public compliance

Do we truly make our own decisions?

            Conformity is when we change our behavior to align with that of other people, and informative social influence is when we follow those around us when put in an ambiguous situation, because we trust their judgment more than our own. For example, when making a decision in an unclear situation, we’re sometimes 90 percent sure of it, but we need that last 10 percent. However, when we hastily seek advice and a couple of people disagree with us, we might change our decision completely, with no private acceptance. More likely than not, we end up regretting those choices, for they are a direct result of conformity and a lack of controlled thinking.

            Furthermore, when it comes to more socially relevant issues, such as one’s political standing, some people fall victims to normative social influence, where they publicly comply to a group in order to fit in and become accepted. The person socially tunes himself to that group’s social norms, and allows their norms to become the basis of his public decisions. For instance, if a woman wants her Islamist friends to accept her, she will probably start advocating the Muslim Brotherhood, and maybe even accompany her friends to some of their meetings. Although she does not believe in what she is doing, she is guided by her injunctive norms, for she wants to fit in and to have high self-esteem. Moreover, she will gain idiosyncrasy credits as she continues to conform, allowing her occasional deviance from the group to be accepted. To what extent would she continue to conform, though? The Social Impact Theory would explain the strength of the Islamist’s social influence on her in terms of three factors: the group’s importance, how close they are to the woman, and how large the group is.

            As opposed to one person conforming to a group, there is also minority influence, where a small group of people (good or bad) change the majority’s actions or beliefs. So let’s say, two out of ten people in a group smoke. While each person’s injunctive norm towards smoking is that it’s wrong, the descriptive norm is that everyone smokes anyways. Such a descriptive norm, along with persuasive communication can cause the minority (the non-smokers) to begin smoking. Thus, the observed behavior becomes a habit.

            Some people may internally justify those habits by owning up to their decisions despite their cognitive dissonance, while others might externally justify their behavior by blaming it on those around them. Regardless of each person’s method of self-persuasion, the existence of these new habits, actions, beliefs or decisions highlights the effect of conformity. It also poses  extremely thought-provoking questions: Do we truly make our own decisions? How much of our lives do we actually control?

Below are some images of conformity.

 

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