Beyond Conformity

Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms, politics or being like-minded. Norms are implicit, specific rules, shared by a group of individuals, that guide their interactions with others.


Harvard psychologist Herbert Kelman identified three major types of conformity:

According to Deutsch and Gérard (1955), conformity results from a motivational conflict (between the fear of being socially rejected and the wish to say what we think is correct) that leads to normative influence, and a cognitive conflict (others create doubts in what we think) which leads to informational influence.

Peer Pressure

A explanation of how the peer pressure process works, called “the identity shift effect,” is introduced by social psychologist, Wendy Treynor, who weaves together Festinger's two seminal social-psychological theories (on dissonance, which addresses internal conflict, and social comparison, which addresses external conflict) into a unified whole. According to Treynor's original “identity shift effect” hypothesis, the peer pressure process works in the following way:

“One's state of harmony is disrupted when faced with the threat of external conflict (social rejection) for failing to conform to a group standard. Thus, one conforms to the group standard, but as soon as one does, eliminating this external conflict, internal conflict is introduced (because one has violated one's own standards). To rid oneself of this internal conflict (self-rejection), an “identity shift” is undertaken, where one adopts the group's standards as one's own, thereby eliminating internal conflict (in addition to the formerly eliminated external conflict), returning one to a state of harmony. Although the peer pressure process begins and ends with one in a (conflict-less) state of harmony, as a result of conflict and the conflict resolution process, one leaves with a new identity—a new set of internalized standards.”.

Milieu control

Milieu control is a term popularized by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton to describe tactics that control environment and human communication through the use of social pressure and group language; such tactics may include dogma, protocols, innuendo, slang, and pronunciation, which enables group members to identify other members, or to promote cognitive changes in individuals.

Milieu control involves the control of communication within a group environment, that also may (or may not) result in a significant degree of isolation from surrounding society. Additionally, Milieu control "includes other techniques to restrict members' contact with the outside world and to be able to make critical, rational, judgments about information.". Lifton originally used "milieu control" to describe brainwashing and mind control, but the term has since been applied to other contexts.

Bandwagon effect

A literal "bandwagon" is a wagon that carries a musical ensemble, or band, during the course of a parade, circus, or other entertainment event. The metaphorical use of the term bandwagon in reference to this phenomenon began in 1848. Individuals are highly influenced by the pressure and norms exerted by groups. As an idea or belief increases in popularity, people are more likely to adopt it; when seemingly everyone is doing something, there is an incredible pressure to conform. Individuals' impressions of public opinion or preference can originate from several sources.

The bandwagon effect works through a self-reinforcing mechanism, and can spread quickly and on a large-scale through a positive feedback loop, whereby the more who are affected by it, the more likely other people are to be affected by it too. A new concept that is originally promoted by only a single advocate or a minimal group of advocates can quickly grow and become widely popular, even when sufficient supporting evidence is lacking. What happens is that a new concept gains a small following, which grows until it reaches a critical mass, until for example it begins being covered by mainstream media, at which point a large-scale bandwagon effect begins, which causes more people to support this concept, in increasingly large numbers.


Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Cohesiveness, or the desire for cohesiveness, in a group may produce a tendency among its members to agree at all costs.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (also stylised as 1984) is a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale written by the English writer George Orwell. It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell's ninth and final book completed in his lifetime.

Irving Janis pioneered the initial research on the groupthink theory. He does not cite Whyte, but coined the term again by analogy with "doublethink" and similar terms that were part of the newspeak vocabulary in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. He initially defined groupthink as follows:

“The main principle of groupthink, which I offer in the spirit of Parkinson's Law, is this: "The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups”.

To make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms indicative of groupthink:

Type I: Overestimations of the group — its power and morality

Type II: Closed-mindedness

Type III: Pressures toward uniformity

A very cohesive group abides with all group norms; but whether or not groupthink arises is dependent on what the group norms are. If the group encourages individual dissent and alternative strategies to problem solving, it is likely that groupthink will be avoided even in a highly cohesive group. This means that high cohesion will lead to groupthink only if one or both of the other antecedents is present, situational context being slightly more likely than structural faults to produce groupthink.

Asch's Experiment

In psychology, the Asch conformity experiments or the Asch paradigm were a series of studies directed by Solomon Asch studying if and how individuals yielded to or defied a majority group and the effect of such influences on beliefs and opinions.

Demonstration of the Solomon Asch conformity experiments were a series of psychological experiments conducted by during the 1950s. The experiments revealed the degree to which a person's own opinions are influenced by those of groups (aka peer pressure). Asch found that people were willing to ignore reality and give an incorrect answer in order to conform to, or fit in with, the rest of the group.

A research question examined by Asch was whether varying the magnitude of majority "wrongness" affected subject conformity to group norms. To answer this question, the difference between the reference line and three comparison lines was systematically increased to determine if there was a point where the extremity of the majority's error affected subject conformity.

The authors failed to find a point at which subject conformity to the majority was completely eliminated, even when the disparity between lines was increased to 7 inches.

Milgram's Shock Experiment