Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • This story begins 200 000 years ago with the birth of this little creature: a Homo Sapien

  • or - in English - Wise Man [19].

  • For millennia, this creature was insignificant, weak and unremarkable.

  • It had not yet been honed by time, and sat far from the top of the food chain.

  • It survived by eating plants and the meagre scraps of more dominant animals such as lions,

  • hyenas, and jackals [19].

  • Yet, in a curious turn of events, it came to be the last surviving human species and

  • has catapulted to the top of the food chain.

  • The tables had turned and, instead of running from predators, Sapiens had become big game

  • hunters.

  • Thanks to natural pressures, Sapiens had evolved the capacity to cooperate in large and complex

  • groups [19]; even the strongest lion was no match for a well-coordinated tribe of humans.

  • Alone, even the smartest of their kind couldn't get very far.

  • But, collectively, they could soar through the skies and enter the cosmic realm of the

  • gods.

  • How, exactly, did humans acquire this capacity for large and complex cooperation?

  • Like all species, Sapiens had to contend with the great filter: Nature.

  • All entered but only those with the traits best suited for survival & reproduction made

  • it out safely.

  • Time and time again, Nature rewarded cooperative Sapiens with survival and reproduction.

  • As a result, their group instincts became stronger.

  • Cooperation can be thought of as a master ability with several subordinate abilities

  • such as obedience and conformity.

  • However, this ability truly is a double-edged sword.

  • The abilities that allow Sapiens to work together to uplift one another also allow them to work

  • together to oppress one another.

  • In a previous essay, we took a look at the behaviour of obedience.

  • Now, let's take a look at its sister behaviour: conformity.

  • So, what is conformity?

  • In essence, conformity is when an individual alters their belief or behavior to relieve

  • internal tension caused by group pressure.

  • To understand conformity better, let's take a look at one of the landmark studies in social

  • psychology.

  • Let's say I showed you these two cards and asked you to match the line on the left to

  • the one of a similar height on the right.

  • It's obvious, right?

  • The answer is C. In the 1950s, psychologist Soloman Asch asked individuals to solve 750

  • variations of this question.

  • In total, there were only 3 incorrect answers out of 750.

  • You're probably not surprised because the test is actually pretty easy [4, 7, 20].

  • However, the problem gets a lot more interesting when you bring people together.

  • Asch brought a group of people into a room, and got them to solve 18 of these line questions.

  • All of the group members were actors except for a single subject.

  • All of the actors were told to answer 12 out of the 18 questions incorrectly.

  • [4, 7, 20] After running this experiment several times,

  • it was found that subjects would conform to the groups incorrect answer a third of the

  • time.

  • 75% of subjects conformed to the groups incorrect answer at least once.

  • 25% of subjects never conformed.

  • Remember, when subjects were asked to solve this task alone, less than half a percent

  • of people guessed incorrectly.

  • The task was simple to do, so it was quite clear that subjects were conforming to the

  • group.

  • Asch asked participants why they had conformed, and they gave various answers: some said that

  • they didn't know if they were actually right, and some said that they didn't want to stand

  • out from the group.

  • This leads us to the different types of conformity: conversion vs compliance, and normative vs

  • informational.

  • [4, 7, 20].

  • When an individual conforms to a belief or behavior both publicly and privately, they

  • have undergone a conversion.

  • Since the individual has truly adopted the belief, this is the strongest form of conformity.

  • [7, 22] On the other hand, when an individual conforms

  • to a belief or behavior publicly but not privately, they have complied.

  • When Asch ran a variation of the experiment that allowed the subject to write their answer

  • down privately, conformity rates dropped.

  • So, it's highly likely that subjects in that experiment complied but were not converted.

  • But, why would they comply?

  • This brings us to normative vs informational conformity.

  • [7, 22] Normative conformity occurs when an individual

  • fears social rejection.

  • Social rejection is a perfectly normal fear.

  • When we look to Sapiens of the past, it's very likely that individuals who feared social

  • rejection were more likely to be careful about going against the group.

  • As a result, they were probably less likely to become isolated or exiled and stood a better

  • chance of survival.

  • In this case, the fear serves as an evolutionary advantage and would be likely to get passed

  • on in subsequent generations.

  • We often want to feel accepted by the group and so we get rid of internal tension by publicly

  • conforming.

  • Normative conformity often goes hand in hand with compliance.

  • [7, 22] On the other hand, informational conformity

  • occurs when an individual is unsure about what to believe and so they look to the group

  • for guidance.

  • Informational conformity often leads to conversion.

  • Now, let's look at the various factors that affect conformity.

  • [7, 22] Group size: Asch noticed that conformity was

  • greatest when there was a group of at least three people.

  • [4, 7, 20, 22] Group Consensus: Conformity was more difficult

  • to overcome when all members in a group agreed.

  • However, individuals were much less likely to conform when there was at least one other

  • dissenter in the group.

  • Nonconformists and dissenters liberate others to dissent as well.

  • [4, 7, 20, 22] Privacy: Conformity rates were also lower

  • when individuals got to state their answers privately as opposed to publicly [4, 7, 20].

  • Culture: People who come from cultures that value the individual are also less likely

  • to conform than cultures who value the collective [4, 7, 20].

  • So, now you know about the different types of conformity and some of the factors affecting

  • it.

  • But, when and why do people diverge?

  • After performing a set of studies, Jonah Berger put forth a compelling theory that people

  • often act with, or against, a group based on what that action signals about themselves

  • [21].

  • For example, let's say that a celebrity buys a new purse from a high-end fashion line.

  • Because the bag is new, trendy, and expensive it becomes a strong signal of status to others.

  • Other celebrities may copy that purchase in order to send a similar signal to others:

  • that they are fashionable and wealthy.

  • Now, let's say that someone starts to make knockoff versions of this bag and sell them

  • for cheap to less wealthy people who want to send a similar status signal to their peers.

  • As more and more people buy knockoff bags, the original signal loses its strength and

  • changes form; it becomes harder to distinguish authentic signals from fake ones.

  • The people who originally bought the bag may stop using it and diverge from this group

  • because they no longer want to be associated with its signal.

  • While the bag used to be a strong status signal, now it signals inauthenticity.

  • People often purchase things because what it tells other people about themselves, especially

  • in a domain that they care about.

  • Likewise, people often publicly act depending on what signal that action sends to others.

  • Let's consider another common example.

  • Imagine sitting in a high school class and the teacher asks a difficult question.

  • Maybe you know the answer but don't want to put your hand up because you fear the signal

  • that you might send to others: you're a know it all or a nerd.

  • On the other hand, someone else might look at that same scenario and see an opportunity

  • to broadcast that they are studious and intelligent.

  • Both people are looking to broadcast different signals to the class, and the identity they

  • care about will decide how they act.

  • So, now we have seen that conformity is a subset of cooperative behavior and is actually

  • a huge benefit to humanity.

  • However, the degree to which people conform can be affected by altering group size, group

  • consensus , privacy, and culture.

  • Lastly, we went over the theory that humans are always sending signals to one another

  • and, in large part, this decides whether they publicly conform or diverge.

  • Keep in mind that this is just an introduction to the complex behavior that is conformity,

  • and not a comprehensive look.

  • I hope that I have provided you with an insightful taster into the subject and have motivated

  • your appetite to look deeper.

This story begins 200 000 years ago with the birth of this little creature: a Homo Sapien

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 conformity group conform signal publicly people

Why Do We Conform?

  • 3 0
    Summer posted on 2021/04/24
Video vocabulary