Chapter 6 - Conformity and Deviance


1. How "good" conformity occurs when people privately accept their group's beliefs.
2. How "bad" conformity occurs when people voices what their group wants them to.
3. How "good" deviance occurs when people contribute new ideas to their group.
4. How "bad" deviance occurs when people either rebel against or refuse to participate in their group.
5. How groups can pressure their members to either conform or deviate.
6. How and when deviants can persuade the group majority.


What do the words "conformity" and "deviance" mean to most people? If we took a survey and asked a group of people if the term "conformist" has positive or negative connotations, most of them would probably answer that it has negative connotations. Their response to the term "deviant" would probably be the same. Both "conformity" and "deviance" seem to have negative connotations in our society.

Why do people associate negative stereotypes with these terms? For instance, the word "conformist" perhaps conjures in their minds the image of a stereotypic "corporate man." They can see him wearing his brown suit and never questioning his superiors. In contrast, their minds may jump to another extreme when they hear the term "deviant." They may imagine a sociopathic criminal who never gives a second thought about the pain of victims, for

example. These connotations and images are unfair generalizations.

For our discussion, we need to look at the terms "conformity" and "deviance" in a new light. They are important concepts in small-group research. The popular beliefs about them, with their unfair stereotypes, have little to do with the ways in which the two concepts apply to groups.


The issue of conformity versus deviance is very important in small-group research. It becomes relevant whenever a person must choose between going along or not going along with a group. A group member in such a situation faces two or more viable options, or courses of action. This predicament can come about in two ways. First, it may be that general social acceptance supports one of the options. For example, in a group of doctors, it may be socially acceptable for each person to use the title "Doctor." If one of the medical professionals does not wish to use the title, he or she may feel social pressures that conflict with this personal wish. Second, the group member might face a voting majority. He or she must decide between the action the voters support and another action. For instance, a majority of the doctors in the group could vote that all members must use the formal title.

A person conforms if he or she chooses a course of action that a majority favors or that is socially acceptable. In contrast, an individual deviates if he or she chooses an action that is not socially acceptable or that a majority does not favor. Clearly, there are countless situations when a person faces a majority opinion. For example, every time you perform the simple action of dressing in the morning you face a group of people who, as a majority, dress a certain way. Will you dress as they do, for instance in jeans and a T-shirt, or will you dress in another style if you prefer to be different? As you can see, any action that a person takes in such a circumstance is necessarily either conformity or deviance.

A person can conform to or deviate from many behaviors. For example, he or she may conform to a group standard of honesty and integrity. Is such a conformist bad? Analogously, he or she could deviate from a group whose ideal is thievery and corruption. This would probably be a good deviate. Thus, neither conformity nor deviance is intrinsically good or bad. The popular beliefs are unfair.

However, scientists have differentiated between the ways in which people conform or deviate, asking why a person behaves as he or she does. In contrast to the action, the reason behind the action may be either good or bad.

For example, conforming to a group ideal of honesty and integrity not out of belief in the ideal, but only to go along with the group, probably is not good. Researchers have labeled this kind of undesirable conformity compliance. It occurs when someone conforms in behavior alone. The member who complies simply does whatever he or she thinks the group wants him or her to do. It is usually, but not always, bad for the group.

A second type of conformity, in contrast, occurs when a person conforms in beliefs as well as in behaviors. This is called private acceptance. It is usually, but not always, good for the group. For instance, a good conformist in a group that wishes its members to be honest is someone who truly believes in honesty and all for which it stands. This person is honest in all situations, not just to please the group. Experimenters have made similar distinctions between good and bad forms of deviant behavior.

The Structural Perspective

In this chapter we will study the concepts of conformity and deviance from the structural perspective. As we discussed in Chapter 1, scientists who use the structural perspective believe that there is a process by which expectations of how behaviors "will be" in groups turn into evaluations of how those behaviors "should be." The evaluations are group norms. For example, Jan may tend to speak up first during the first few times a group meets. The group comes to expect that she will do so at each meeting. As time goes on, the group may develop a norm that Jan always talks first when the members get together. They could finally come to say that Jan talking first is the way it should be.

