Types of conformity
Compliance - going along with a group in order to gain approval. Individuals engage in a process of social comparison when exposed to the views of the group, concentrating on what others say or do so they can adjust their actions to fit in. Compliance doesn't result in any change in the person's private attitudes, only the views and behaviours they express in public.
Internalisation - going along with a group because you accept their views. Individuals are encourages to engage in a validation process, examining their own beliefs to see who is right. The individual may then be convinced that they are wrong and the group is right. This can lead to acceptance of the group's point of view both publicly and privately.
Identification - when an individual accepts influence because they want to be associated with another person or group. This has elements of internalistion and compliance.
Each of these types of conformity has a particular set of motivating conditions that leads to a conforming response.
Explanations for conformity
Normative social influence - this is when people have a fear of rejection and they comply to gain approval and acceptance. Individuals must believe they're under surveillance by the group. When this is the case, people tend to conform to the majority position in public but do not necessarily internalise this view.
Informational social influence - this occurs when an individual accepts information from others as evidence about reality. Humans have a need to feel confident that their beliefs are correct. ISI is more likely when the situation is ambiguous (the right course of action isn't obvious) or when others are experts. The individual doesn't just comply alone but also changes their behaviour in line with the group position.
Evaluation of conformity
Difficulties in distinguishing between compliance and internalisation: the relationship between the two is complicated by how we define and measure public compliance and private acceptance. For example, someone who shows public acceptance might lose this later in private if they forget the information provided by the group, or new information gets given to them.
Research support for normative influence: Linkenbach and Perkins found that adolescents exposed to the simple message that the majority of their age peers did not smoke were subsequently less likely to take up smoking. Normative influence has also been used successfully to manipulate people to behave more responsibly when it comes to energy conservation. Schultz et al found that hotel guests exposed to the normative message that 75% of guests reused their towels each day reduced their own towel use by 25%.
Normative influence may not be detected: research on conformity has led to the conclusion that normative influence has a powerful effect on the behaviour of the individual. Nolan et al investigated whether people detected the influence of social norms on their energy conservation behaviour. When asked about what factors had influenced their own energy conservation, people believed that behaviour of neighbours had the least impact on their energy conservation, yet results show it had the strongest impact.