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Conformity or conformism is the agreement of a person with the norms of a social , substantive or ethical context . Conformity can be rooted in an inner need for a sense of belonging and a longing for integration through assimilation, or it can be a result of the external pressure to conform from the surrounding society or reference group .

With critical overtones, “conformism” denotes an attitude which, in terms of life and decision-making, is above average, while giving up its own individuality, is oriented towards the norms and opinions of the majority of society or the reference group. The opposite is non-conformism or also individualism . Here the individual strives to make their own independent decisions comparatively strongly. Individualism is a multi-layered term which, in addition to the meaning in contrast to conformism, also denotes a system of thought, the opposite of which is collectivism . The West German '68 movement , for example, protested against a noted by their conformism in society of the postwar period , the strict inter alia, a uniform dress code , but also by mass media unified opinions in the mainstream was visible. But even today, as economic competition intensifies, the pressure on the individual to comply with the requirements of the markets is growing.

Origin of the term

The terms conformism and nonconformism are associated with English religious history. A “ nonconformist ” is originally to be understood as someone who has not submitted to the English state church . As a result, this became the name given to someone who disagrees with the prevailing opinion . Nonconformism was given the “aftertaste” of personal independence and courage.

Social psychology

Conformity as a term from social psychology describes the agreement of the attitudes or behavior of an individual with other people, for example the generally recognized norms and values ​​of his reference group or a society as a whole.

Walter Moede observed at the beginning of the 20th century that there was a tendency for individual performance differences in a school group to align. Those who did very well working alone fell in the group, while students with poor individual achievements showed an improvement in the group.

Social psychologists differentiate between two causes of conformity:

  • the informative influence , which causes behavioral adaptation because fellow human beings can be a source of information when the individual is unsure, because they cannot assess the situation (for example in a crisis such as an accident or a natural disaster), or do not know how something is done, and
  • the normative influence of social groups , which induces individuals to behave in such a way that they do not attract attention by deviating from group norms.

Examples can be found in the Stanford Prison Experiment . Voluntary students were given the role of prisoner or guard by drawing lots. After just a few hours, the initial behavioral insecurity turned into a homogeneous role behavior. The informative influence consisted of the behavior of the others and what the individuals thought they knew (from comparable situations or from the media) about the “correct” behavior of a guard or prisoner. The normative influence consisted of the actual or only expected sanctions in the event of deviations from this behavior.

The ideal image of the female body is subject to considerable fluctuations over time and depends, among other things, on social influence (other factors include food security and climate). Both informative influence (“Which characters do the others have, which characters have role models / stars?”) As well as normative influence (scorn and ridicule when there is a strong deviation from the ideal) at work. One-third of 12 to 13-year-old girls in the United States are currently trying to lose weight with tablets, vomiting, or dieting.

The social influence of an authority was examined in different variations of the Milgram experiment . The proof that informative influence contributed to the conformity was provided by the fact that the test subjects were less obedient when the instructions were given by a “layperson”. If there were confederates (disguised initiates) who questioned the instructions of the authoritarian investigator, the subjects were also less obedient, which shows the normative influence to which they were exposed.

Informative social influence

A classic experiment on informative social influence is that of Muzaffer Şerif , in which the distance estimates of the test subjects became more and more similar. The group agreement found in this way became a stable conviction of the individual (so-called private acceptance ).

If you are unsure what to do, look around to see what others are doing. If they don't know what to do either, nobody will do anything. This so-called pluralistic ignorance , combined with the diffusion of responsibility (“Why should I help when others can do it too?”) Is the most common reason for failure to provide help in groups. Influence of information is also made responsible for the mass panic caused by Orson Welles' radio play War of the Worlds .

Normative social influence

The classic experiment on normative social influence is Asch's conformity experiment, in which the test subjects obviously gave incorrect judgments under the pressure of conformity of the group.

According to Latané's Social Impact Theory (1981), the strength of normative social influence depends on three factors:

  • Group size: The influence increases sharply up to a size of 4 more members, up to 7 a little more and then remains constant (in Asch's experiment)
  • how important membership in this group is to the person concerned
  • spatial and temporal proximity of the others, how available the group norms are in memory.

