Conformity is when a person changes their actions and belief in order to be accepted and fit in with the norms, views and attitudes of a specific group or the group that they are in. An example of conformity can be seen in Muzafer Sherif (1935). Sherif’s results concluded that individuals conformed to group’s norm rather than following their own norms if the activity was vague. However, the norms that was seen as unreasonable were dismissed even though the activity was ambiguous. This can be supported by 1 of the 2 important structure of social influence called the “informational influence'”. Informational influence is when people conform to the norms of the group in order to get the correct answer, as the individual may not have the right amount of knowledge about the situation or they may view others as someone who are skillful (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955).
Obedience is when an authority figure gives direct command to an individual and the person would then respond to it by acting upon it. Burger (2009) carried out a study that is a duplication of the obedience experiment conducted by Milgram (1963); but made changes with the way the experiment was carried out in order for the study to be ethically correct. In Burger’s study the electric shock was lowered to 15V and increased 15V each time the learner made mistakes. Burger found that in the first condition, 70% of the participants proceed past 150V compared to 82.5% participants in Milgram’s study. Therefore, Burger came to a conclusion that even though it’s the 21st century, Milgram’s study is still applicable and people would still obey even if they were hurting another person in order to continue their consistency.
Conformity and obedience have both recognizable differences between one another. Firstly, obedience takes place due to the explicit order and coerce that comes from an authority which requires the individuals to follow, this is because humans were primed to give respect to those who has authorization due to the evolution of the society. For example: as people grow up, they were taught to always follow the law and those who are given the power to give demands and make decisions, such as: doctors, teachers and the police. Obeying to the authorities and abiding by the rules of the law eliminates an individual’s freewill to choose, but instead they are being forced to follow it, unlike conformity where it is a choice on whether individuals would conform to the norms of the group. Milgram (1963) conducted a study to see how far individuals would carry out a command from an authority if it includes the other individual being hurt throughout the process. Milgram found that all participants carried on to 300 volts and there were 65% of the teachers (participants) resumed with the study until 450 volts (the highest level of volts). Conformity is a type of social influence that is voluntary, to which informational and normative influences impacts the behaviour of the individual. This means that individuals have the right to choose on whether they would follow the behaviour of the other person/group or not. This can be supported by Asch’s experiment (1956) as he created a study where the participants were put into groups with confederates and had to say which of the three (A,B,C) ‘comparison’ lines replicated the ‘standard line’. Asch found that 5% of the participants conformed with the confederates through the twelve trials and 50% of the participants partially conformed on six trials. The participants were then asked after the experiment on why they conformed and found out that they didn’t want to be humiliated and avoided social rejection. This theory can be supported by 1 of the 2 different types of social influence called the normative influence. It suggested that individuals conforms due to being approved and respected by other people.
Secondly, another difference between the both is that the value system of an individual is not affected by obedience, as people follow orders from an authority because they are frightened of negative result or the punishment they will receive if they don’t follow the demand. Susan Fiske (2009) who is a psychology professor says that people obey to what authority say because they may be scared that the authority might retaliate if they do not comply to what the authority wants. Agentic state is when individuals does something on behalf of another person and this can be supported by what happened during the WW2 where the Nazi leaders were captured after the war. The Nazi leaders who were in trials supported the agentic state and what Susan has said, as the leaders justification of their action, was that they were only doing what their job was, which was to follow orders from the higher rank and were scared that Hitler will punish them. However, the value system of an individual during conformity could lead to changes because of the fact that, some individuals could lead to accepting other people’s belief and attitudes, as they may believe that they will benefit more if they conformed and complied. Kelman believed that there were three different forms of conformity. Compliance is when an individual conforms to the norms or beliefs of the group, hoping to receive a reward or an approving reaction from them (Kelman, 1958).
There is a similarities between conformity and obedience as people tend to conform and obey due to the situation that they are in. In zimbardo’s study, the people who volunteered to take part in the study were randomly allocated into two roles (prison guard or prisoner). The prisoners were treated like a real criminal and were arrested in their own house; the prisoner were then taken to Stanford University’s basement and were given a uniform to wear. Whereas, the prison guards were given a different uniform, a whistle which they wear around their neck and a specific sunglasses. Zimbardo found that the behaviour of all participant began to change according to the roles they were allocated to. For example: the prison guards were ruthless towards the prisoners while the prisoners were impotent and powerless. This shows that the participants have internalised to their social roles as the prison guards started to dehumanize the prisoners due to the prison guards being immersed into their role and were behaving more than what it is expected for individuals to do in a role-play (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo. 1973). Therefore, reducing their own identity (deindividuation). Conformity supports this as it is believe that social norms influences the behaviour of human beings, therefore, telling us how we should act based on the behaviours that is assumed. Uniforms are an example of norms that have stereotypes of how people should behave, such as: teacher, students and which in zimbardo’s experiment case: prison guards. Hence, the prison guards started to act differently and more as a prison guard, due to the expected behaviour that comes with the prison guard’s uniform.
Another similarity between conformity and obedience is that the countries that are collectivists tend to both obey and conform when dealing with situations and has higher level of conformity and obedience than the individualist countries. People who lives in the collectivists countries are brought up into a united ingroups and the behaviour of the collectivist culture is decided by the objective that is shared with the community; they tend to focus more on the goals of the community than their own personal objectives. Therefore, causing their bonds with one another to be strong, hence, leading to higher conformity and obedience. Whereas, in the individualist countries, individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their family and are given praises and awards for their own achievement. Thus, resulting to people not conforming to the norms, due to the fact the people are not pressured to act in a certain way but instead are encouraged to act as themselves. Berry (1967) conducted a conformity study and used a variation of Asch’s sample of conformity in order to research about the people in Sierra Leone (Temne people) and people in Canada called the Inuit. They have found that the people in Sierra Leone had a higher conformity rate compared to the people in Canada, due to the fact that the culture of the Temne people relies on the people they are working with in the farm rather than relying on themselves, which results to high conformity rates. Whereas, the Inuit people were raised to search and hunt by themselves; thus, resulting in making their own choices and not conforming with other people. In Acona and Pareyson (1968) study they found that there was 85% of the italian participants obeyed because Italy was a collectivist culture, therefore, shows that collectivist cultures also show high level of obedience due to the same reason as conformity.
In conclusion, there is not much difference between obedience and conformity as some experiments and overlaps with one another, such as: zimbardo’s experiment and how social norms affects conformity.