From the moment we are born we enter a society where it is the norm to conform and obey. From a very young age we learn that if we do not obey then we will suffer the consequences for these actions. People within society have a desire to be accepted and to belong; whether to a group or a family this social influence can change our thoughts, feeling and even our behaviour. So can we truly be an individual or are we pre-defined by a set of social boundaries? As much as we like to think of ourselves as individuals, the fact is that we're determined to fit in, and that frequently means going with the flow.
One of the most popular definitions of conformity describes it as an action in accordance with prevailing social standards, attitudes, or practices. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the third layer of human need is social (1). Humans need to feel a sense of acceptance and belonging and are willing to sacrifice and conform to achieve this. They may sacrifice their morals and their values, their identity and some often go as far as to let this need for belonging overcome their physiological and security needs.
Understanding of the psychology of conformity is dominated by classic studies from the 1960s and 1970s: Milgram's research on obedience to authority and Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment. Those studies has been taken to show that people conform passively and unthinkingly to both the instructions and the roles that authorities provide, however malevolent these may be. Recently, though, this consensus has been challenged by empirical work informed by social identity theorising. This suggests that individuals' willingness to follow authorities is conditional on identification with the authority in question and an associated belief that the authority is right.
The studies of Milgram and Zimbardo have not only had influence in academic spheres. They have spilled over into our general culture and shaped popular understanding, such that...