Some say conformity is ubiquitous. But how can we define whether the effect it has is nuanced, or full-blown?

The notion of ideology is something that pervades within all of us as human beings. We all subscribe to some form of thought process of chain of beliefs. When it comes to religion, we may be agnostic, very austere in our belief of God, or a total atheist. The purpose of this example is to state how we all have our own individual gamut of thought processes that make up our identities as a whole. When we look at our own individual palette of thoughts, there are bound to be some aspects that are distinct to out character. We all exhibit conformity to different things, as a result of these parameters.

Image: The New Yorker

Influence is something that may allow us to imbibe and take up the manifestation of certain patterns and trains of thought. There are three forms of social influence, namely persuasion, compliance and conformity. Out of these three, the first two are pretty direct in the way they are imposed on the human psyche. However, the notion of conformity is one that acts on the psyche in a very subversive and underhand manner.

Conformity is usually regarded as a passive form of influence, since members of a group displaying it will not make an active effort to convince other people to display the same behavior. People merely observe the actions of a group member, and adjust their behaviors accordingly. The focus of conformity can either be directed towards innate behaviors that are more reliant on thought processes or external behaviors that manifest as action. What conformity results in is obedience, which is the behavior that essentially emerges when commands are disseminated from an authority. However the obedience in the case of social conformity is far more nuanced.

A good example of conformity would be one that details the actions that people perform when a flight lands. The employees on the plane usually instruct passengers to emerge form their seats and disembark, but what we often see is a crowd of people, already springing from their seats, ready to get off a plane that hasn’t even found a parking bay yet. This chain reaction is probably triggered by a single individual deciding it’s about time to get up and get his bags, which leads to a wave of the same from other passengers who observe this.

Image: C. Boyle

They say that conformity is one of the agencies that are involved in the spreading of a rumor. As  theorist Tamotsu Shibutani says, the rumor is something that spreads through the agency of a group. The person that plants the rumor within the collective ideology of a group leads them to conform with the subject matter of a particular statement using his persuasion. It is then that the group decides to conform with the said statement, and thus lets it spread further, leading to the wave of conformity to a certain notion to spread further.

When we say that conformity may sometimes lead to behaviors that are more nuanced, we must understand how to look at them. Just like economists extrapolate data to understand and gauge the proceedings of a national context, theorists must extrapolate and stretch a human behavior to understand how it is expressed in maximized form in order to understand the full-scale of the effect that this notion has.

To decode the way that the effects of conformity manifest within society, we come to understand how the notion of conformity is inseparably related to political ideology, as well as instances of violence within the public domain. Gauging how to rationalize the notion of ‘conforming’ to a particular norm becomes imperative, keeping these factors in mind.