Importance of decision

Robert Baron also varied in his experiment from 1996 how important the decision was for the test subject by giving the instruction in the "unimportant" condition that it was just a preliminary study, while in the "important" condition supposedly that The test subject's suitability as an eyewitness was checked and money could also be earned for good performance. The task was to find the image of a suspect from a selection. Three confederates (disguised employees of barons) always gave a wrong answer. With a presentation time of 0.5 seconds, the task was almost unsolvable, which is why informative influence took hold and in the "important" condition 51% of the subjects shared the (wrong) opinion of the group, while in the "unimportant" condition 65% stuck to their own opinion.

With a presentation time of 5 seconds, the task was easy to solve, which is why the wrong opinion of the confederates exerted normative influence . In the “important” condition, however, only 16% of the test subjects gave in to peer pressure, while in the “unimportant” condition it was 33%.

Private acceptance or public obedience

Whoever adapts his behavior to the (actual or merely suspected) ideas of others, i.e. who is under social influence, may or may not adopt the relevant norms. In the first case one speaks of private acceptance , in the second of public obedience (in the English original public compliance ). One possible reason for private acceptance is the assessment that the standard was drawn up by experts. Therefore, informative influence leads to private acceptance more often than normative influence. Another possible cause, according to the theory of cognitive dissonance, is the lack of external justification. For example, you can submit to the applicable discipline during your military service, but return to your own norms in your private life. If, on the other hand, you want to belong to a certain group, with the adapted behavior you also assume the conviction that these standards are the right ones.

In his general theory of conformity, Rüdiger Peuckert , in agreement with other authors, differentiates between conformity conformity and attitude conformity . The former concerns behavior that is adapted to that of the reference group, the latter concerns inner convictions. The general theory of conformity reads: "If the total profit expected from conforming (non-conforming) behavior is greater than the total profit expected from non-conforming (conforming) behavior, then the person behaves conformally (non-conforming).” According to Peuckert, the Subjectively expected total gain of a person for choosing the appropriate alternative course of action and thus for conforming or non-conforming behavior (cf. Piliavin's cost-benefit model ).


Deindividuation through anonymity in a group increases the willingness of individuals to behave in accordance with the group. An example is the gratuitous laughter in a laughter yoga group. If violent behavior is part of the group norm, deindividuation, for example through masking and uniform clothing as in the Ku Klux Klan or the Black Block , can produce behavior that violates the norms of the individual or society.

See also


  • Günter Bierbrauer: Social Psychology , Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 978-3-17-018213-4 .
  • Robert B. Cialdini: The Psychology of Persuasion , 5th Edition, Huber, Bern 2008, ISBN 978-3-456-84478-7 .
  • René Hirsig: Human conformity behavior - simulated on the computer , Birkhäuser, Basel 1974, ISBN 3-7643-0712-9 (= Interdisciplinary Systems Research Volume 1, also dissertation No. 5049 at the ETH Zurich , Department of Behavioral Science, Automation, 1973 under the title : Representation and investigation of the conformity behavior as a time-discrete, dynamic process ).
  • Rüdiger Peuckert: conformity. Manifestations - causes - effects , Enke, Stuttgart 1975, ISBN 3-432-88331-5
  • Günter Wiswede: Sociology conforming behavior , Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-17-002753-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Conformity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Statistics from the American Anorexia Bulimia Association. In: A. Ellin: Dad, do you think I look too fat? New York Times September 17, 2000
  2. a b Rohrer et al. (1954). The stability of autokinetic judgments . Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49, pp. 595-597
  3. S. Asch (1951). Opinions and social pressure . Scientific American , 193, pp. 31-35
  4. ^ Bibb Latané: The psychology of social impact . American Psychologist , 39, pp. 343-356
  5. RS Baron et al. (1996). Page no longer available , search in web archives: The forgotten variable in conformity research: Impact of task importance on social influence@1@ 2Template: Dead Link / . Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, pp. 912-927
  6. ^ E. Aronson , TD Wilson, RM Akert: Social Psychology . Pearson study. 6th edition 2008. ISBN 978-3-8273-7359-5 , pp. 234f.
  7. Peuckert 1975, p. 45
  8. ^ Johnson, Downing Deindividuation and valence of cues: Effects of prosocial and antisocial behavior . In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 37, 1979, pp. 1532-1538
  9. Postmes, Spears: deindividuation and anti-normative behavior: A meta-analysis . In: Psychological Bulletin , 123, 1998, pp. 238-259