Conformity: Don’t Be Left Out?

An Electronic Mental Health Newsletter from Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. & Associates
Volume 13, Number 9

Fall has arrived and September is just about over. The summer has come and gone and teachers and children are back in school. The political arguments and conflicts continue and show no sign of abating. Polarization over many issues continues. The holidays are around the corner and soon it will be Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It seems that time truly does fly yet many things stay the same.

Our E-Letter this month is about Conformity: Don’t Be Left Out! In this age of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, and so many talking heads telling us what to think or do, it is difficult to remain independent and a free thinker. Read on.

We thank you for reading our E-Letters and for the suggestions and comments we have received. Downloads of handouts from our previous E-Letters can be found on our website, https://www.kimmelpsychology.com/e-letters/. We invite you to read and download them.

CONFORMITY: DON’T BE LEFT OUT?

Not too long ago, having a tattoo was a sign of non-conformity and independence. Mostly seen on bikers or military types, it was a sign of rebelliousness and individuality. Today multitudes of individuals have tattoos and it seems the fashionable thing to do. While some people are making individual statements, many have tattoos because of conformity. We have nothing against tattoos and in many cases, they are quite beautiful. Whether it be tattoos, or the kind of cars you drive, or the clothes you wear, are you making individual choices or are you just conforming to groupthink?

Conformity simply put is giving in to group influence. It is accepting and taking on the characteristics of the group in order to have a sense of belonging, fitting in, not being alone, or being liked. Conformity can occur through subtle influences such as seen in advertising or commercials. For example, you will be a member of the cool group if you wear this designer label. Conformity can also occur through social media. Being a follower of a social media personality, you can be influenced by what they wear, design, eat, listen to, etc. Finally, conformity can occur through direct pressure such as fear and threats. Talking heads on both sides of the political spectrum will tell you that some catastrophe will happen if you vote the wrong way.

There are three recognized types of conformity: compliance, internalization, and identification. Compliance occurs when a person gives in to group influence even if they disagree in order to get approval and inclusion. This can be seen in using drugs or alcohol just to be included with others. Internalization is when a group’s belief system matches the person’s beliefs and they become part of the group. An example would be joining a political party. Identification happens when a person accepts the characteristics of a certain role in order to be part of the group. Becoming a soldier, police officer, or teacher are examples of this type of conformity.

Two classic experiments on conformity were done by Muzafer Sherif and Solomon Asch. In 1936, Sherif conducted the Autokinetic Effect experiment. Participants were shown a small dot of light that did not move. After looking at it, the participants were then asked to estimate its movement. An estimate for the group was determined. Over the course of the study, the participants changed their original estimate to conform to the group estimate despite the dot of light not moving at all. In 1951, Asch conducted an experiment asking subjects to match a line with a standard line shown to them. All the subjects except for one were confederates of Asch and in on the experiment. They specifically gave a wrong answer. Results of the study showed that a high number of the actual test subjects changed their answers to conform to the confederate group, especially if the number of members in this group increased. Other well-known studies on compliance and obedience include Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 and Stanley Milgram’s Behavioral Study of Obedience in 1963.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a popular motto of younger generations was to “do your own thing”. This was a time of rebellion against the conformity of society’s values. Often a protest of the Viet Nam war, many challenged the well accepted values in order to follow their individual beliefs and passions. They changed society. Being self-sufficient and an independent thinker can lead to great happiness and a sense of freedom. However, there are always pressures to conform and become part of some group. The challenge for us is are we secure enough in ourselves to do our own thing?

We offer the following information on Conformity: Don’t Be Left Out? This information can be downloaded as a handout at www.kimmelpsychology.com/e-letters/.

CONFORMITY: DON’T BE LEFT OUT?

The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity …Rollo May
Be neither a conformist or a rebel, for they are really the same thing. Find your own path and stay on it. …Paul Vixie

WHAT TO KNOW!

