Exactly What Is Conformity?

So Exactly What is Conformity? You Ask

Unraveling the Fascinating Tapestry of Human Social Behavior

Jan 13, 2023

What Is Conformity?

Welcome to an exploration of the curious concept known as conformity. In the intricate tapestry of human interactions, conformity emerges as a fascinating phenomenon that merits understanding. In this post, we aim to shed light on the multifaceted nature of conformity, its underlying mechanisms, and the remarkable ways in which it shapes our lives. Join us as we unravel the fascinating layers of conformity, together navigating this intricate realm.

Exactly what is conformity?

Conformity is the act of aligning attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group ideals, values, beliefs, politics, etc. VeryWellMind.com calls it “the act of changing your own behaviors in order to fit in or go along with the people around you.” Conformity involves yielding your own desires & behaviors because of conscious or unconscious peer pressure. At the root of it, conformity is giving up part of who you are to align yourself with those around you.

So why in the world would anyone do that? Why do we do that? There are many reasons. Some are intentional while others are more automatic.

Conformity can have positive consequences

•When we are in a group situation, we may look to those around us for signals as to how we should behave. They may have more experience or knowledge about a situation than we do, so adhering to their example can be advantageous for us.

•To fit in, to not look foolish, to not make waves. This impulse is often strong in unfamiliar situations where we are not aware of how we are expected to act.

•To be accepted. Humans often feel most comfortable with those we perceive as similar to us. Subconsciously knowing this, we tend to merge our preferences to those around us in order to increase our likelihood of being accepted.

However, there are also deep-reaching negative effects

•Feeling like you have to change yourself in order to be accepted by a group can lead to feeling inferior or as if there’s something wrong with you.

•Lowering your self-esteem. This has far-reaching impacts on many aspects of a person’s mental and physical health.

•Peer pressure. Giving into peer pressure can lead to risky or illegal behaviors such as underage drinking, drug use, and risky sexual behavior.

•The bystander effect. This is a phenomenon in which a person feels the need to go along with a group so much that they may fail to help a person in need if the group doesn’t give aid.

•When our desire to fit in is high, we are also less likely to be open to new ideas and information. We may also even be more prone to certain prejudices.

What Is Conformity? Five Types of Conformity

There are five major identified types of conformity:

  • Normative
    • Changing our behavior to fit in with a group. Fashion trends, traditions, and peer pressure are all examples of normative conformity.
  • Informational
    • Looking to a group for information. This is the tendency to believe that the majority is correct. For example, imagine moving into new neighborhood. You might look to those around you for clues as to the degree of yard maintenance, noise level, etc.
  • Identification
    • Conforming to the requirements of social roles (including gender roles). Society has expectations of what each role should look like.
  • Compliance
    • Changing your outward behavior while inwardly disagreeing with the group. Compliance gives the appearance of agreeing without internalizing those values. Back to our example of moving into a new neighborhood. Compliance conformity would result in doing what you observe your neighbors doing, even if you disagree (ie. mowing your yard once per week whether it needs it or not because your neighbors do).
  • Internalization
    • Actually changing your preferences to be like another person or group; completely adopting the beliefs and values of the group. Think cults.

So where do we go from here?

Once you can answer “What is conformity?” the follow-up question is, What’s next?

  • 1. Uncovering Who You Truly Are
  • 2. Learning to See Conformity In Your Life
  • 3. Choosing to Uproot Conformity

1. Uncovering Who You Truly Are

This can feel daunting or exciting depending on your perspective, but learning more about yourself and who you are at the core of your being is a vital element to freeing yourself from conformity and giving yourself permission to be comfortable in your own self.

Conformity has taken many different forms in my life. I have struggled with how to belong, what to act like, body image, and feelings of inferiority, among other things. At my core, I felt like I didn’t know who I really was because I had tried to blend in with others for so long.

2. Learning to See Conformity In Your Life

Reviewing what conformity IS can be very helpful in learning to see it in your own life. Once you have gained insight into your own inner needs and desires, you will be better equipped to evaluate whether or not you are unknowingly yielding parts of yourself to the world around you.

You can start by choose a couple areas you feel less than satisfied with and asking yourself why think you feel that way or why you continue do those things. Perhaps it is a job you dislike. You might stay because you don’t want to let your co-workers down, you feel an obligation to use your degree, or because you need the money and are afraid of not being able to find another job. Perhaps it’s a habit that is not healthy, but is comforting.

3. Choosing to Cast Off Conformity

The first step to rooting out conformity is deciding that you want to change. When you choose to follow yourself, with your own thoughts and ideas, you can begin to taste that freedom. For me, I came to a place in my life where I couldn’t understand why things I thought should be a good fit for me were turning out to be very frustrating. I mulled over the issue for months and I still found myself feeling angry and bitter. I was sure that this was something that was good and that I should be doing. All those months, I kept beating my head against a wall to make it feel okay when deep inside all I could think was how much I hated it.

Learning to see you

Over and over, I kept feeling that there was something wrong with me for the way I was feeling. I felt inferior for not being able to handle it better or do what I felt a ‘better’ person would do. Naturally, I began to question myself and my self worth, not only in that area but in all of my life. Conformity at that time in my life was me trying to fit in with what I thought the people in my circle would think was the right thing to do. I genuinely wanted to help this person, but part of my internal struggle was thinking that my peers would be far more effective at it than I was.

That time of struggle led me to ask myself, “If this feels wrong when I think it should be right, then who am I really?

Okay, the first thing I asked myself was, “What’s wrong with me?” After so many angst-filled days and nights, I did what anyone would do; I Googled it.

