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Normative Social Influence: Conforming to Be Liked and to Avoid Rejection

15 January, 2016 - 09:19

In other cases we conform not because we want to have valid knowledge but rather to meet the goal of belonging to and being accepted by a group that we care about (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). When we start smoking cigarettes or buy shoes that we cannot really afford in order to impress others, we do these things not so much because we think they are the right things to do but rather because we want to be liked.

We fall prey to normative social influence when we express opinions or behave in ways that help us to be accepted or that keep us from being isolated or rejected by others. When we engage in conformity due to normative social influence we conform to social norms—socially accepted beliefs about what we do or should do in particular social contexts (Cialdini, 1993; Sherif, 1936; Sumner, 1906).

In contrast to informational social influence, in which the attitudes or opinions of the individual change to match that of the influencers, the outcome of normative social influence often represents public compliance rather than private acceptance. Public compliance is a superficial change in behavior (including the public expression of opinions) that is not accompanied by an actual change in one’s private opinion. Conformity may appear in our public behavior even though we may believe something completely different in private. We may obey the speed limit or wear a uniform to our job (behavior) to conform to social norms and requirements, even though we may not necessarily believe that it is appropriate to do so (opinion). We may use drugs with our friends without really wanting to, and without believing it is really right, because our friends are all using drugs. However, behaviors that are originally performed out of a desire to be accepted (normative social influence) may frequently produce changes in beliefs to match them, and the result becomes private acceptance. Perhaps you know someone who started smoking to please his friends but soon convinced himself that it was an acceptable thing to do.

Although in some cases conformity may be purely informational or purely normative, in most cases the goals of being accurate and being accepted go hand-in-hand, and therefore informational and normative social influence often occur at the same time. When soldiers obey their commanding officers, they probably do it both because others are doing it (normative conformity) and because they think it is the right thing to do (informational conformity). And when you start working at a new job you may copy the behavior of your new colleagues because you want them to like you as well as because you assume they know how things should be done. It has been argued that the distinction between informational and normative conformity is more apparent than real and that it may not be possible to fully differentiate them (Turner, 1991).