  • Conformity occurs when a person gives in to group pressure or majority influence
  • When people conform, they:
  • want to be accepted, fit in, or be liked
  • want identification as a member of that specific group
  • think the group is correct and agree with their beliefs
  • fear being alone, rejected, or left out
  • There are three different types of conformity:
  • Compliance is when a person hopes to achieve approval and inclusion; they will accept the group’s influence even if they disagree
  • Internalization occurs when a person’s own belief system agrees with the group; they then change their behavior to match the group
  • Identification happens when a person accepts the identifying characteristics of a group in order to meet role expectations such as a police officer or teacher
  • Conformity can occur through subtle influences as in advertising and commercials, through social pressure as in social media, or in direct pressure such as feat and threats
  • People also conform to groups to seek guidance because they lack knowledge
  • There is less conformity in cultures that value independence and self-sufficiency
  • Counterconformity occurs when a person takes a position that is the opposite of what a group believes and is often motivated by anger or a need to rebel
  • Classic studies on conformity include:
  • In 1936, Muzafer Sherif conducted the Autokinetic Effect experiment where participants were shown a small dot of stationary light. They were then asked to estimate its movement. Over the course of the experiment, subjects changed their initial estimates to conform to the group estimate despite it being a stationary dot
  • In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted an experiment asking participants to match one line with a standard line shown to them. Except for one test subject, all participants were confederates of Asch and specifically gave a wrong answer. A high number of the actual test subjects changed their answers to conform to the group. The more confederates there were, the higher the degree of conformity of the test subject
  • How much a person conforms can be affected by the number of members in a group, its status, its opinions, its attractiveness, its celebrity membership, and its political beliefs
  • WHAT TO DO!

  • Consider whether you want to be an independent or be identified as a member of a group that may or may not act or think like you do
  • Assess yourself to determine whether you can be self-sufficient or need to belong
  • Evaluate your social media use: how many groups do you follow, how many contacts do you need to have, and how many groups you join just to belong
  • Seek professional help if you think you are too dependent, have difficulty making independent decisions, and need to be part of a group to feel important or wanted
  • WE CAN HELP!
    Call us at 954 755-2885 or email us at DrKimmel@KimmelPsychology.com

    Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D. P.A. and Associates
    5551 N University Drive, Suite 202
    Coral Springs FL 33067
    Copyright © 2018 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D.

    Dr. K’s Blog
    September 21, 2018
    Like many others I have spoken to and have heard, I am appalled by the lack of decency and respect in our society today. I believe that this is a bigger problem than just politics where much of it comes from. What are the messages we teach each other and our children? What will the future be like if we cannot trust or respect each other? What values do we live by and how can we feel secure in a world where the main entertainment is winning or getting the better of the other guy? I believe this is a time when all of us need to evaluate our own values and behaviors and determine whether we are contributing to the collapse of decency and respect. We all need to decide how we want to live and relate to each other.

    It is also the time that each of us individually need to take the responsibility of bettering society by how we live and by being an example of respect and decency. We cannot wait for society’s leaders and influencers to set an example because they haven’t yet and probably won’t. It is my belief that only each of us can repair the world in our way.

    Be kind and respectful to others. Hold the door and say please and thank you. Smile at others. Cooperate and help those who need it all the time not just in times of illness or catastrophes. Think of others not just ourselves. Be charitable and see others not as competitors but also trying to make their way in the world. Refrain from watching or listening to rabble-rousers as well as television shows or movies that degrade your values. Let others know that disrespect and indecency will not be accepted. Be a leader and not a follower.

    If not now, when?

    July 19, 2018
    Recently I decided to do an experiment to put more balance in my life. Since I frequently talk to many people, I wanted to see if I could go a day without speaking to no more than three people. Would I be successful? The answer was yes and I was surprised and gratified. I went to the beach by myself prepared to snack, read, and listen to music. The weather in the morning and early afternoon was perfect. Just before the crowds descended upon the beach, I left having spent several hours under an umbrella in the sun. What serenity to have the day to myself to do what I wanted to do and I did. I made the time to relax, left all my responsibilities behind, and did not have to listen to or talk to anyone. I did however speak to both of my adult children but that was it for the day. I watched the fireworks through the rain while listening to music on the car radio. The day was just what I needed.