As usual, Google pointed me in the right direction. I was truly surprised by how many results and articles appeared, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. It was 2020 after all! There were many mental health articles from various angles, and somewhere along the line I decided to take a bunch of personality tests including the famous Myers-Briggs. I didn’t find most of them particularly helpful as I kind of already knew those particular parts of myself and knowing that didn’t answer my question. Weeks later, in frustration, I found the Enneagram personality profile which opened my world to me.

There are many different personality profiles and tests and each one measures different aspects of your personality. Because humans are so complex, taking several different ones will help you get the most complete picture of who you are. It is important to remember that no personality trait or type is inherently good or bad and as we mature and develop, we will become more balanced.

5 of the Most Common & Most Popular Tests:

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • Four Temperaments Model
  • 16 Personality Factor (16PF) Test
  • Enneagram of Personality
  • Big Five (Strengths Tests)

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs test is based upon a theory by Carl Jung that people experience the world using four psychological functions: sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. These functions affect many aspects of life including: work style, how you restore your energy, strengths, weakness, etc. Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs formatted those four psychological functions into sixteen personality types. The test assigns letter abbreviations such as INTJ, ENFP, or ESTJ, etc.

Psychological Functioning is your ability to accomplish your goals within yourself and the external environment. It includes an individual’s behavior, emotion, social skills, and overall mental health.

The official MBTI is only available through paid options, but there are many free variations based on it. The Myers & Briggs 16 Personality Types is one.

Four Temperaments Model

The Four Temperaments Model is a psychological model based on theories by Hippocrates that a person’s personality is based on bodily fluids or humors. Later, another ancient Greek physician, surgeon, and philosopher, Galen (c. 2nd century AD), focused on balancing those humors called: 

  • sanguine (being optimistic and social)
  • phlegmatic (being relaxed and peaceful)
  • melancholic (being analytical and quiet)
  • choleric (being short-tempered and irritable)

Free Four Temperaments Test

16 Personality Factor (16PF) Test

The 16PF, based on the work of psychologist Raymond Cattell, is a widely used personality test centered around 16 personality traits and uses the five-factor model of personality. It has much in common with the Briggs-Meyer assessment and uses the same four letter abbreviations, but the 16PF adds an additional describing letter to further appraise one’s unique personality. The test is sometimes likened to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which measures unhealthy traits while the 16PF measures healthy human traits.

16Personalities.com offers a free a detailed assessment along with many resources and additional information. The results are based on the Myers-Briggs assessment with an additional letter trait for a fuller analysis. 16 Personalities provides a thorough analysis of your results for free, with a more-detailed paid version available.

OpenPsychometrics.org gives a free simple, no-frills test and breakdown of your scoring on each of 16 categories on a scale from 0-4

Understanding what each personality trait is and what it means to score high or low in that trait can give you insight into your own personality. It can also help you better understand others, based on where they fall on the continuum for each of the personality traits listed.

Enneagram of Personality

The Enneagram of Personality (or simply the Enneagram) is a description of the essential nature of a human identified by nine interconnected personality types. Ennea- means 9 and -gram refers an image or picture, so ‘enneagram‘ literally means 9-sided image, which refers to the figure used to show the relationship between the 9 types.

The heart of the enneagram is understanding why you do the things you do- how your core motivations and fears are affect your interactions with the world. and how to best thrive in your strengths while growing in your weaknesses.

Free Enneagram Test

Big Five (Strengths Tests)

The Big Five is the name give to five main identified traits; each represents a spectrum with people falling anywhere along it. While researchers don’t always use the same name for each trait, each word conveys a similar meaning. The five basic categories are:

  1. Extraversion: describes to what degree a person is outgoing or more inward-focused.
  2. Independence: indicates whether a person prefers to work in groups or alone.
  3. Toughmindedness: Thinking style. Does the person tend to be realistic and objective, or are they more intuitive and creative?
  4. Self-control: Identifies how a person approaches situations; whether they have a flexible approach, or are they more disciplined.
  5. Anxiety: Management of pressure. How a person copes with setbacks or challenges, and how they handle stress.

There are also another set of names commonly given to these traits with the acronym OCEAN:

  1. Openness-creativity, insightfulness, and open-mindedness
  2. Conscientiousness-thoughtfulness
  3. Extroversion- sociability
  4. Agreeableness- kindness
  5. Neuroticism-often involves sadness or emotional instability.
What is the main difference between MBTI, the Enneagram, and the Big Five?

“Most significantly, the MBTI and Enneagram give a personality type—rather than a personality trait. The Big Five are individual characteristics that can be placed high or low. Given the Big 5 is a science-wide consensus, psychologists use traits versus types to talk about personality.” Retorio.com May 28, 2020

Free Big Five Test

No matter which test or tests you choose to utilize, you will begin to gain valuable insight into the amazing, unique world that it YOU.


So what is conformity?

Conformity is a social phenomenon where individuals adjust their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors to align with the norms and expectations of a group or society, often driven by a desire for acceptance and a fear of rejection.

By understanding the psychological mechanisms behind conformity, we gain valuable insights into the power of social influence and the importance of critical thinking in maintaining individual autonomy. Armed with this knowledge, we can navigate the delicate balance between fitting in and expressing our unique identities.

Remember, conformity is not a black-and-white concept; it exists on a spectrum, and our awareness of its presence allows us to make conscious choices that align with our values and aspirations.

So, embrace your individuality, stay informed, and be mindful of the subtle forces that shape our social landscape. Let’s foster a world where conformity coexists harmoniously with diversity, creating a space that celebrates both unity and personal growth.

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One Comment

  1. This is an in-depth article which leads the reader to many different and interesting areas of research. As a professional I appreciate the clear and well thought out approach to setting out the information which encourages the reader to go more deeply into the topics of interest.

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