Conformity has long been human nature as a means to obtain social acceptance. Social acceptance is important to individuals in a community-based society like the one we live in, as we rely on trade and relations to maintain a successful lifestyle. Conformity is when a “subject demonstrates the same behavior or attitude as the object” (Guandong). Even those that divert from the norm, still conform to society’s standards to some degree; perhaps even subconsciously. There are many examples of groups found in everyday life in which conformity can be observed. Humans conform in order to prosper socially and as a survival method in life or death situations.
A common subject that is often discussed along with conformity is herd behavior. There are two types of herd behavior. There is the type in which the subject has a clear goal in following a herd, and then there exists the type in which a subject does it moreso as instinct (Guandong). These two categories of herd behavior have become more than just an instinct for survival, and now resemble a sort of social epidemic. People are influenced by the opinion of those around them, and nonconformity makes a person feel self-conscious and embarrassed (Suhay). Humans strive for the acceptance of their peers, and follow any behavior others do as long as they know it does not appear to be detrimental to their success and well-being.
A majority of behaviors that American culture exhibits are as a result of such conformity. Teenagers are very susceptible to conformity, and many aspects of their behavior are influenced by fads, internets memes, and what is popular at the time. Peer pressure and the desire to prosper in an environment weigh in heavily on those with malleable minds, such as teenagers. Humans are all carbon copies of one another, and we all demonstrate the same behavior when under the same circumstances.
Humans observe and copy others; this is because we see that a certain behavior has not negatively impacted another person. Teenagers are more likely to try something harmful such as drugs (even after told it is dangerous), because they have seen that their peer did so and did not get hurt, but rather benefited socially from the experience. “I drank because all of my friends were drinking,” said McPhee, my interviewee, “and it made everyone like them or look up to them. But I’m sure that’s why they did it, because they saw kids who did it and it made everyone like them too”. Conformity is not only a teenage phenomenon, however, it affects adults in society, as well.
An example of conformity in groups is the evidence of conformity taking place in politics (Suhay). It is common knowledge that politicians skew their true beliefs to fit the mold of the political party they allegedly affiliate themselves with. The population soaks up political propaganda, and are forced to believe they have to identify with either of the parties: conservative or democrat. If one leans on one side just a little, they are pressured to inherit every belief of that party. People are led down a path of self doubt, and “self-conscious emotions encourage individuals to adopt the norms of groups with which they closely identify” (Suhay). Changing one’s belief based on their peers’ beliefs “influence the individuals’ judgments even when they were separated from the group” (Suhay).
Another example of a group in which a subject is pressured to conform is religion. Homosexuals who identify as Christian may often subjugate themselves by suppressing their desires in order to earn approval from their community (Hayduk). Homosexuals are made to feel shamed for what they are, and their community sheds great disapproval upon it. In Suhay’s piece, it is said that “when people perceive in-group disapproval in response to their deviance from in-group norms (or adherence to out-group norms), the resulting embarrassment or shame weakens their commitment to those deviant attitudes or behaviors”.
Examples of pressure to conform to group norms is not limited only to the smaller scale. Other cultures have practices that are considered taboo in the west, however are deemed completely acceptable by their community’s standards. In the Amazonian tribe Yanomami, it is commonplace that after a loved one dies, they mix their cremated ashes into fermented banana and eat it as a way to ensure the deceased makes it to the afterlife (Cole).
In our culture, this practice is seen as taboo and wrong, however for people in the Yanomami tribe, it is normal for them. They have no issue with it because they conform to their community just as every human does, and as long as everyone around them practices it, they will continue to do so. Conformity affects large groups of people who share unconventional cultural practices, as well as the individual.
Humans’ natural inclination to conform can lead to a grave impact. Large groups of people conforming to what society tells them to do have created very negative outcomes in the past, such as the rise of Nazi Germany. Propaganda has a huge impact on an individual’s willingness to conform to their society’s enforced social standards. Hitler’s “policies were based on the premise that most individuals are conformists who do not think for themselves” (Lesson: The Nazis in Power).
Even one individual’s idea can suck and entire nation of susceptible minds into the flow of its current. At the same time, however, it takes one person to set an example that going against the grain is not beneficial to their survival, thus ceasing the spread of that mentality. An example of this would be an individual attempting a rebellion, and failing, and therefore discouraging others from following suit. Because of their willingness to conform, humans are very easy to manipulate and that can lead to devastating consequences.
Although today’s society focuses on the individual, human nature is ridden with acts of conformity for social acceptance, as well as survival. Those who feel ostracized will conform to social cues to fit in and be accepted by the populus. When it comes to political issues, people fall into the same pattern, forcing themselves to conform to fit one of the parties, whether they are a voter or a candidate, regardless of personal beliefs. Religion also relies on conformity to thrive, and in turn changes the way people think to be accepted by the church. Even when it involves life or death situations, we rely on our instinct to follow the herd to decipher what is dangerous, and what is beneficial. What this shows about human nature is that at the root of every decision made is the innate desire to please and be accepted by others.