Essay

Confirm or Conform?

By: Indu Pandey

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Confirm or Conform, both the terms revolve around the social norms that govern individual’s behaviour/ belief system. If we look at our social practices, these are rigid and deeply rooted somewhere in our customs and traditions. In a society, individual is not able to raise his/her voice against the social evils because he/she is forced to become a part of group or majority who follow such evil practices. This is where social conformity comes into existence. Now, if an individual accepts majority’s behaviour because of fear of rejection then the whole concept is modified and called normative conformity. It’s purely termed on the basis of acceptance and fear of rejection. Therefore, if I accept a strict diet to lose my weight in order to look slim and also to avoid remarks of the society then it’s purely case of acceptance versus rejection. A person adopts a set pattern of behaviour which is transferred through generations into the family. What happens in this process of inculcating behaviour/ attitude is that an individual starts evolving from within as well as outside.

On Sunday morning, I came across a beautifully written article by Shikha Kumar titled “Let’s (Not) talk about Sex!” published in Hindustan Times Magazine called Brunch. It was relevant as it was addressing concept of asexuality which is becoming significant as growing number of people are facing it or I would say have internalised it. The term is hugely misconstructed in our society. It’s difficult for asexual to gain acceptance. Multiple stereotypes surround asexuality. I talked with few friends to know about their understanding of this new term. Shristi and Sonali believe family pressure creates a psychological line in our mind which represents the highest level of fear. Another friend Bunty thinks that if asexuality is accepted legally then it can create barrier to individual choices.

The fear of rejection and punishment impacts individuals self confidence and esteem. Let us recall, some of the real life examples: A dress code in institution might force people to dress up in a particular colour, style or manner which might be against his/her personal choices or say, an organisation trying to suppress labourers. Whenever we are having a discussion over a topic which is well known/received among the masses then an individual may pretend to match his/her thoughts with that of group members in order to gain wider acceptance. This means fear of rejection is of wider significance for any individual.

Conformity can be of three types i.e. Compliance, Identification and Internalisation. a) Compliance: If I completely agree with what is being taught by professors in the class, but at the same time I have my own opinions plus arguments which I fear to express in public. Then it’s case of compliance. This is called a pretentious behaviour of a person.

b) Identification: We are fickle minded because we don’t believe in our opinions and values. A person who likes to drink alcohol would not necessarily drink with everyone but a particular set of individuals who can accompany him/her. Sometimes, a person would avoid non vegetarian food while eating with vegetarians but he / she can have great love for non-vegetarian food.

c) Internalisation: If I shift from one particular religion to adopt practices of another and
become a disciple. I will end up following a particular school of thought for a much longer period of time. This happens in case of followers of a particular religion.

Rationalisation comes into play when minority questions the majority. Psychological reactance is a feeling that arises when individual’s freedom is destroyed. Both conformity and psychological reactance are inversely proportional to each other. It’s obvious for a person to think his/her behaviour as most appropriate, when they act same as other people.

Let’s look at five famous psychological experiments to understand the concept of conformity, first being the Asch Conformity Experiments which shows that the peer pressure has a measurable influence on the participant’s responses. It appears to be more difficult to resist the majority if isolated. If I read from a particular book for my exams and the same book is recommended by professors then it will surely be brought by majority students in the class because each student is facing pressure of clearing exams. Next is Bystander Apathy Experiment which tested the reluctance of a group. It’s in this case that when you are with a group of ten people, responsibility gets distributed whereas in case of individual it’s solely on one single person. But this is not true because even ten people feel ten percent responsible. Say for example, if ten students are assigned task of conducting survey then it’s easy for them to divide ten questionnaires but if it is ten each then group will be reluctant to work properly with responsibility.

The third experiment is Stanford Prison Experiment that attempts to study the impact of
captivity on prisoners and authorities. Absolute power over somebody can be seen the obvious conclusion of this experiment. When there are strict orders from the government to follow traffic rules. Then it’s obvious, everyone will be expected not to violate any of these regulations and follow as per the instructions. The other experiment is Milgram Experiment, created to test impact of authority on the normal audiences. If today, the government of India create strict rules for migration, people will have to keep those regulations in mind before travelling to far off locations. And the last experiment Good Samaritan Experiment says that people in pressure are less reluctant to offer help to others. In case of natural disasters, people will try to save themselves first, rather than offering help to others.

Hence, multiple factors guide individuals to conform. First is risk of rejection which I have already discussed in this article. Then there is lack of choices where individual follow orders of authority and fear of causing deliberate harm to group’s goals. The absence of communication within group members can cause hesitation in taking initiatives and sometimes also cause powerlessness. In this whole process, individual freedom doesn’t exist.

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