Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms. Norms are implicit, specific rules, shared by a group of individuals, that guide their interactions with others. This tendency to conform occurs in small groups and/or society as a whole, and may result from subtle unconscious influences, or direct and overt social pressure. Conformity can occur in the presence of others, or when an individual is alone. For example, people tend to follow social norms when eating or watching television, even when alone.
People often conform from a desire for security within a group—typically a group of a similar age, culture, religion, or educational status. This is often referred to as groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics, which ignores realistic appraisal of other courses of action. Unwillingness to conform carries the risk of social rejection. Conformity is often associated with adolescence and youth culture, but strongly affects humans of all ages.
Although peer pressure may manifest negatively, conformity can have good or bad effects depending on the situation. Driving on the correct side of the road could be seen as beneficial conformity. With the right environmental influence, conforming, in early childhood years, allows one to learn and thus, adopt the appropriate behaviours necessary to interact and develop correctly within one’s society. Conformity influences formation and maintenance of social norms, and helps societies function smoothly and predictably via the self-elimination of behaviors seen as contrary to unwritten rules. In this sense it can be perceived as a positive force that prevents acts that are perceptually disruptive or dangerous.
As conformity is a group phenomenon, factors such as group size, unanimity, cohesion, status, prior commitment and public opinion help determine the level of conformity an individual displays.