Dark Side of Conformity: Why We Follow Others’ Mistakes

Adapted from

Conformity is an interesting phenomenon in Social Psychology. The dark side of this can be observed in Asch’s experiment. In Asch’s experiment, participants were asked to select a line which has the same length as the reference line they had seen previously. However, there was only one real participant, who would always respond last. The rest in the same room were all confederates who had been instructed by the experimenter to select the line with the wrong length. It was interesting to observe that the real participants actually conformed to the other confederates and made the same wrong response although the lengths of the lines were very distinctive.

The power of conformity observed in Asch’s experiment can be seen in daily life as well. Let’s say when you are walking down a busy street, you stop your step for a moment and stare at the sky. Eventually, you will realize that people around you will follow your sight and stare confusingly at the sky. This simple experiment suggests that people can conform easily and there are two reasons to it.

We conform because we want to be right. This is known as informational conformity. In a group discussion, you may see some who do not give any opinion but always only agree on others’ ideas. They conform because they might not want to be said wrong. At the same time, they conform because they might want to please the others and get accepted. This is known as normative conformity, in which people conform because they want to be liked.

The desires to be right and to be accepted have built a culture of conformity, in which people are afraid to be different. Creativity dies in this kind of culture. Our primary school’s essays clearly reflect this fact when everyone writes about teacher, doctor or policeman on the topic of “My Ambition”. People nowadays are afraid to voice out their opinions because they are afraid of being wrong and being alienated. Conformity mutes voices. Conformity kills ideas.

The drawbacks of conformity are even salient in this era when boundaries and values become ambiguous. We turn to be more accepting towards cohabitation and divorce cases. There is such verse in the Bible: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” If we were to tolerate and conform to the always-changing standard of the society, murder and raping would eventually become the norm in the future and would no longer be seen as crimes.

Rita Mae Brown has once said: “The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.” Conformity may make you likable but it may be the tripping stone that hinders your success at the same time. However, conformity is inevitable in this society as it allows quick adaptation to new environment and rules to be followed. To conclude, a balance has to be achieved between standing out from the crowd and conformity. Take home lesson for the day: Conform and yet proud of your special self at the same time.

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