In Japan, there’s a popular saying that goes “the nail that sticks out get hammered down”. This is a saying which associates with the significant sense of conformity in the Japanese society. When an individual act out of what the society deems as “normal”, he or she is subjected to persecution.
In a larger sense, all of us have similar experiences at any point given in our lives, regardless of our background. We have been through the process of socialization since preschool to university. As much as humans are social animals, we were taught social skills and conditioned to mingle with others by institutions.
Most of the time, we behave similarly to our social circles based on interests, culture, and values. When any of these no longer aligned to your views, you’d stick out like a sore thumb, and become an outcast of the circle you used to belong to.
Are You “Standing” Up for Yourself?
Brain Games, a series on National Geographic conducted a social experiment to demonstrate the behavior of people is comparable to that of a sheep. The objective is to have a random human subject who came into the waiting room to stand up to the beep sounds, following everyone else who are actually associates of the investigator.
Notice the lady in the purple sweater was being asked why she stood up when the beep sounds, her response was she thought she was supposed to follow because everyone was doing it.
Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania explains this internalized form of herd behavior as social learning. He continues, “starting at an early age, when we see members of our group perform a task, our brains will reward us for following their footsteps.”
We Experience External Conflict and Face Consequences
The participant said “when I saw everyone stand up, I felt like I needed to join them, otherwise I [feel] excluded.” The waiting room had set up a new social setting with values different from hers, and she is put to a test and see if she would act in alignment with this new set of values.
The social pressure presents a dilemma for the lady to conform to the group when their standards are different from hers, for the fear of rejection. To avoid persecution and humiliation, she was conditioned to conform.
In retrospect, extreme cases like during the rise of communism in the Soviet Union throughout 20th century, the lives of the people who stood against the doctrines of Lenin and Stalin were at risk. Political dissidents would be sent to Gulag, and it instilled fear among the public to obey the rules and stay out of trouble, as basic survival instincts.
Another observation worthy of noting is she followed the “herd” plainly based on what everyone else was doing, without any sense of skepticism such as reasoning, facts, evidence.
Asch Experiment, a similar social conformity experiment came into a conclusion that “people conform for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group (normative influence) and because they believe the group is better informed than they are (informational influence).”
Is Social Conformity Bad?
There is no right or wrong answer. However, it offers an insight into personalities and outlook on life. What are the values that you hold dear to your heart, the nature of your professional career, or your priorities in social settings?
1. The Initiator
Most likely ingrained in achievers and commanders. They would speak their minds when opportunity arises. The virtues of an initiator are integrity and righteousness. As a result, this type of personality exhibits in great influencers and they are not afraid to call out any wrongdoings. However, they may be difficult to work with at times and could create friction with others. The initiators work with the supporters based on social alignment and form groupings.
Read here if you’d like to learn how to manage difficult people.
2. The Supporter
A people person. The supporter gets along with different types of people and empathize well with others. This type of personality motivates and supports the cause created by the initiator. One values social cohesion over standing up for what was believed to be right. Therefore, it is essential for the supporter to join and belong to a group in which he or she internally believes in, aligning with his or her own self-conscience.
This social conformity experiment enables us to reflect on ourselves and fathom the implications of conforming blindly to a group and the consequences of going against the norm. Despite the differences in characteristics of both types of personalities, they coexist and need each other for resolutions of any social frictions.