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Social Conformity in a Hyper-Social World

Originally posted: May 14, 2010 on TrishMcFarlane.com

I watched an episode of Dateline recently called ‘What Were You Thinking?’ that involved several social experiments showing that the human brain is hard wired for social conformity.  And, in a majority of the experiments, the participants went along with some ridiculous and inappropriate requests just because the social situation they were in allowed for it, or they perceived it did.  For example, they showed that if you walk into an elevator and there are three people in the elevator with you, if they all turn to face the back of the elevator, you probably will too.  Time after time, the people unknowingly in the experiment did.  Some looked confused at first, but then, they still conformed.

We see this play out in the workplace and on social media platforms.  Every day, we see people ignoring common sense to their own peril.  Their need to fit in outweighs any concern they have of the “right” thing to do.  They become impulsive and follow the crowd.  Interestingly, the “ideal” group size to conform is 3- 5 people.   However, group size is not as important as the group you conform to.  In a study in the British Journal of Social Psychology, groups in the majority have higher compliance rates than conversion and minority groups have greater conversion than compliance.

Have you seen this too?

The conformity can be positive, neutral, or negative.  Take for example when Ashton Kutcher tried to be the first person on Twitter to reach 1,000,000 followers.  It was a neutral request but people jumped on board like crazy to do a mindless thing.  Did it hurt them?  No.  Did it waste a couple minutes of their life?  Sure.

What do you think?  Are people more likely to conform in person or online?  Does it make a difference?  What are some examples you’ve seen at work or online?   Let’s share ideas in the comments.

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