Social conformity: Why do we choose to go with the flow?

Conformity is a basic social function by which humans adjust their behavior to prevalent social norms. Although we as humans are often unaware of its influence, conformity does govern a huge part of daily life and is absolutely indispensable when it comes to keeping things in order.

To understand this psychological concept, we need to go back to its underlying motives.

The desire to be right. We often seek confirmation for our views and tastes by referring to the people around us. In the absence of tangible ways to assess the validity of our actions, we use the actions of others as guiding principles that define our social reality. This is known as informational social influence.

The desire to be liked. We typically try to get other people to like us by agreeing with the or acting in similar ways. Such a pattern is acquired at a very early age and carries on throughout life as a way of gaining approval from others. This is identified as normative social influence.

At other times, however, we choose not to conform, intentionally or unintentionally, as a way of embracing our own uniqueness. We are basically motivated to resist social pressures in order to set ourselves apart from the crowd and achieve some kind of independence.

Many people believe women to be more conforming than men, especially when it comes to fashion and beauty trends. But there is no psychological evidence that supports such a statement. In fact, researchers have not detected significant differences between the two genders when it comes to conformity.

Such a belief persists nevertheless due to existing differences in the social status of men and women in today’s society. The gender pay gap is a key influencer here. To this day, men continue to earn more money than equally-qualified women who have the same job and also tend to hold higher positions. In 2014, for instance, women working full time in the United States were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid.

This leads us to the conclusion that perceived conformity differences between the two genders have nothing to do with nature, or built-in characteristics, but rather stem from the societal norms that define gender roles. But the good news is that these norms are constantly evolving and changing, which eventually implies a change of attitude towards gender differences in terms of conformity.