    My typical day is filled with responsibilities. I have deep, emotional conversations with multiple people every day. In addition, there are always things that need to be done at home and in the office. There are phone calls to answer, chores that need to be done, and plans made for the next day or week. I often feel like I am doing a lot just to keep up, doing what needs to be done. But researching a balanced life led me to thinking and the above experiment.

    I think it is hard to understand a balanced life until one actually experiences it. If you feel like your life just consists of things that need to be done, consider taking a day off and experiencing a balanced life. Maybe you will change your life to have more fun and relaxation and pursue the activities that you want to do not have to do.

    June 14, 2018
    I have just recovered from a cold. Like many of us, I suffered with congestion, runny nose, a cough, and difficulty sleeping. Fortunately, it did not last long after following my doctor’s advice. But it made me think of how lucky we are to usually be in good health. We often take that for granted as we busy ourselves with our responsibilities and activities. Once we are sick, we realize how debilitating colds can be. We have to cancel appointments, suffer with discomfort, and just wait until we get better.

    Being sick made me truly appreciate how good it is to be healthy. I have always taken steps to be healthy…eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. I spray disinfectant after sick patients come to the office and wash my hands multiple times during the day. But the truth is, despite doing our best, we get sick and have to rest up until it passes.

    We take our good health for granted and do not focus enough on maintaining it. It is important to recognize that good health is not a gift. It is dependent upon what we do, what we eat, what we drink, how we sleep, what drugs we put in our bodies, and how we work.

    Maybe by getting sick, we get refocused on living a healthy lifestyle and being conscious of all that we do.

    May 21, 2018
    Just as predicted, another school shooting happened. This time in Texas. Ten more lost their lives by an angry and probably mentally ill young man. Again parents, family, and a community grieve because there have been no significant changes. When the tragedies happen, we band together supporting each other and demanding change. Then everything quiets down and people become passive waiting for the elections, for the internal review reports, or for the notoriously slow legal system to take action. This passivity needs to be challenged and the marching must continue for there to be effective change.

    Years ago, I remember when there were the post office and workplace shootings that occurred because of disgruntled employees who believed they were harmed in some way. Today, it seems like there are disgruntled students who put such low value on human life, that they go into their schools to kill. When will this stop?

    The killing will stop not when there are changes in the gun laws. The killings will stop when politicians and society recognize that mental illness is a causative factor in these murders. Not all people who have a mental disorder are dangerous yet there are those who are just so angry, so disillusioned, so disenfranchised, so isolated that they somehow see killing others as acceptable.

    The signs are often there but ignored because mental illness is not taken seriously in our society. These people need to be identified early before they reach the point of rage and act out. They need to be understood and treated so that these tragedies can be prevented before they happen. These individuals need to be defused of their anger and connected to others so that they do not isolate.

    We need to march not only for a change in gun laws but also for a change in how we deal with mental illness before another tragedy occurs.

    April 20, 2018
    It has now been over two months since the terrible tragedy that happened at Stoneman Douglas. School and routines have resumed but people are not the same. A profound sadness is still upon the community and it will take a long time to overcome the anger and grief, if ever. But most people I have spoken to want to resume their lives.

    Town hall meetings and gun violence protests occur frequently and rightly so. Hopefully changes will be made to protect and ensure the safety of our society. However, it seems that little attention has been paid to those individuals who are mentally or characterologically ill. History has shown us that these types of individuals will continue to act out against society and will find the means to do so.

    We must as a society find ways to help these people and get them connected so that they are not isolated and angry. Early identification of behavioral or emotional problems can help these individuals before their anger and resentment grow into acting out behaviors against society. This is not just a suggestion; this is a necessity.

