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Why Conformity Is About Group Norms

Have you ever thought one thing and done another? Have you ever changed your mind when in a group that had different ideas?

I know I have and it made me feel like a wimp.

Being an HSP means that my positions are not the norm, and I am always seeking ways to bridge the difference. Often that cannot be done and I feel bad when that is the case.

I am an introvert but I still care about people and relationships. So where does the need to conform against our best instincts come from?

Our Brains Help Us Cop Out

According to an article in Spero Forum, researcher Vasily Klucharev of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, conducted a study which demonstrated that

“when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal.”

“If you make an error, if means that something [wrong is going on]. And, whenever we experience an error, it means this error signal pushes us to change behavior,” Klucharev said. “And, we see it looks like we quite automatically produce this signal when our opinion is quite different from other people.”

“The researcher examined two brain areas,” said Klucharev. “The first, a zone of the brain popularly called the ‘oops area,’  becomes extra active signaling an error; while the ‘reward area”‘is less active, making people think they made a mistake.”

This explains why people are likely to conform and why in doing so they are responding to what their brain is telling them even if their instincts or “better nature” tells them something else.

This research tells us a lot.  It explains why:

  • people act against their better judgment
  • people are afraid of differences
  • people are afraid of what they perceive to be dangerous mindsets
  • people are more afraid of being different that the pain of giving up their authenticity.

Conformity’s Survival Value

Conformity has been necessary for us to survive. The human race would not have developed without the willingness of individuals to sacrifice their differences to create cultures that supported their survival need. You can say therefore that conformity has served our survival.

Our brains have developed in a way that supports our survival as well. It has developed to encourage our conforming to group norms because groups have been the basis of an individual’s survival. Children know only too well how they must conform if they are to survive since they are unable to survive on their own.

The Down Side Of Conformity And Group Norms

This research also suggests that we can have difficulty when our brain’s error signals conflict with a need for change. Our brains may fight our intentions even when our need to change serves our best interests. We may then suffer from ambivalence and procrastination.

Sometimes when we do not understand what is going on, we will feel bad about ourselves when in fact there is nothing wrong with us. Our brain is supporting our survival as members of a group whether those others are right or not. Our group is our group.

Can We Become Mindful About Conformity?

It is not helpful to fight our brain’s attempts to protect us, nor is it helpful to fight necessary change. Therefore we need to become extremely mindful about what we allow group norms to become because there are serious consequences if those norms are destructive.

Whatever group norms we choose need to be considered temporary to allow for changing circumstances. When group norms can become flexible as needed then our brain’s desire to protect us will not fight our needs for change.

Is that too much to ask for?

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Movie Club focused on movies and discussions about living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.

2 Comments

  1. Bobbi Emel on April 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Hi Maria,
    Interesting stuff! I’ve bookmarked the research to look into as I write a blog about resiliency and I think this could have a lot of applicability there.
    Thanks!



    • Maria on April 13, 2012 at 7:10 am

      Hi Bobbi,

      I am glad that you found the post interesting. I stopped by your website (love the logo) and think we have some subject overlap. Resilience is different for HSP’s and introverts that others. Perhaps we can talk further about it.

      Maria



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