The concept of norms is very important to the study of conformity and deviance. Norms are the socially acceptable behaviors in a group. It is in relation to them that people either conform or deviate. For instance, a group has the norm that Jan always talks first. When the other group members choose to wait for Jan to speak first, they conform. If one day Harold says something before Jan, Harold has deviated from the group norm.


Before we begin our examination of conformity and deviance, we need to discuss some important points about norms.

Groups can establish norms concerning almost any behavior, as long as they consider the behavior important. However, all norms are not created equal. They have different qualities, such as whether the group itself created the norm, or how much the group accepts the norm. Here is an example. At Good Old State University, it has long been normative to dress in the "international student uniform," which consists of clothing such as blue jeans, tennis or running shoes, sweatshirts, T-shirts, and the like. At West Point, on the other hand, it is normative to dress in a very different kind of uniform, the cadet uniform.

These "dress" norms may have qualities that vary greatly. We can classify them and all other norms according to different criteria. For instance, we can group them according to their degree of formality versus informality. Another criterion is the extent to which they are imposed upon the group from outside or from within the group itself. Scientists have found that formal norms tend to come from an outside source. We can see this at work in the example of

the formal West Point uniform. In contrast, informal norms tend to emerge, as in the "international student uniform," from the group itself.

A further criterion is the degree of permissible deviation. The "dress" norm at West Point has a much lower degree of permissible deviation than the one at Good Old State U. Norms can also vary in degree of group acceptance. We can assume that the students at Good Old State U., with some exceptions, accept their dress norm more than the students at West Point. Most West Point students probably do not wear their uniforms while on vacation, for example. One last important point to remember about norms is that they can apply to group members in different ways. Some norms may apply to all members; other norms are relevant only to people taking specific roles in the group.

As we begin our discussion, we need to point out that there will be some ambiguity in this chapter. You may find yourself wondering at times if we are examining our topic in relation to how a group does things or in relation to the group's outcome. You can intuitively see that norms apply to both behaviors. Groups create norms to direct their members' actions in the group, and they also approve norms that relate to specific policy proposals they consider. For example, a group develops norms that apply to how it runs its meetings. Beth always calls the meeting to order, Rob usually makes a joke to break the ice, the group votes on important topics, and so on. These norms relate to how the group does its job. The group might also, for instance, decide that all the members must wear green shirts to the meetings and that all must agree with a certain political philosophy. Such norms apply to the group's outcome.

In short, there is a distinction between how the group makes decisions and what the decisions are. However, this distinction is not very important from the structural perspective. For this reason, we will not specify when we are describing norms that apply to how a group works and when we are looking at norms regarding the outcome of a group. This ambiguity does not affect our discussion.



Why Conform?

Why do people conform to group standards? First and foremost, group members must conform to make decisions. Conformity occurs when members choose the course of action that the majority favors. For instance, a group may have a norm that requires group consensus before it can adopt a course of action. A group consensus exists if every member of the group is willing to accept a proposal. Consensus does not imply that every member of the group really likes the proposal; it does imply that they all feel they can live with the proposal. Every person in the group must eventually conform to some decision, or the group remains stalemated.

Another group might have a norm that a voting majority will dictate what the group does. In this case, only a majority of the members must conform to an option. However, all group members need to conform to the idea that "majority rule" is the accepted procedure. Hence, group members in any kind of group must conform in some way before the group can successfully reach any decision. Without conformity, the group will stand still. We can take this idea a step further. Members must conform to some operating procedure before the group can perform any task, including the task of making a decision.

We can see why conformity is essential before a group can reach a decision. For example, three people might come together in a school lunchroom. They consider themselves a group and have met to plan a school dance. However, the three people are not willing to agree on how the group should operate. They sit at their table and argue over whether the group should vote on topics or whether they should select a leader and allow that person to have a majority of the power. Without solving this problem, the group members try to decide if they should write a list of tasks, but they cannot make a decision because they do not know whether they should vote on it. As you can see, the group is unable to accomplish anything because the members will not conform in any way.