    We very well may be looking at a mental health epidemic. Combine this with the availability of weapons is a recipe for disaster. Just providing money to have more counselors at schools or to failed mental health clinics is not enough. Just as we would with a medical illness, we need to have mental health tools, quality training of therapists, and research-based screening programs to identify and help those individuals at risk before they escalate.

    The time has come. Mental illness needs to be recognized as an epidemic and treated and not hidden because of stigma or not being an exciting topic for the media. Guns do kill people but people pull the trigger.

    January 20, 2018
    During the past year, many of my patients have come to their sessions angry about politics. It doesn’t matter what party they belong to or whether they are right-leaning, left-leaning, or centrist, they are all angry and frustrated. They feel powerless and worry about the future of our country and of themselves. Perhaps, rightly so. Many hours have been spent in conversation attempting to reduce their anger and to focus on their daily lives.

    One of the suggestions that have come out of our discussions seems to work. That is, to reduce or eliminate the number of hours spent watching the news on television or listening to it on the radio. It doesn’t matter what network you watch or listen to. All of them seem intent on stirring up feelings of unfairness and anger but offer no solutions. I guess the ultimate goal is to get watchers or listeners glued to their stations. Perhaps this is a media addiction. Yet there is no high but only worry and anger.

    I recently read an article about a self-imposed news blackout by Christopher Hebert, an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee, in the January 18 edition of The Guardian. The following is an excerpt:
    Ignorance is far easier than I thought. I finish two or three audiobooks a week. I read novels instead of newspapers. Five months into my blackout, I’m happier than I ever was back in the days when I was informed. My fingernails are growing back. The sleeping pills remain in the bottle. I’m getting more work done. My family comes home at the end of the day to find me smiling, chopping things for dinner without my old vegicidal rage. And yet, part of me can’t stop feeling guilty about feeling good.
    Perhaps, this is one solution to the anger and frustration of a media news addiction.

    December 18, 2017
    Today, a patient of mine told me that his daughters were graduating from college in a few months. I was surprised to realize and remember how fast time passes. I know that it does but was nevertheless surprised. It seemed like it was just yesterday, that we were discussing their separating and leaving home for college. We spent many sessions discussing being an empty nester and the changes and opportunities it brings.

    Time is relative in that it seems like some moments go on forever and some go so quickly that if we blink we miss them. Life just seems to happen while we are waiting for whatever we are waiting for. While we are looking at what we don’t have and didn’t do, we miss out on what we did do and the wonderful experiences that we did have. I think the answer lies in living in the moment. Taking in as much as we can, both good and bad, is the best we can do.

    I recently saw a friend of mine who was depressed about turning 70. We talked and I tried to get him to see that age was just a number and how he viewed that number would determine his mood. I don’t think I got very far trying to convince him that he was not old and was still vital and helpful to so many people. Maybe it sunk in.

    For myself, I have been practicing mindfulness and trying to live in the moment. I am looking for stillness and sometimes am successful. I try to use all my senses in savoring the moment and some simple experiences defy description in their beauty. Yet reality and our society seem to have a way of intruding so that stress and worry are created. I look at mindfulness and appreciating natural beauty as the antidote to the constant troubling news and feeling of powerless generated by politicians, news people, and other media types.

    The past year has been difficult in some ways yet I have had some wonderful experiences with my family and friends. None of us knows what the new year brings for us but I am determined to enjoy as much of it as I can. It will take work and discipline and sacrifice and commitment. But what is the alternative?

    November 18. 2017
    On Thursday nights, I take a restorative yoga class. This class is not a typical yoga class. Rather, it is more of a meditation and relaxation class. Guided by the instructor while in postures of relaxation, I find myself letting go and truly relaxing from the business of the week. In fact, when the class is over, few yogis want to leave and “I needed that” is frequently heard.

