Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group. This change is in response to real (involving the physical presence of others) or imagined (involving the pressure of social norms / expectations) group pressure.
In this video, Zimbardo offers a proposition, which is less bizarre than his usual propositions and experiments. “If there is a fire, it is quite clear that you have to evacuate the place, but if everyone decided to do nothing, would you still evacuate the place or imitate them and risk your life?” This was Zimbardo’s question behind this experiment.
Participants in this experiment are driven by one of their basic human motives. First I will discuss the need to be accurate. They faced a crisis situation where they looked at others’ behaviors as a source of information and chose them as appropriate actions for themselves, resulting in private acceptance. Although when participants were put in the same situation but without group pressure (the actors), they chose to evacuate as fast as they can. These two situations were repeated many times, and the results were the same every time except with one case. In the presence of actors, one participant chose to take an action and get help, but the group pressure was irresistible. He went back to his seat, and took him twenty more minutes to finally leave. It appears that his private acceptance wasn’t strong enough. Informational Conformity can backfire when we are imitating others’ wrong actions, just like in this experiment. This contagion is defined as mass psychogenic illness.
At the same time, there is a normative social influence factor in this situation. The other basic human motive, which is the need to feel good about ourselves and be liked, is important to people. Participants changed their behavior, which they would do if they were alone, to remain a member of the group in good standing and gain the advantage of group membership. The group here has more than three members, which increases the likelihood to conform. They chose to conform to the group’s social norms, resulting in public compliance. The exceptional case that decided to get help actually resisted the normative social influence and went against the group. The reason behind this is that the right answer and the accuracy for this participant are more important than being rejected by the group. When most of the participants were asked why they didn’t evacuate the room, they declared their surprise of not evacuating because they know that this was what they should have done. This manifests the gap between conjunctive and descriptive norms.