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7.4 Thinking Like a Social Psychologist About Conformity

This chapter has concerned the many and varied ways that conformity influences our everyday lives. Perhaps you were surprised about the wide variety of phenomena—ranging from the unaware imitation of others to leadership to blind obedience to authority—that involve conformity. Yet because you are thinking like a social psychologist, you will realize why conformity occurs and why it is such an important part of our everyday life. We conform to better meet the basic goals of self-concern and other-concern. Conforming helps us do better by helping us make accurate, informed decisions. And conformity helps us be accepted by those we care about.

Because you are now more aware of these factors, you will naturally pay attention to the times when you conform to others and when you influence others to conform. You will see how important—indeed how amazing—the effects of conformity are. You will realize that almost everything we do involves conformity, or perhaps the desire to avoid being too conforming. Furthermore, you will realize (and hopefully use this knowledge to inform your everyday decisions) that conformity is sometimes an important part of societal functioning and that at other times conformity creates bad—indeed horrible—outcomes.

You can use your understanding of conformity to help understand your own behavior. Do you think you conform too much, or too little? Do you think about when you do or don’t conform? Are you more of a conformist or an independent thinker—and why do you prefer to be that way? Perhaps you will use your understanding of the power of conformity when you judge others. Do you have a new understanding of the behavior of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib? Do you perhaps now understand better how much they were influenced by the social situation?

Your understanding of the process of conformity may also help you develop more satisfying relations with others. Because you now understand the importance of conformity, you will also understand how to make use of these powers to influence others. If you are in a leadership position, you now have a better idea about the many influence techniques that are available to you and better understand their likely outcomes on others.