Most people have a need to fit in with others in their social group. How far will a person go in order to fit in? Will they admit to liking a movie when they actually don’t, simply to be accepted as part of a group? Should a person purchase an item they don’t want or can’t afford simply because they feel it will help them fit it better with those around them? Everyone must ask themself how much they’re willing to conform in order to be accepted by a social group.
Researchers at Baylor University conducted a study concerning the desire to conform to social standards that could explain the behavior of everyone from corporate CEOs to gang members. Two experiments were conducted.
During the first experiment participants were asked to choose the amount of their personal resources to contribute to a group, and how much they kept for themselves. Points were awarded and divided equally among all the participants. This meant some people could contribute little or nothing and still benefit from other’s generosity. During the study participants were told the amount of their contribution decisions would be made known by others.
The participants were placed with group members who had pre-determined contribution behavior. This led to some interesting results. In once situation the contributions were very constant. In another it varied greatly. Participants in one group gave 65 percent of their resources on average. The other group only averaged a contribution rate of 25 percent.
The groups in which people contributed generously consisted of high-achieves. Those who donated very little were not.
During the second experiment participants determined their contribution amount and were then asked a series of questions. This provided insight concerning a participant’s feelings about the group. During this experiment participants were told nobody would know about their contribution decisions. The results showed that participants would consistently contribute at the same levels even when their decisions were only known by them. Their behavior remained the same whether it was private or public.
The studies were conducted so the participants believed they were with a group of total strangers. It seems that even if people didn’t know one another, their desire to conform to their perception of social norms made them feel good about themselves and the group.
In a February 11, 2013 press release Kyle Irwin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor and lead author is quoted as saying “The punch line is very simple: Conformity leads to positive feelings, attachments, solidarity and these are what motivate people to continue their behavior.”
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