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GuidesResearch methodsWhat is conformity bias in research?

What is conformity bias in research?

Last updated

13 April 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

Conforming or “fitting in” happens all the time in our day-to-day life, and it’s not always a bad thing.

It has existed since the early days of humankind, originating from those early days when teamwork was necessary for survival. People were required to be part of a group to achieve safety and stability in the community, developing conformity bias to support cohesion and influencing decision-making down the line.

Learn more now about its definition, causes, and impacts on research.

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What is conformity bias?

Conformity bias can cause people to copy others’ behaviors or beliefs rather than follow their own independent judgment or wants. As a result, they feel inclined to behave similarly to those around them, regardless of their beliefs and whether those individuals hold power or authority over them.

Conformity bias is caused by a deep-seated need to belong to a group. It’s only natural for people to want to feel accepted, so they unconsciously conform.

Some strategies to avoid conformity bias are accepting that everyone has unconscious biases and allowing everyone to share their opinions. People should also remain open-minded and flexible rather than agreeing to the opinions of others without rationally thinking.

What are the different types of conformity bias?

There are four types of conformity bias:

Compliance

This is a type of conformity bias where an individual gives in to pressure from a group because they either want to get something from them or fear facing an unpleasant outcome. It’s often referred to as group acceptance, and a member will naturally conform to group pressure to receive approval, especially if someone has authority over another.

Compliance happens when a person internally disagrees with a concept but will accept peer pressure to avoid being disapproved. Typically, these individuals wouldn’t agree to the idea when alone, but the chance to get something in return is inviting. When there’s no pressure to conform, people will do what they want or what aligns with their preferences.

Identification

This is a type of conformity bias where people will adopt the thinking of someone they admire or want to create a social connection with. 

A typical example is a new employee mimicking the behavior of a manager. These people will stop conforming when they stop identifying with their role models. For instance, if employees quit a particular workplace, they will most likely stop acting like they used to. 

Internalization

Internalization is the genuine acceptance of a group's norms as their own. This happens when a person accepts influence because it’s rewarding to their public and private lives. With this type of conformity bias, individuals decide to conform themselves to someone else’s behaviors because they’re motivated from within. 

Internalization is challenging to overcome since there’s no coercion involved. It also has negative consequences, such as spreading misinformation, reinforcing social inequalities, and interfering with one's creativity. 

Ingratiation

Ingratiation refers to trying to get oneself into someone's good graces. This occurs when an individual wants to impress a group or fit in with their beliefs. For instance, a person may want to win the favor of a charismatic leader and reap the rewards of adopting their behaviors and beliefs. 

Causes of conformity bias

People conform for several reasons, which include informational and normative influence. 

In informational influence, individuals desire to be correct and look to a group for answers even if the results are wrong. This happens when a person agrees with the group's decisions because they don’t have an opinion of the information being discussed. Some people conform simply because they think others might have greater experience or knowledge than them. 

Normative influence is the desire to be liked and accepted by a group. 

Here are some other causes of conformity bias:

1. Social pressure

The authorities, your peers, or people comprising the majority can cause social pressure. It may take various negative forms, such as coercion, bullying, criticism, or teasing. As a result of social pressure, an individual will act like most group members to be perceived as normal and accepted by the group. 

These people depend on the group to satisfy their desire to be accepted and accurately perceive reality. Social pressure may force people to act against their values and beliefs to avoid judgment. 

2. Fear of rejection

People who struggle with loneliness or poor self-esteem are susceptible to conformity bias. As a result, they adopt the behaviors of others to please them and avoid rejection. If one has been rejected in the past, one will often conform more easily and accept the group's norms. 

3. Groupthink

Groupthink is a phenomenon where people make irrational or wrong decisions based on the urge to conform to certain beliefs. People will thus push for a homogeneous consensus within a group to create harmony. 

Individuals will value coherence and harmony rather than critical thinking. As a result, they will set aside their personal beliefs or qualms to adopt the opinions of the rest of the group. 

4. Cognitive biases

Cognitive bias is the tendency for human beings to simplify information processing and find mental shortcuts to assist them in navigating daily life. When individuals resort to mental shortcuts, they cannot make independent choices, and it impedes their ability to generate novel ideas. As a result, people often conform to certain irrational beliefs. 

Conformity bias examples

A classic example of conformity bias is when two friends visit a restaurant. One may order dessert, and the other wants the same. Despite not liking dessert, one will order it so that they can fit it. 

Hiring

Conformity bias also comes into play when a hiring committee considers a candidate to hire. For example, if there’s a lack of diversity on the panel, the hiring team may hire candidates with similar viewpoints and personalities as theirs.

A hiring team may think a candidate was a good hire, but just before they can share their opinion, the manager may say that the candidate isn’t a good fit. The hiring team may be afraid to voice a different opinion, and the manager will influence the team to conform to their thoughts. The hiring team will then feel obligated to hire an unqualified candidate because they feel they should follow the manager's opinion. 

Workplace

Another example is people at workplaces dressing in the same style to fit in with other colleagues. Suppose a new employee is hired, and on their first day, they notice that other employees are more formally dressed. The employee will conform to changing how they dress to avoid attracting attention. 

Other

  • College students may take drugs because it seems cool and their friends are doing it.

  • Changing your political views to match those of a friend or relative. 

Seven effects of conformity bias

Conformity bias is a powerful force with positive and negative effects discussed below:

  1. Conformity bias protects the overall well-being of society. It ensures harmony in society, for example, when people conform to mutually respecting private property or being kind to one another. Conformity can be reinforced by creating penalties for those who break the law or disrupt widely-accepted social norms.

  2. It also plays a vital role in helping an individual abandon bad habits such as arriving late to a meeting. By observing the behaviors of others in their surroundings, conformity bias may force an individual to make positive choices and adopt good traits that are beneficial to them.

  3. Conformity bias prevents the creation of new ideas, as employees tend to stick to general ones that lack creativity. It encourages groupthink, which reduces innovation and leads to herd mentality. People may no longer exercise their own judgments as free-thinking individuals. As a result, team members may abandon ideas that benefit the company and avoid being creative.

  4. If undetected or unaddressed, conformity bias can narrow one's visions and limit their ability to make unbiased decisions. Succumbing to conformity bias can make individuals participate in illegal behavior such as theft or irresponsible consumption of alcohol.

  5. In workplaces, conformity bias has negative consequences for the well-being of employees. For example, workers will often remain silent and risk their health by conforming to poor working conditions because they fear being fired for raising their concerns.

  6. Conformity bias can lower self-esteem. For instance, one may feel the need to change their personality or appearance to fit into a group.

  7. It leads to prejudice, as hiring teams may favor a specific type of person who appeals to their viewpoints. This could lead to poor hiring decisions, a lack of diversity, and an unhealthy work environment.

FAQs

Is conformity bias a theory?

Yes, conformity bias is a theory that argues that people tend to adopt the behaviors and beliefs of individuals around them. 

Why does conformity bias happen?

Conformity bias happens when people want to avoid judgment or disapproval. It’s natural for people to want to fit in with a group and have the urge to be accepted.

How do you avoid conformity bias?

To address conformity bias, one needs to be aware of how groups influence their decisions. With this awareness, one can make better decisions and avoid conformity bias.

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