Motivational Reasons

The same motivational reasons that people have for joining groups in the first place can also cause people to conform. Their reasons for conforming are:

1. To gain acceptance from the other group members.
2. To achieve goals that the group intends to reach.
3. To achieve personal goals that they can reach through group membership (for example, impressing another member to whom they are attracted).
4. To enjoy taking part in group activities and wanting to ensure the group's continuation.

Any of these reasons can lead people to conform with a group.

There is an additional motivational reason that could lead to conformity. People may conform because the group succeeds in persuading or pressuring them to do so. We will discuss this possibility further in the next section.

Social Comparison Theory

Some researchers have proposed that people also conform as a result of a psychological need to evaluate themselves. The theory is that people want to know whether their beliefs and opinions are what they should be. Festinger (1954) described this as a process of conformity for the sake of correctness. Researchers call his hypothesis "social comparison theory."

According to Festinger, humans have a need to be "correct." The result of this is that people want to evaluate their beliefs, periodically, against standards in order to judge themselves. There are different kinds of standards. In the case of a belief about "physical reality," the criteria are absolute. For example, if we want to know whether we should think that an object is breakable, we only need to hit it with a hammer to find out what we should believe.

In contrast, the standards concerning beliefs about "social reality" are relative. Festinger divides beliefs about social reality into two categories. The first includes "beliefs about abilities," and the second involves "opinions." In both of these categories, we need to find other people who can serve as standards against which we can judge ourselves. An important point is that these people cannot be too divergent from us. If they are, our comparisons with them will be meaningless. For instance, a high-school basketball player who wishes to make a self-evaluation of his abilities as a player would be foolish to use either Michael Jordan as a standard or, at the other extreme, a three-year-old who is trying to dribble. As another example, a moderate Democrat wants to judge herself regarding an opinion. She should not use either a member of the Socialist Workers Party or a person from the Libertarian Party as a criterion.

Festinger's theory also maintains that people will attempt to change their abilities and opinions if they are not satisfied with their self-evaluation. However, the reactions to opinions and abilities differ because people cannot react to the two categories of beliefs in the same way. People can rank abilities on a scale from "good" to "bad." A basketball player can know, for instance, if he is doing well according to the number of points he scores. It is clear that a person must move toward the "good" direction on the ranking scale in order to improve.

People react to opinions differently. Instead of rating their opinions on a scale of "good" to "bad," they rate from "correct" to "incorrect." They then change their opinions to be closer to the "correct" end of the scale. For the Democrat to "improve" her opinions, she must change them until they are closer to the opinions of other members of the Democratic Party. She does so because she considers the opinions of other members of the Democratic Party correct.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Social comparison theory has been very influential in the field of small-group research. However, it is not a satisfactory explanation for conformity. The weakness in the theory is that the link between a need to evaluate oneself and a tendency to change oneself is not clear. Why should a negative self-evaluation lead someone to change and conform? Perhaps a person is satisfied with his or her lot, whether good or bad.

Festinger saw this weakness in the theory. He offered one explanation for why a person would change in reaction to a negative self-evaluation of abilities. Festinger felt that there is a cultural value for self-improvement in our society. This, he said, is the link between judgment and change when abilities are involved.

However, social comparison theory still could not explain why people would change their opinions in order to conform. Festinger created a new theory to help explain why this might happen. In 1957 he proposed the theory called "cognitive dissonance." Cognitive dissonance theory maintains that people are not so much influenced by a need to be correct as they are influenced by a need to be consistent.

Festinger hypothesized that two beliefs are dissonant if one of them implies the opposite of the other. For example, a person may say, "I like my group," and also, "I disagree with my group." These are likely to be dissonant beliefs if the person also has a third idea that "I should agree with groups that I like." Festinger did not discuss the concept of this third idea, but it is necessary to make his theory work. Without the third statement, the other two may never cause a conflict for the person.

The implications of cognitive dissonance become more interesting if one of the "belief" statements involves an actual behavior. For example, an individual may have three opinions about a group. One of these opinions involves a behavior. He or she might say, "I don't like the group," and "I don't like the task," but also, "I helped the group with the task." There are two possible outcomes in this case.

