What Is Conformity Bias? | Definition & Examples
Conformity bias is the tendency to change one’s beliefs or behavior to fit in with others. Instead of using their own judgment, individuals often take cues from the group they are with, belong to, or seek to belong to about what is right or appropriate. They then adapt their own behavior accordingly.
Although conforming to social norms is not bad in and of itself, giving in to peer pressure can cause us to adopt opinions and behaviors that are unethical, illegal, or unfair to those who are not part of the group.
What is conformity bias?
Conformity bias occurs when we voluntarily align our behaviors, beliefs, or attitudes with those of a group. This change happens in response to either real or perceived group pressure: in other words, others can influence us even when they are not physically present. For example, whether we decrease our energy use at home, pay our taxes, or give to charities often depends on our perception of what others are doing.
Conformity, or the tendency to agree with the majority position, is a type of social influence. Social influence is a broad term used to describe the different ways others influence our behavior. The tendency to conform can be observed both in small groups and in society as a whole and may result both from subtle unconscious influences or overt social pressure.
There are two main reasons why people conform:
- Informational conformity occurs when we conform in order to be perceived as acting in the correct way. We look to the group for information and guidance, especially when we are unsure of how to behave in a given situation. For example, when a teacher asks a question in class, we have the tendency to go along with what most of our classmates deem to be the correct answer.
- Normative conformity occurs when we conform in order to align ourselves with the group. This usually occurs because we want others to accept or like us. Even when we disagree, we still go along with the group simply because we don’t want to be social outcasts. A teenager who drinks alcohol because they want to fit in with their peers yields to this type of conformity.
What are the different types of conformity bias?
There are different types of conformity bias depending on the nature of our agreement (private vs. public), the duration of conformity, and the reason why we conform.
- Compliance happens when we publicly comply with the group’s opinions or norms but privately disagree. Compliance is motivated by the need for approval and the fear of being rejected. It is the weakest type of conformity because, if given the opportunity to get away with it, people will no longer comply.
- Identification occurs when individuals adopt the behavior of someone they admire, such as a respected colleague, family member, or celebrity. Identification is motivated by the attractiveness of the source, who serves as a role model or leader of the group. Although this is a deeper type of conformism than compliance, people usually stop conforming when they leave the group or stop identifying with the person they admired.
- Internalization is the true acceptance of group norms. Here, people conform with the group both privately and publicly because the behavior or attitude they are adopting is consistent with their own values. Internalization is the deepest level of conformity and lasts the longest. Phenomena like ingroup bias and outgroup bias are related to internalization.
- Ingratiation is similar to other types of conformity. However, the difference is that the individual follows group norms in order to achieve a certain goal. For example, an employee might appear more hard working or friendlier than they really are because they have their eye on a promotion.
Conformity bias examples
Conformity bias can help explain fashion fads among specific consumer groups.
Conformity bias threatens the validity of the results collected from focus groups because participants often feel the need to reach consensus.
Other types of research bias
Frequently asked questions
- What is a real-life example of conformity bias?
A real-life example of conformity bias is how people conform to others in the workplace. Suppose you go to your first day at work dressed casually and notice that your colleagues wear more formal clothes. Although no one asks you to do so, you may feel the need to change the way you dress to avoid standing out.
- Why is conformity bias a problem?
Conformity bias is a problem because it can cause us to stop thinking for ourselves. This means that we no longer exercise our own judgment or rely on our own values to decide how to act. Taken to its extreme, conformity bias can lead to a “herd mentality,” or the tendency to follow the direction of a group without question. This can cause us to suppress our true opinions, espouse dangerous beliefs, or engage in illegal acts.
- What is the difference between groupthink and conformity bias?
Conformity bias and groupthink are very similar concepts, but they denote different phenomena.
- Conformity bias is a broader term, and refers to people’s tendency to consciously or unconsciously change their behavior or opinion to fit in with others in a group.
- On the other hand, groupthink refers specifically to a dysfunctional decision-making process where critical thinking and diversity are sacrificed because of a desire to maintain group cohesiveness at all costs. The result is premature consensus and a tendency to look down on those who don’t agree.
Conformity is one potential cause of groupthink. However, it can also arise due to the belief that dissent is impossible.
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