Conformity is defined as a willingness to act in line with the norms of a particular group to be accepted as an in-group member. Given the origin of human species as common animals, the psychological need to belong to a group is present in all individuals. Conforming to group norms signifies one’s ability to behave consistently and giving others a possibility to predict this person’s behavior and cease regardings/he as a threat. However, individuals may act as conformists and non-conformists, choosing to follow or reject group norms.
People are likely to change their behavior and opinions to conform to the views of the majority. A famous experiment by Solomon Asch (1955) asked groups of individuals to estimate which of three lines was the same length as a test line. All but one of the participants were confederates of the experimenter and were instructed to voice a wrong answer. The experiment has revealed that 32% of the subjects disbelieved the evidence of their senses and agreed with other members of the group.
Conformity is a concept that explains many critical social issues. For example, youth gang culture promotes different norms among members through the powerful vehicle of acceptance. Desirous of being recognized as members of a gang, young people start conforming to criminal standards. The debate on the integration of minorities in the broader society can also be explained regarding acceptance and conformity since minorities’ intention to preserve their own culture (viewed as a set of norms) can hinder their ability to conform to the norms of the dominant group and be accepted in society. Many social constructs, such as etiquette and protocol, for instance, rely on conformity as the means of distinguishing between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders.’
Perhaps every individual has realized the importance of conformity and acceptance, especially at the developmental stage of the adolescent. Since the adult society is perceived as hostile by adolescents who are not regarded as fully-fledged group members (i.e., they are not given same legal and social rights), teenagers tend to construct groups and cultures of their own. Not conforming to the norms of the adult world is often regarded as a prerequisite for being accepted in the adolescent group.
Therefore, it is possible that multiple identities can lead to conflicting desires to conform to the norms of different groups at the same time.
While followers of certain youth cultures prefer to be referred to as ‘non-conformists,’ it is precisely conformity that makes youth cultures so powerful. The quest for social acceptance is especially strong in the young age. Since insecurity and lack of self-confidence are common in teenagers, growing group rely heavily on conformity’s function of determining the behavior of group members.
Therefore, it is possible to conclude that conformity and acceptance are essential in society. They generate feelings of belonging and allow people to form groups and distinguishing between insiders and outsiders. At certain stages of development, conformity and acceptance play a more prominent role than at other stages, yet these two concepts are always implicitly present in the process of any social interaction.
Asch, S.E. (1955). Opinions and Social Pressure. Scientific American 193(5): 31-35.
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