How Social Psychology Explains Why We Conform

By Daniel Richardson

Part of Social Psychology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

No matter how urgently someone insists that they’re an individual, with their own unique way of looking at and experiencing the world, Social Psychology tell us that at a fundamental level, people want to be like one another. Social psychologists explain this in several ways:

  • The basic urge to mimic: Part of the essence of social interaction for human beings is mimicry of each other, and so unsurprisingly habits and norms can spread between people like the common cold.

  • Getting information from others: Conforming to the behaviour of other people is very useful when you want to know something. If you don’t know how to behave, or if something about the situation is ambiguous, you follow others.

  • Needing to fit in: Your behaviour is shaped by the desire to be like those around you. Usually the goal is social approval or membership of the in-group that you admire.

  • Absorbing opinions: When people live in a community, they tend to share beliefs and opinions. Of course, not everyone agrees all the time, but there is a tendency for opinions to conform.

  • Aligning your perceptions with others’: In some situations people will believe that they see the same thing as other people: Not because it is the right thing to see, or because they have been explicitly persuaded, but because that’s simply what everyone else sees.