Conformity and obedience

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] I want to start off by talking about the differences between conformity and obedience, because while these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, in psychology they refer to different, albeit related things. Conformity, or peer pressure, describes how adjust our behavior or thinking in order to go along with a group. Obedience, on the other hand, describes how we follow orders and obey authority. It doesn't involve a possible cognitive component in the way that conformity does. Think about the saying "I'm just following orders." And I want to point out that even though we normally talk about conformity and obedience as being negative things, they are both useful and helpful and important aspects of social behavior. For example, if you saw people running top speed out of a building that you were just about to enter, you would probably conform to this behavior and run away as well. And similarly, if a firefighter told you not to enter a building because it was on fire, you would probably acknowledge his authority in this situation and obey. We also conform and obey in little ways, like how we don't question the idea that cereal is a breakfast food. Or how we obey traffic laws. We don't really question the idea that we should stop at red lights and stop signs. That said, conformity and obedience can certainly have a dark side. For example, we know that peer pressure can sometimes lead to questionable behaviors. And we usually think about this in terms of children and teens. I remember when I was a teen, my mother used to ask me, "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?" And we certainly know that obedience can have a dark side. Many studies on this topic were actually inspired by the Holocaust. By how seemingly regular, normal people could commit acts of atrocity. And that's one of the reasons why studying conformity and obedience is so important. There are a number of different kinds of conformity and obedience, or different ways that we can be motivated by group pressures or by individuals. One way is through compliance. And this explains situations where we do a behavior to get a reward or to avoid punishment. One that someone might get if they disobeyed authority. So it's our tendency to go along with a behavior without necessarily believing in why we are doing it. And so, as you might expect, compliance tends to go away pretty quickly once the rewards and the punishments are removed. One example of compliance might be paying taxes. I don't always agree with all of the things that my tax dollars are being used for. But there are some things I do support, and I know that i will get punished if I don't pay them. Or think about TSA screenings. I don't think anyone really likes to stand in line or go through the detectors. But we know that we won't be allowed on the plane if we don't. The next way is through identification. And this is when we go along with something because we are motivated by our desire to be like a certain person. So this is the behavior that you see when people act a certain way, or dress a certain way, in order to be like a famous singer or famous actor. And typically they will continue to do this as long as they respect that individual. But, if for whatever reason that individual loses their favor, or loses their respect, they will stop conforming to that behavior. And a good example of this might be a situation that recently happened with a famous sports star. Basically, there was a football player that people admired, and so they bought his jersey and they watched all of his games, but then a video was released showing him engaging in an act of domestic violence. And once this was made public, support for this football player dropped significantly. And not only did people stop wearing his jerseys, some of them even went back to the original stores and returned them. The last way that I'm going to talk about is through internalization. Meaning that we don't only conform publicly with a behavior, but we conform with it privately as well. So the idea or belief or behavior has been integrated into our own structure of beliefs and values. And, as you might expect, this type of conformity tends to be stronger than the others, because we won't stop believing it or doing it when an external element has changed. So maybe I start going to the gym because my friends are going. Maybe we all made a new years resolution that we were gonna get in shape. But after some time, I might internalize the idea that exercise is good for me. And so I will continue to go to the gym even after my friends have stopped. We can also conform because of different kinds of social influence, or pressure that we feel from those around us. If we do something in order to gain the support or respect of our peers, we would say that we are complying with social norms, or normative social influence. And this is also the type of social influence that we feel when we want to avoid social rejection. Or if we're worried about group disapproval. And because of this, we might go along with a group outwardly, but internally we might believe something very different. So maybe my friends are all obsessed with a certain singer. And all they do is talk about him or her, or want to listen to his or her music. And because I want the group to like me, I tell them that I like this music as well even though I absolutely hate it, even though I can't stand it. But because I'm worried about their rejection, I'll continue to say that I like it, or even go to the concert. The other type of social influence is informational social influence. And this is what happens when we feel that we should defer to the judgments of others because we feel that they're more knowledgeable than us about a certain topic. Because we think that they're right, or because we think that they know something that we don't. And this is the type of social influence that I felt when I moved to a new place, and didn't really know much about the town. And so if I wanted to do something, like if I wanted to find a good Italian restaurant, I would ask the people who I saw around me, people who had lived there for a longer period of time. And I'm likely to comply with their instructions, or go along with their suggestions. Because they've lived here longer, and they clearly knew the area better than I did.