The first outcome is that the person experiences dissonance and must change something to be consistent. The third statement above involves the idea that the person agreed to do something. This is relatively impervious to change because it is about an actual behavior. Thus, the person can only really change the first two statements. He or she should come to like the group and/or the task more than he or she does. The theory is unable to predict for certain which of the two opinions will most likely change. This inability is a weakness of the dissonance hypothesis.

The second possible outcome when a behavior statement is part of the equation is that the person will not experience dissonance and will not need to change beliefs. This can happen because he or she may come to believe that the act of compliance is a result of pressure from the group. The group, and not the person, is responsible for the conforming action. If this occurs, the fact that the person complied is irrelevant to his or her beliefs. There is no need to change opinions.

For example, Heidi agrees to paint a house with a group. After doing so, she realizes that she does not like the group, and she does not like to paint. She may feel that she has agreed to be part of the group and is herself responsible for joining it. If she feels this way, Heidi probably will experience some internal conflict. In that case, she needs to decide either that she does not really mind the group or that she likes painting. Or Heidi may tell the group that she wants to quit painting, but the group pressures her and says that she must continue. In such a case, Heidi probably feels no dissonance; and she does not feel a need to change her beliefs. She can continue to paint, feeling inside that she does not like what she is doing or the group around her.

Thus, dissonance is a factor only when there is inconsistency between a person's beliefs and a behavior for which the person feels personally responsible. If someone does not feel responsible for a conforming action, there is no internal conflict. We can find similar conclusions regarding responsibility for actions within attribution theory, which was described in Chapter 3. This similarity is no accident, as Bem (1972) has shown.

Kiesler and DeSalvo study. Kiesler and DeSalvo performed a study in 1967 to explore the idea that a feeling of personal responsibility is necessary before someone will experience dissonance. In their study, the researchers assigned women to task groups. They also led these women to believe that they disagreed with the rest of their group members regarding which tasks the group should perform. There were two possible tasks. The experimenters further "gently" induced half of the participants to perform the "disapproved" task, while the other half merely "knew" of the disagreement but did not act on it. Lastly, they led the participants to believe that they would either like or dislike the group.

For example, Mary and Sue come to the experiment. The researchers tell Mary that the best task to do is Task Alpha. However, they also tell her that the group will want to do Task Beta instead. They further tell Mary that she can feel free to go ahead and pursue Task Alpha when the group meets and that she will like the other group members. Sue, on the other hand, hears that Task Alpha is the best, but the researchers do not comment on whether she should work on Task Alpha or Task Beta. Sue hears that she will dislike her group. Kiesler and DeSalvo placed their participants in conditions similar to the ones we have described for Sue and Mary.

Results showed that there were differences between the participants who simply "knew" about the disapproved task and the subjects who were "gently" induced to perform the disapproved action. Those who merely "knew" of their disagreement with the group came to see less difference between the two tasks if they liked the other members, rather than if they disliked the group. The participants started to agree with their groups. They liked the task they had originally preferred less and liked the task the group preferred more.

In contrast, participants who complied with the "gentle" inducements came to see less difference between the tasks when they disliked the group, as opposed to when they liked it. This outcome fits cognitive dissonance theory. When a person dislikes the group, he or she must come to like the task to alleviate the internal conflict that results. As we have seen before, performing a duty and feeling personally responsible is very difficult if a person dislikes both the group and the task. It is best if the person can come to like either the group or the group's task.

As we can see, the study results agreed with cognitive dissonance theory. The less a group pressures a person to comply with the group, the more "inside" pressure a person will feel to accept the beliefs that compliant behavior would imply.

For example, Matt belongs to a group that voluntarily helps clean inner-city parks and playgrounds. When Matt helps clean, his compliant behavior implies certain beliefs about the value of cleaning the parks. In order not to experience dissonance, Matt is likely to come to believe that there is value in his task. However, the amount of pressure that Matt feels from the group affects how much he personally urges himself to believe that cleaning is valuable. For instance, he may belong to a group with a carefree leader who lets people work at their own pace. In such a group, Matt will probably feel "internal pressure" to like the task of improving the inner-city areas. In contrast, Matt might be in a group with a leader who starts to pressure group members, demanding compliance with the leader's rules. In this group, Matt will probably feel less compelled to believe personally in the project.