    Although I have been trained in relaxation techniques and use them with some patients, it is hard for me to actually relax. Taking this class has allowed me to experience in some way what my patients experience. True relaxation necessitates the ability to let go; something most of us have a hard time doing. Whether we live hurried lives or we don’t have a sense of safety without our guards being up, relaxation takes practice. Letting one’s guard down takes trust. Letting go takes effort.

    In restorative yoga after a sense of stillness is achieved in a posture, the instructor uses guided imagery to describe peaceful and beautiful scenes to direct our attention towards relaxing. Following the teacher’s imagery, one can transcend the everyday world into the world of the imagery. Worries disappear, muscles loosen and smooth out, and the events of the day are forgotten for a few moments. Some people become so relaxed that they even fall asleep.

    Research has shown that relaxation has many psychological and physical benefits. In the hectic and stressful world in which we live, relaxation is not a luxury. It is a necessity. I have found my way to relax in restorative yoga. I hope you can find your way. Consider taking a yoga class.

    October 21, 2017
    Last night I watched the movie, “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace, Music, and Love”, and was visibly moved by how much our society has changed in the almost 50 years since this festival occurred. As I remembered and confirmed in the movie, the Woodstock community was peaceful and loving. Numerous comments were made about how nice the kids were, how courteous they were to each other, and how helpful they were to each other. This happened despite the quantity of drugs, the rain, the lack of food, the lack of accommodations, and the difficulties in transportation. Townspeople went out of their way to comment on how courteous the kids were saying “thank you” and “please” and asking permission. They greeted each other warmly and were well behaved not wanting to trespass on the property of others. They respected themselves and each other. When food ran out, they shared. When it rained, they shared whatever they had to cover themselves. When disagreements occurred, they settled them peacefully. When someone overdosed or had bad trips, there were others and medics to help them. They worked together to make this temporary society flourish. As Spock says in Star Trek, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few … or the one.

    Contrast that with today’s society. It seems to me that disrespect has become the norm. The values of our society which has existed for generations seems to have become eroded. Language has deteriorated to the point that curse words are used commonly in language by both sexes in public and on television. Dress has become so casual that in some cases it borders on sloppy and unsanitary. Respect for institutions is not trendy nor important. Values seem to be only important when it serves the needs of the person. Verbal attacks upon others occur daily and fake news and innuendo have become okay to use as fact. People will trample others to get the sale item when in limited quantities. Often, we don’t hear thank you or please even when holding the door for others. Protests have replaced communication, problem solving, compromise, or even mutual discussion. Selfishness and materialism seem to have become the norm and are reinforced by our media. The needs of the one appears to be more important than the needs of the many.

    What has caused this in the past almost 50 years? We can point to many factors: fear, anger, the Vietnam War and others, the coming of age of the Internet, advertising, the pursuit of more money at the expense of others, the absence of appropriate role modeling by adults, drugs and alcohol, lies and deceit by politicians, celebrities, and broadcast news, serial abusers, Madoff type scandals, hidden agendas, and a silent society that allows these changes to occur. I am sure we can cite more causes.

    Can we ever regain respect for our society to function? I would like to be optimistic and think yes. We see it in the support our nation gives to others when there is a disaster. We see it when individuals volunteer their money and time to help those who are less fortunate. We see it in the dedicated teachers and first responders. We see it in many others who still honor our values.

    What can you do? Respect yourself. Follow the Golden Rule. Stick to your standards even though others may not. Say “thank you” and please. Smile at others. Be courteous. Let others get in front of you while driving. Just be concerned about the needs of the many rather than the needs of the one.

    As always, I am interested in your thoughts. If you would like to respond to this blog, email me your comments at DrKimmel@KimmelPsychology.com and I will publish them next month.

    Till October…

    The information provided in this electronic newsletter is not a substitute for professional treatment. It is the opinions of the writers and is provided solely for educational purposes. For mental health care, seek a qualified professional.

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    If you find this information interesting or helpful, please forward this E-Letter to your contacts and friends. Copyright © 2018 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D. P.A. and Associates.