Discuss explanations for conformity. Refer to Steph and Jeff as part of your discussion. ( 16 marks)

Steph and Jeff are student teachers who recently joined other members of staff on a one-day strike. When asked why they decided to do so, Steph replied, ‘I never thought I would strike but I listened to the other teachers’ arguments and now I have become quite passionate about it’.

Jeff’s explanation was different: ‘To be honest, everyone else seemed to be striking and I didn’t want to be the only one who wasn’t’.

Discuss explanations for conformity. Refer to Steph and Jeff as part of your discussion. ( 16 marks) 

Conformity is the tendency to adjust one's behaviour or attitudes to align with those of a group, which can be explained by either normative or informational social influences.

Normative social influence pertains to adhering to social norms, seeking acceptance from a group to avoid rejection. Jeff's decision to strike aligns with normative influence, as he confesses, ‘To be honest, everyone else seemed to be striking, and I didn’t want to be the only one who wasn’t.’ Jeff's conformity is rooted in the fear of standing out, reflecting the normative influence's concept of avoiding rejection or seeking social approval. His behaviour appears likely to be temporary, reflecting compliance (public conformity but not private) rather than internalisation (both public and private conformity).

One strength of the normative explanation for conformity lies in the existence of supporting studies, such as Solomon Asch's classic experiments on conformity. These studies provide empirical evidence that individuals may conform publicly to avoid social disapproval or the discomfort of standing out. 

For example, Asch's studies involved participants making judgements about the lengths of lines, with confederates intentionally providing incorrect answers. In situations where the correct answer was unambiguous, approximately 37.5% of participants conformed to an obvious wrong answer, illustrating the impact of normative social influence. Moreover, supporting studies, such as Asch's variations, contribute to enhancing the validity of the normative social influence theory. In these variations, when participants were asked to provide their answers in private rather than in a public setting, conformity levels significantly dropped. This shift from public compliance to private independence underscores the temporary nature of normative influence, emphasising that individuals may publicly conform to societal norms but hold different private opinions. 

So, this means that people might act like everyone else in public to fit in and avoid criticism, but when they're by themselves, they may think differently. This shows that normative social influence is complex. It helps us understand that people often conform in public to follow society's expectations, but their personal thoughts can be different. This understanding highlights how normative influence plays a significant role in how people behave in public situations.

Conversely, Steph's explanation aligns with informational social influence. She articulates, ‘I never thought I would strike, but I listened to the other teachers’ arguments and now I have become quite passionate about it.’ Steph's conformity stems from a belief that the group possesses valuable information, leading to a more permanent change in attitude (internalisation). The use of the term 'passionate' implies a deeper and enduring transformation in her perspective.

When looking at both explanations, critics will point out that the key issue is that they both take a nomothetic approach to conformity. 

This approach involves seeking general principles or laws that apply universally to a group or population. While normative and informational social influence theories provide valuable insights into the dynamics of conformity, relying solely on a nomothetic approach raises certain limitations. Both explanations tend to generalise behaviour across individuals, assuming uniform responses to social influence. The danger lies in overlooking the inherent variability in individual personalities, motivations, and experiences.

Normative social influence, for instance, assumes a collective desire for social approval and conformity to societal norms. Informational social influence, on the other hand, posits a shared tendency to seek knowledge or expertise from a group. However, individuals vary in their susceptibility to social pressures, personal values, and motivations, which a nomothetic approach might oversimplify.

This therefore suggests that caution must be exercised when applying these theories universally to explain all changes in behaviour. Human behaviour is intricate and influenced by a myriad of factors, some of which may not align with the assumptions of normative and informational social influence. Additionally, these theories may not fully account for individual differences that could significantly impact responses to social influence.

Therefore, considering an idiographic stance, which emphasises the uniqueness of each individual, may provide a more comprehensive understanding of changes in behaviour. By examining specific circumstances, personal histories, and individual differences, an idiographic approach recognises the diversity in how people respond to social influence. Balancing nomothetic and idiographic approaches ensures a more comprehensive understanding of conformity and allows for a more accurate representation of the diverse ways individuals navigate social influences.


Anna achieved an A* in Psychology in June 2023

We caught up with Anna to ask her some tips for psychology A-Level students all over the country. Here is what she said:

"I would highly recommend being exposed to as many model answers as possible. What I found was the more I kept seeing them, the easier it was for me to write. I also made use of revision books as they condensed so much information into really small chunks. Model essays and revision books are seriously the go-tos."


Ready to boost your psychology revision like Anna did? Check out these essential resources:


AQA A Level Psychology SOCIAL INFLUENCE TOPIC Knowledge Book:

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Complete Companions: AQA Psychology A Level - Year 1 and AS Revision Guide (Fifth Edition for AQA)

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AQA Psychology for A Level Year 1 & AS - Revision Guide

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Don’t miss out on these tools to elevate your understanding and performance. 

Wishing you academic success,

Yum Yum Mama Team

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