Conformity: Why Do We Submit To Peer Pressure?

Several experiments, like Asch’s, explain why humans tend to be conformists.

Probably, you have ever wondered why most people tend to follow the dictates of the majority.  

Psychology has tried to find out what makes people bend to group pressure, what are the causes of herd behavior, what is the nature of group pressure and to what extent an individual is able to renounce their own criteria in favor of the masses.

Conformity: definition

The conformism can be defined as those modifications or changes in behavior or opinion of a person as a result of real or imagined pressure from individuals or groups of people.

Several experiments that bring us closer to the phenomenon of conformity

One of the most significant psychological experiments was that carried out in the 1950s by Solomon Asch. I propose that you put yourselves in the following situation.

You volunteer to participate in an experiment on perceptual judgment. In a room together with other participants, the experimenter shows everyone a straight line (line X), at the same time shows you three other lines of comparison (lines A, B and C). The task is to determine which of the three lines is the same length as line X.

You clearly know that the correct answer is line B and you will indicate this to the experimenter when your turn comes. However, the first participant answers that it is line A, logically his answer surprises you. When it is the turn of the second person, they also answer line A, probably this second answer will surprise you even more and you will start to think how can it be, if it is clearly line B? But when it is the turn of the third participant and he also says line A, you examine the lines once more and you start to doubt and wonder if you can be wrong. A fourth participant, on his turn, clearly answers line A. Finally, it is your turn and naturally you answer line A, you knew it from the beginning.

This is the conflict that the participants in Asch’s study experienced. The experiment was simple: it consisted of gathering university students and showing them the different cards with the standard line and with three other lines to compare. The participants had to respond aloud, and the experimental subject was never placed in the first positions to respond, so that the rest of the participants who were accomplices of the experimenter could give the agreed incorrect answer before the subject.

Peer pressure ‘modifies’ our perception

The results of the experiment showed that when the subject was not subjected to peer pressure and they were allowed to make a series of judgments on the length of the lines alone, there was an almost total absence of errors, given the simplicity of the task. In the cases in which the subject was faced with a unanimous majority that answered incorrectly, approximately 35% of all the answers were incorrect, following the incorrect judgments made by the accomplices.

Other experiments similar to Asch’s

Asch’s experiment has been replicated in more than one hundred studies in different countries showing identical results. The results show that before a majority that emits a wrong judgment, people tend to settle for the wrong social perception.

In a situation in which there were no restrictions on individuality, and no sanctions against nonconformity, the participants tended to conform. Why did the participants bow to the opinion of others?

The causes and factors of conformity

The conformity was due to two possible causes: they were convinced, before the unanimous opinion of the majority, that their opinion was wrong or they followed the opinion of the others in order to be accepted by the majority or avoid the rejection that the disagreement would produce. in the group. That is, the subjects had two goals: to be right and to ingratiate themselves with the rest of the group. In many circumstances, both goals can be met with a single action.

In Asch’s experiment, if the opinion of others about the length of the lines were the same as yours, both goals could be satisfied. However, both goals were in conflict, producing the effect of conformity. The effect of accommodating others’ responses has not so much to do with imitation but with the need to reduce the dissonance between one’s own perception and the judgments made by others.

Factors that increase or reduce conformity

1. Unanimity

The unanimity or lack of unanimity in the opinion of the majority, is one of the crucial factors that determine the propensity of the subject to conform. If one of the members of the group gives a different answer to the majority, the pressure towards conformity is drastically reduced and the probability that the subject is more inclined to give his opinion is increased.

In other words, it is enough for a single person to provide a different answer for conformity to be reduced and the power of the group to diminish. However, if there is unanimity, it is not necessary that the volume of the majority be high to elicit the maximum conformity in a person. The tendency to adapt to group pressure, with a unanimous majority, is practically the same regardless of the number of people that make up that majority.

2. Commitment

The commitment is one of the factors that can reduce conformism, when individuals have publicly committed to a judgment or opinion before hearing the opinion of the majority, there are more chances that the person keep your opinion and not suits those of the majority.

3. Individual variables: self-esteem and ability

There are certain individual variables that increase or decrease conformity. In general,  people with poor self-esteem are more likely to bend to peer pressure in order to avoid rejection than those with high self-esteem. Another factor to take into account is the person’s belief in their own ability to perform the task successfully, for example in Asch’s experiment those subjects who were allowed prior to the experiment to judge the length of the lines indicating the correct answer , tended less to conformity than those who were not allowed to perform the task previously.

4. Group composition

The composition of the pressure group is another factor that modulates the effect of compliance. Thus,  a group will be more effective in inducing conformity if it is made up of experts, if the members are important to the individual, and if they are in some way similar or comparable to the individual, such as classmates.

5. Feeling of group belonging

The assessment of belonging to the group influences the degree of conformity. Thus, those who value belonging to the group and feel only moderately accepted will show a greater tendency to adapt to the norms and guidelines created by the group than those who feel totally accepted.

6. Authority

Lastly, authority increases conformity. In those situations where the opinion or judgment comes from an authority figure, the appearance of authority can give legitimacy to an opinion or request and generate a high degree of conformity. As was found in another of the most famous experiments in psychology,  Milgram’s experiment in which most of the participants showed obedience to authority.


In conclusion, this experiment shows the great influence that others have on our own elaboration of beliefs and opinions. It also shows that in some cases we are easily manipulated and can vary our more subjective beliefs such as ideals, political tendencies and even our own tastes.

Bibliographic references:

  • Aronson, E. (2000). The social animal: Introduction to social psychology (8th ed. In Editorial Alliance.). Madrid: Alliance.
  • PaĆ©z, D., and Campos, M. (2005). Culture and Social Influence: Conformity and Innovation. Social Psychology, Culture and Education. (pp. 693-718) Dialnet. Retrieved from: https: // Codig …

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