X (2007) Retrieved December 1, 2012, from

2. Kalat, James W. (2008). Introduction to Psychology, Ninth (International) Edition. Wadsworth: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

3. Fraser, M. “Mhaire”. Self Monitoring Notes and Resources. Retrieved December 2, 2012, from De Anza College Website:$157

4. Montclair SocioBlog. Livingston, J. (2009). Civility or Mindless Compliance? Retrieved December 2, 2012, from

5. Booker, Karene. (2012). Youths’ well-being linked to how well they conform to gender norms Retrieved December 4, 2012, from

6. Santee, R.T., & Jackson, S.E. (1882). Identity Implications of Conformity: Sex Differences in Normative and Attributional Judgements. Social Psychology Quarterly, 45(2), 121-125. Retrieved from December 7, 2012,

7. Maslach, C., Santee, R. T., & Wade, C. (1987). Individuation, Gender Role, and Dissent: Personality Mediators of Situational Forces. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1088-1093. Retrieved December 7, 2012,from

8. Science Daily. Jul 9, 2011. Sexual Orientation and Gender Conforming Traits in Women Are Genetic, Study Finds Retrieved December 9, 2012, from

9. Morton, Deutsch and Gerard, B. Harold. (1954). A Study of Normative and Informational Social Influences upon Individual Judgement. Research Center for Human Relations, New York University Retrieved December 10, 2012, from

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