Conformity is the term used for a change in human behaviour that is in accordance with the behaviour of the group. (Beran, 2015) This change of behaviour may occur as a result of a variety of factors, but the main element of conformity is that it is influenced socially. In other words, it could be considered a consequence of group pressure (Crutchfield, 1955) or it can be defined as an adjustment of a person’s previous behaviour in the submission of a social norm.
(Wiener, Carpenter, & Carpenter, 1957).
According to Kelman (1958) conformity comes in these categories: The temporary adjustment of behaviour while internally disagreeing with that behaviour, which is called ‘Compliance’ (temporary because it subsides once the group pressure is no longer pressuring). The change in comportment and inner belief whilst in the presence of the group which is termed as ‘Identification’, and the changing of behaviour along with their internal belief in all circumstances which is called ‘Internalisation’ (Sparks, 2015) Another type of conformity known as informational conformity is demonstrated by Sherif’s autokinetic experiment, which demonstrates that when in an unclear circumstance people tend to trust others for direction (i.
e. follow the group norm) as they seek to take the correct action, but may not be aware of how to take the appropriate action or what the right thing to do is, therefore by looking at others they can be informed of this. When the majority possesses more knowledge, the likelihood of conformity increases because people in the minority do not have enough knowledge to confront the majority’s stance.
This influence is not objected in order to create or preserve a fulfilling self-defining relationship to another person or group’ (Kelman, 1958, p. 53).
A real-life example of conformity would be how individuals conform to the schemas of social roles, such as nurses, teachers and police officers. Zimbardo’s Prison Study is a definitive example of this, as it includes regular individuals to interchangeably adopt roles of either prisoner or police officer and their personality/behaviour aligned with the schema of their role.
Conformity usually occurs due to a phenomenon called ‘majority influence’. This refers to the behavioural influence that a greater number of people has on the way a smaller amount of people conduct themselves. Majority influence was analysed by Asch (1955) who organized the well-known line study. He showed a line to an individual and instructed them to select the line from a group of 3 that aligned with that line. Associates were told to give an inaccurate response 12 of 18 times with the intention of testing if the participant would conform. Asch’s results indicated that the participant would conform to the incorrect response of 38.8% of the time. (Asch, 1955) This demonstrated the result of majority influence because although the answer was fairly clear the attendees still gave the incorrect answer in order to seem correct as they trusted the majority more than their own initial attitude. This is proved by Asch’s interview of the participants after the experiment as they expressed feeling self-conscious and fearing disapproval. Contrastingly, there also exists a recent research topic called ‘Minority Social Influence’ which describes a category of social influence in which the deviant minority disapproves the group norms and impacts the majority to change their behaviour. (Vaughan & Hogg, 2011).
These are all general possible causes for conformity that could apply to all ages, including children. The social conformity model of Asch (19S6) was repeated to analyse the correlation between age and conforming behaviour. One hundred and ten Australian adolescents and children in school ranging from the age of three until the age of 17 years became participants of this study. All participants were asked to be included as part of the minority of one against a wrong but united majority of 3. The results showed that conformity levels weaken with age in perceptually like-minded tasks. Disagreeing research results from previous research can be linked to an unclear task within the research. (Walker & Andrade, 1996)
The ‘majority influence’ can influence children more than adults as they are more prone to peer pressure in school’s and have caretakers which are responsible for them which are more knowledgable and as mentioned previously, conformity rates rise when the majority possess more knowledge because minority members (in this case the children) have less knowledge to confront the majority’s stance. A key reason for conformity in children is, of course, individual differences.
There is a study that bases its research on the five‐factor model personality traits of both the children and the parents which induced conformity in 3.5-year-old children by employing a model similar to Asch’s in overt conformity (public reactions) is measured along with also internal judgements (internal beliefs after conformist reactions): A correct covert judgement after an incorrect conformist reaction due to a socially normative incentive. However, a false internal judgement caused by an informational incentive. The data showed that high parental introversion was related to the participants’ overall level of conformity and that high participant introversion and high openness were correlated with an informational instead of a normative incentive to conform. This suggests that consideration of the context of the social setting or the level of social engagement could be a significant variable in the appearance of conformity. (Hellmer, Stenberg, & Fawcett, 2018)
Another child conformity experiment included 251 children in the third, sixth, ninth, eleventh, or twelfth grade that were instructed to respond to possible circumstances in which associates told the child to engage in different behaviours such as either prosocial, antisocial, or neutral behaviours. The age patterns for conformity were inconsistent in all forms of behaviours, and peer conformity rose in the 9th or 6th grade. In Study 2, 273 children in the 3rd, 6th, 9th, 11th, or 12th grades reacted to circumstances assessing conformity to classmates and parents on antisocial and prosocial behaviour. Increased levels of conformity were found for antisocial behaviour in 9th-grade children. However, there were not any age differences in prosocial behaviour. In addition, conformity levels towards parents were seen to weaken as the children became older. There was a negative correlation in conformity towards parents and classmates were and the relations between parents and classmate conformity differed as the children’s age increased. (Berndt, 1979)
In conclusion, there is a great range of reasons for why individuals conform and in particular when referring to children the conformity level seems to be higher. This makes sense as children have less life experience and therefore can be more gullible and attentive towards authorities.