Conformity And Obedience

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Conformity and Obedience

Conformity and Obedience

Conformity and obedience are intrinsic components of most social behavior including group violence. Conformity represents behavioral uniformity within a collectivity while obedience identifies behavior that implies hierarchical distinctions. Both frequently result from coercive forces that undermine individual expression (Craik, 2009). Both simplify the social environment and therefore reduce anxiety for many. Conformity may reduce intragroup conflict. Obedience may also achieve this end but through unequal distribution of rights and privileges. While social organization is probably impossible without some degree of both, the frequent consequence of each has been to decrease individual rights within the group and to increase the likelihood of hostility toward out-group members.

When are conformity and obedience useful?

Power conformity is parallel behavior to obtain rewards and avoid punishments from the larger group. Groupthink, as discussed by Janis, is a special instance of conformity and represents unwillingness by members of a small group, such as advisors, to criticize the leader even when they believe that the decisions are erroneous.

Informational conformity occurs when one imitates the group to obtain knowledge, for example, looking up at a building when one sees others looking up. Conformity may be merely coincidental as when pedestrians cross a street at the appropriate change of the signal. Normative or value-based conformity results from a prior set of beliefs about the appropriate conduct in a situation. If the actions are believed to be most appropriate for solving a problem, then the conformity is functional (Huener, 2010).

Conformity and nonconformity can be individualistic or minority. Minority nonconformity includes conformity among the members of the subgroup to each other. Dissent implies nonconformity as a result of conscious disagreement. Conformity is generally identified in static terms, that is, a comparison of behavior to that of the group. Dynamic conformity results from behavioral changes that are closer to the group's position. There may also be conformity to inaction. The individual attempts to obtain cues from the group for the appropriate response in a situation and, if no action is observed, the inactivity may be imitated.

When do they have a negative effect?

Kelman and Hamilton were motivated by the incident at My Lai during the Vietnam War in which US soldiers massacred approximately 300 unarmed Vietnamese civilians whom they had gathered in the center of the town. Their report, Crimes of Obedience, is a major contribution to this area of inquiry.

A national survey in 1971 and one of Boston area residents in 1976 included questions about obedience to authority along with specific questions about My Lai and the court-martial and conviction of Lieutenant Calley who was the platoon commander. A key difference in attitudes toward the massacre and toward the trial and conviction existed between those who believed that a soldier cannot be held responsible for actions ordered by superiors and those who believed in individual responsibility for one's own actions. The Boston area survey in 1976 replicated these findings (Spradley, 2012). Hamilton subsequently conducted research in Moscow in 1990 and included questions about the Soviet war in Afghanistan and ...
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