It’s not essential that you know about normative and informational social influence for this course, but it might help you understand the factors influencing conformity better if you do.

One explanation for conformity proposed by social psychologists is normative social influence. This means that we alter our behaviour to fit in with the group because we have a natural desire to be liked and accepted. Humans are generally social animals and when looking at this from an evolutionary perspective it makes sense.

We haven’t always been at the top of the food chain – we are not the fastest, fiercest or strongest animal. But two things have helped us get to the top of the food chain and to thrive as a species: our brains and our friends. Through cooperating and working as a group humans can be more successful than they could be independently. This may have been more relevant for our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors than it is for modern society.

Nevertheless, conformity does make for a harmonious society that can be beneficial for all group members. Thinking back to what you’ve already learnt about cultural dimensions, it is interesting to ask to what extent culture may influence conformity and if some cultures are typically more conformist than others – we’ll get to this later in the chapter.

Another explanation for conformity is informational social influence. This is the effect of an individual not trusting their own judgement or the information they have available and so they rely on others’ judgements to inform their own.