Conformism

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Conformism

 

a moral-political term meaning a time-serving, passive acceptance of the existing order of things and of prevailing opinions. Conformism means the absence of individual positions and the unprincipled, uncritical acceptance of the position backed by the greatest pressure—for example, recognized authority, tradition, or the opinion of the majority. In modern bourgeois society, conformism with respect to the existing social system and prevailing values is instilled by the educational system and by ideological influence. It is a typical feature of bureaucratic organizations. Unlike conformism, socialist collectivism presupposes the individual’s participation in working out group norms, the conscious assimilation of group values, and, subsequently, the correlation between the individual’s behavior and the interests of the collective and of society and, if necessary, the subordination of the individual’s personal interests to theirs.

The conformity studied by social psychology (that is, conforming reactions) must be distinguished from conformism. The assimilation of certain group norms, customs, and values is a necessary aspect of the socialization of the personality and a precondition for the normal functioning of any social system. However, the sociopsychological mechanisms of this assimilation and the degree of the personality’s autonomy with respect to the group sometimes vary. Sociologists and psychologists have long been interested in such questions as imitation, social suggestion, and “psychological contamination.”

The modes in which the individual selects and assimilates social information and the measure of his response to group pressure became the subject of intense experimental psychological research in the 1950’s. It has been found that a constellation of factors are involved, including personal attributes (for example, the degree of suggestibility, the firmness of self-appraisal, the level of self-respect, anxiety, and intellect, and the need for approval from others). Conforming reactions have been found to occur more frequently among children than among adults and more frequently among women than among men. Group factors, such as the individual’s status in the group, its importance to him, and the degree of cohesiveness and the structure of the group are also important, as are situational considerations—for instance, the content of the task and the subject’s commitment to it, his competence, and whether a decision is reached publicly, within a narrow circle, or privately. Cultural factors also affect the modes of selection and assimilation of social information by the individual and his response to group pressure. Among them is the value a given society attaches to personal independence and to independent thinking.

Thus, although a high degree of conformism is associated with a particular type of personality, conformism cannot be regarded as an independent personality trait. The correlation between the degree of conformity and other sociopsychological phenomena, such as suggestibility, rigidity of attitude, stereotyped thinking, and the authoritarian syndrome, calls for further investigation.

REFERENCES

Kon, I. S. Sotsiologiia lichnosti. Moscow, 1967.
Obshchaia psikhologiia. Edited by A. V. Petrovskii. Moscow, 1970. Pages 109–11.
McGuire, W. J. “Personality and Susceptibility to Social Influence.” In Handbook of Personality Theory and Research. Edited by E. F. Borgatta and W. W. Lambert. Chicago, 1968.
Marlowe, D., and K. J. Gergen. “Personality and Social Interaction.” In The Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 3. Edited by G. Lindzey and E. Aronson. New York, 1968.

I. S. KON

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