Conforming to a status quo
October 29, 2018
Humans inherently want to fit in with a group and be liked—it’s basic instinct. In fact, because humans thrive on personal connection, they will do whatever they need to in order to attain it, even if this means conforming to the behaviors of different groups. According to Psychology Today, the desire to fit in starts at a young age, with children on a playground mimicking the behaviors of the dominant group. However, this behavior continues into adulthood, as people change everything from speech patterns to the tone of their voices depending on what group they’re in at the moment.
As a whole, society tends to ostracize the people who do not fit into the conventional molds. Psychology Today explains this tendency to be a result of the human urge to feel safe and to have an environment in which they belong. People who defy common group expectations cause others within groups to question their choices, which undermines their sense of belonging. The harsh reaction to those who are “different” stems from the human inability to confront the foundation that gives a group their sense of security.
Helpful Group Roles
Within every group, there are two categories for roles: task oriented and relationship oriented roles. Each category has a different focused drive, but both are necessary to help the group continue to run in a successful harmony. Task-oriented roles include clarifying information by asking questions, summarizing information to refocus the group, and finding information by asking necessary questions. Relationship-oriented roles tend to focus on limiting tension by mediating conflict, including everyone’s voice by asking others what they think, and making sure everyone is happy with the decision-making process. A “good” group needs a blend of the two categories and some aspect of every role within each category.
Ninth grader Ellie Dawson-Moore thinks that an important part of groups is the people who play a less forceful role.
“I think there are quiet leaders that will help everyone just stay on task in a subtle way, but I think sometimes people can develop that sort of leadership by pulling everyone in the group together…I think upperclassmen definitely take a stronger role in those groups,” said Dawson-Moore. “I think we definitely work off of little tidbits of everybody.”
The Asch Experiment demonstrated human nature’s conformity, asking people to match the lengths of line segments. As the number of people in the group who chose an obviously incorrect answer increased, the percent of subjects who conformed to their answer increased as well. If even one person in the group dissented, the conformity rate dropped to near zero. The experiment demonstrated how humans questioned and went against their judgment to choose an obviously incorrect answer solely as the result of group pressure.
Conforming to a group has both positive and negative effects when it comes to group projects. According to tutorials point, groups can often lead to “groupthink,” or when everyone tries to prevent conflict at the expense of raising new ideas. On the other hand, working in groups can hold people accountable to get their work done.
“If I don’t know [the people in my group], then sometimes I’m not going to procrastinate because I want to do better and seem like I’m on top of things and make a good impression. So sometimes [being in a group] does encourage me to do better work,” said Soll.
“When I’m by myself, I’m a huge procrastinator…but I think it’s kind of easier to focus when I’m alone… but I also don’t have as much accountability, and I think that shows in my work,” said Dawson-Moore.
Harmful Group Roles
However, in every group are some negative roles people assume, called hindering roles. One such role, dominating, is when one person tries to take control of the group whether through their authority or outright manipulation. Control can come in the form of flattery and patronization as well, as the dominator attempts to sway other group members and manipulate their ideas.
Junior Max Soll recognizes how different groups influence his behavior.
“When you’re with certain friends you’re more likely to act out and do wild stuff. I have groups where I’m more likely to get in trouble with and those that I’m not. If you have a bunch of good friends they can encourage you to do good stuff, especially if it’s in a class,” said Soll.
For Dawson-Moore, her behavioral changes from group to group are largely dependent on how comfortable she feels.
“In some groups, I’m a little more intimidated, [so] I’m a little more quiet…When I’m with a group with my peers, I definitely feel more comfortable because I know these people well. When I’m with upperclassmen I’m attempting to assert myself more,” said Dawson-Moore.
At the end of the day, groups make the world run. Whether it’s two fourth-graders working on a project or the Federal Government, people play specific roles in whatever group they’re in. These traits can lead to different group dynamics, and therefore results of the groups. As people join new groups, it’s best for them to be aware of the role they assume. Do they mediate conflict or seek information? Do they let others speak or do they dominate the conversation? As everyone learns to understand their role in groups, they can understand their strength and weaknesses, and ultimately help the group be more effective, and function better.
This story was originally published in the October 2018 issue of The Rubicon.