As individuals, we like to think others don’t control our actions or attitudes and that we make decisions on our own. However, your beliefs, tastes, and tendencies are shaped by your social surroundings. When it comes to peer pressure, your brain—more often than not—is going to follow the crowd and go with the flow even though you may not mean it to.
On this week’s episode of Brain Games, host Jason Silva broke down how conformity instinctively drives our choices. Whether it is the meal we order at lunch, our reaction to a performance, or the way we respond to our team, conformity controls what we do, how we think, and who we are.
Here are Three Ways Peer Pressure Affects Basic Decision Making:
1. Trying to fit in.
Whether it is with our teammates, co-workers, or friends we want to feel like we belong and are accepted by the rest of the group. But how do others’ thoughts shape our own? Well, let’s say that everyone on your team wants to bowl for a bonding activity, but you have no interest and would prefer anything else. Even still, you go along with a positive attitude and participate. This tendency is called normative conformity, which is when a person adopts the group’s view because he or she fears being rejected or creating conflict, even though he or she privately continues to disagree.
2. Trying to impress.
But what about when you change your thoughts and behaviors to that of the group in order to gain favor? Let’s say that everyone in your group hates when people are late. You’ve never minded before, but now are certain to always be on time and–in turn–have become a stickler for punctuality. We often don’t realize that trying to please others so that we’re well-liked and recognized leads to a change in values, which is called ingratiation conformity.
3. Trying to make up your mind.
You don’t know what you should order off the menu, you don’t know which shirt you should wear, and you don’t know how you should spend your day. Instead of making your own decision, you turn to your peers for guidance. How is this a form of conformity? It’s called informational conformity because you are looking for others to approval in order to validate that your choices are accepted and supported by others.
Our brains are hard-wired to conform, so we can’t help but turn to others for every little thing. In fact, conformity can be a good thing as it creates a greater sense of cohesiveness and unity. However, there are downsides.
Conformity gone wrong. Sometimes we adapt to other flawed views, but because everyone else agrees with it, it is thought to be the right view. This is demonstrated by Solomon Asch’s famous psychology study in which he asked participants to look at a line and identify which of the additional three lines matched the original line in length.
Before the trial began, some of the participants were instructed to choose the wrong line as the match. Even though everyone could easily see which lines were the same in size, once when the group seemed to decide on the wrong line, every participant continued to choose the wrong one. We are so dependent on others’ opinions and that we will doubt what’s clearly in front of us if everyone else seems to see it differently.
There’s power in numbers. While we are programmed to go along with a group, we can avoid giving in to conformity. Dare to disagree and stand-alone every now and then. You’ll find that there are more people than you think who share your skepticism. They may even like your ideas better and will follow suit. Become your own leader and challenge the majority.