Types and Explanations of Conformity – Revise

Types and Explanations of Conformity

Types of Conformity

First we need to understand what is meant by the term conformity. This is when someone changes their behaviour or pinion form the pressure of those around them. This pressure can be either real or imagined.

In 1958, Kelman suggested three different types of conformity:


This happens when someone just wants to fit in. They change their public opinion do not change their private opinion and any conformity stops when the pressure from those around them is no longer present.


This happens when we identify with the ideas or values of a group or of a social role, such as a police officer or a teacher. We change our public opinions in order to follow these beliefs but may not change our private opinions


This is the the most extreme type of conformity. We public and privately change our opinions. The change is likely to be permanent., they are now part of the way that we think.

Have a look at the examples below and see if you can discuss what type of conformity they may be. Hover over “answer” to find out if you are correct.

1. Sam has just started work in an office. On his second day there his colleagues had a discussion about asylum seekers coming to the UK.  

His colleagues thought they received favourable treatment from the government and that this should stop. Sam doesn’t agree with this view, but when he was asked what he thought he said that his colleagues were right.  


Sam is showing clear signs of compliance. He does not agree, privately, with the views of his new colleagues but goes along with them to fit in.

2. Jack, is a teacher enjoying his weekend off. He goes to pub with some old  friends from university for a few drinks but bumps into a couple of students enjoying a meal. 

Jack is careful to watch how much he drinks and encourages his friends not to be too loud like their normal nights at the pub.


Jack is showing signs of identification. He is conforming to the perceptions of what a teacher should be and therefore changes his behaviour in front of his students.

3.  Emma is a student, when she first went to university she made friends with a group of students who were passionate about animal rights. 

At the time, Emma didn’t have very strong opinions on animal research but over the past few months she has become very much against it. 

Now she has joined a campaign against animal research and has started attending public demonstrations with her friends. 


Emma shows signs if internalisation. She has changed her opinions both publicly and privately. She has changed her beliefs and now believes that animal research is wrong.

Explanations of Conformity

Now we can explore why people conform. Deutsch and Gerrard (1955) suggested two reasons why someone might conform. These were normative social influence (NSI) and informational social influence (ISI).

Normative Social Influence

NSI happens when we want to fit in with the wider group because we want their approval or acceptance. We don’t want to appear foolish. This is likely to happen when we are among strangers when we fear rejection or with out close friends when we are concerned about their social approval.

Informational Social Influence

ISI happens when we want to be right or correct. If we are unsure in a situation we will believe that the wider groups believes or actions are correct and therefore conform to them. This is likely to happen in new situations, times of crisis or when someone in the gourd is deemed to be an “expert” in that situation.


Have a read through the next example and see if you can identify which explanation of conformity fits each persons actions.

James and Rachel have both recently started studying A-levels at a new school. James pretends to be interested in the other students conversations, even though he thinks they are very boring. Rachel is carefully watching other students and following their examples as she doesn’t want to make any mistakes.


James’ behaviour is an example of NSI. He is conforming to the social group and engaging in the conversations, even if he find them boring, to fit in. He wants to seek the approval of his new peers and may be worried about be rejected by them.


Rachel’s behaviour is an example of ISI. She is conforming to those around her but to avoid making mistakes. This is a new situation for Rachel and she sees the others as “experts” so follows by their example.

Supporting and Contradicting Evidence

Normative Social Influence

Deutsch and Gerrard suggest an explanation on why people conform but this does not explain why not everyone will conform to either fit in or be correct. We have to consider individual differences as some people do not feel they require the acceptance, or value the opinion of others, and therefore do not need to fit in. We call these people nAffiliators. 

Mcghee and Teevan (1967) using high school students and a group pressure situation support this idea. Those who are in need of affiliation are more likely to conform to NSI.

Solomon Asch (1951) also conducted an experiment investigating conformity. On interviewing his participants, the majority of them said they had conformed to the majority pressure as they did not want to appear foolish and wanted to fit in. 


Informational Social Influence

Asch (1955) replicated his study with various different changes to the independent variable. One change was the task difficulty. As the level of task difficulty increased so did the rates on conformity. 

Perrin and Spencer (1980) replicated Asch’s study using engineering students. As they deal with technical drawings on a regular basis, it was assumed that their level of confidence for comparing lines was high. This led to the lower level of conformity compared too Asch’s original study.

This shows that confidence may also have an effect on whether or not someone conforms and not just due to wanting to be correct. The more confident the individual is in their knowledge the less likely they are to conform and vice versa. 


Finally we need to consider that it may not be a clear cut why someone conforms and that there may be more factors involved. For example by increasing social support in a group pressure environment, both NSI and ISI could be influencing the levels of conformity. We see an example of NSI with more support around us if the answer is incorrect but also ISI as we may believe the others that support ads are correct.