Conformity is behavior change designed to match the actions of others. During my research, I found many examples of conformitive behavior. I often related conformity to adolescents due to the fact that they usually do their best to try and fit in when it comes to group settings. This type of behavior can be seen in college students attending educational facilities away from home. Those that are in dorms tend to indulge in drinking even if they aren’t “big drinkers”.
They do this to conform to that of others and to be included in the fun and try and fit in. One last example that I will discuss prior to getting into my own observation, was the study that was done my Crandall in 1988 which examined normative social influences involving bulimia in college sororities. Sororities are the true definition of conformity and those that don’t conform are usually not allowed to continue to pledge.
In the particular sororities that were examined, Crandall found that it had its own norm when it came to the “right” amount of food to eat and the popularity within the sorority was associated with adhering to this norm. Those that wanted to be a part of the sororities needed to conform to the “norm” and fell into a bulimic state. These girls had to of known this was not healthy for them yet they wanted to continue to become of part of this group and follow the “norm” that was set out. To me, this is just ridiculous. Some of us have issues with conforming and I believe I’m one of those people.
The observation that I decided to conduct was that of a military setting. I decided to do this based on the fact that when I was in the military, there were times when I struggled with those appointed over me because I knew the tasks that they were giving me were wrong. I wasn’t willing to conform when I knew it wasn’t right. This is where my “issue” with authority came into play. The military is one of, if not the largest, organization that requires conformity to the fullest. Those that don’t conform will be punished. During my reading I found a Japanese saying that really hit close to home.
“The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”. What that means to me is that it’s better to not stand out in the group but rather conform and fall amongst them. Prior to the start of my observation, I had a background of the military setting so I guess we could call that an unfair advantage because maybe I didn’t go into this assignment with open-mindedness. I had the assumed idea that those being observed would conform to the standards set forth by the military official in charge of them regardless if they thought that it was right/wrong.
I envisioned that normative pressure would come into play since those that are in authoritative position are respected and looked up to. So, in order to support my assumption, I decided to have my wife, who is currently active duty and a Division Officer, assist me. She didn’t do this by choice, but I had her conform I asked her to give personnel in her division orders that they would know were wrong. For instance, she gave three separate Sailors (2-E3, 1-E4) direction to go to McDonald’s to get her something to eat while in a duty status.
Then, she briefed all of them at duty section muster that no one was authorized to leave the confines of the ship on their duty for any reason to include going to get something to eat. They all were aware this wasn’t allowed but being that she told them, they thought that it must be right. There was no questioning attitude, just a “yes Ma’am” by every single one. I wanted her to take it one step further so I asked her to do something that would affect the safety of Sailors and see how they responded. Would they conform? So, all her Sailors are required to wear protective head gear and glasses due to the dry dock environment and the hazards associated. She went to quarters and directed them all to come back tomorrow with only their hard hats. She stated glasses were no longer required.
Not one person said anything when she gave this information out. No one questioned her but simply just went on about their days. The next day, over 75% of her personnel showed up without glasses. This was clearly a safety violation and could potentially have an impact on their individual safety but because she was an authoritative figure, they accepted that risk and conformed to what she stated. It wasn’t right but they did it anyway.
After it was completed, she let them know that it was ok to question things that you thought weren’t right. She informed them about the study and stated that she was surprised so many had not followed their instincts and did the right thing. I wasn’t quite so shocked by the results. I saw a lot of Sailors do things that aren’t necessarily right because someone higher ranking told them and instead of questioning them, and possibly getting in trouble, they just did it. So, the results she got didn’t surprise me. In the military, it’s like the unspoken rule…just conform. Overall, this study was exactly what I thought it was going to be.
In many situations, we are uncertain how to think or act/react to those around us especially when it’s not the socially accepted “norm”. We tend to use the behavior and actions of others to dictate what were going to do. Informational social influence occurs because we conform using others as a source of information. That’s exactly what happened in my observation. No one stood up and said it was wrong so being that my wife told them it was right (she was the source of information), they did it! Was it right, no! This is where I think change needs to happen. Stand up for what you believe.
Don’t just be rebellious because you can but have a reason and stand by it. Find people who believe in the same thing that you believe in and take a stance. Her Sailors should have confided in one another and they all should have worn their glasses to muster knowing that it was their safety that they were protecting. All of them should have stood up to protect themselves!