Reactance theory. Brehm extended this notion in 1966 in his reactance theory. He claimed that people need to feel as if they have freedom to control their behavior. If a group threatens this freedom, individuals will be aroused to protect it. Thus, extreme pressure from a group can backfire and lead to increased deviance. Matt, for instance, may even begin to dislike the very work he volunteered to do, cleaning parks, if his group becomes too pressure-filled.

Compliance Versus Private Acceptance

In the previous section we summarized some reasons that people conform to their groups. However, in our discussion, we have not formally divided these into the reasons behind compliance versus the causes that foster private acceptance. It may be impossible to make a clear division between the causes. It is true that, as one of their tasks, some theories definitely attempt to explain why private acceptance can occur. For instance, this is the case for the social comparison, dissonance, and reactance theories. It is also true that a factor such as agreeing with a group only to impress a member is unquestionably a reason that leads to compliance. However, the other reasons that we have mentioned, such as conforming to reach a decision, could cause either private acceptance or compliance.

There are further complications regarding this matter. What starts as compliance may end up as private acceptance. The theory of cognitive dissonance predicts this, and the experiment by Kiesler and DeSalvo revealed the process at work. Thus, it is not always possible to distinguish between the reasons that lead to private acceptance and those that cause compliance.

Nevertheless, researchers have done some studies that relate specifically to compliance or to private acceptance.


Asch study. Imagine the following situation: You consent to participate in an experiment that you think is about perception. You show up at the site of the experiment and find eight other people waiting. The experimenter says that the nine of you will perform the study together. The researcher takes you all into a room, where you line up and face a viewing screen. You are the seventh person in the line. The researcher flashes a slide on the screen showing this series of lines:

The person conducting the study asks which of the lines on the right is the same length as the "standard" on the left. The first person in the line answers, "A." The second also says, "A," and the others follow with the same answer. When your turn comes you say, "A," and think about how obvious the answer is.

The second trial in the study is similar to the first. The lines look like this:

Everyone answers, "B." You again think about how simple the task is.

On the third trial, the lines look like this:

The researcher begins to go down the line again, asking the participants for answers. The first person says, "A." You are surprised, but you decide that someone was bound to make an error sometime. The second person answers, "A." You start to become uneasy. The third person also says, "A," as does the fourth. You cannot believe what you are hearing, but now the fifth and sixth participants answer, "A." It is suddenly your turn. What do you say?

This situation is the prototype for a series of studies performed by Asch (1951, 1956). Researchers have interpreted his experiments as being relevant to compliance. Unknown to the real participant, the other eight "participants" in the line were confederates working with the researcher. Asch instructed the confederates to unanimously give the wrong answer during 12 of the 18 trials. He intended their answers to be so obviously wrong that the real participants could not fail to be amazed at the discrepancy between what they saw and what they heard. Scientists have made the assumption that if the real participant in Asch's study conformed with the incorrect confederates, the conformity was compliance, not private acceptance. This assumption requires some further analysis.

Numeric results. First, let us examine the numeric results of Asch's experiment. On the average, 3.84 (or 32 percent) of the 12 experimental trials resulted in conformity. We can compare this outcome with the results from control groups. In the control groups, participants could see what others did, but they did not verbalize their own choices. Hence, there was no pressure to conform. These participants erred an average of only .08 times, or .67 percent. Thus, it seems that the high level of conformity in the experimental trials was due to group pressure. The pressure successfully led the test participants to give an opinion that they did not really share.

However, this overall conformity result is misleading. It masks the great individual differences among the participants. Out of 123 participants, 29 did not ever conform with their group, 33 conformed on eight or more trials, and the remaining 61 participants went along with their groups only on occasion. Only 26.8 percent conformed at a high rate. As we can see, we must keep these individual results in mind as we examine the assumption that Asch's experiment shows compliance at work.

Postexperimental interview results. Next, let us look at the results of postexperimental interviews with the participants. These are crucial to our analysis of Asch's study. Participants who never conformed reported that they had not conformed for one of two reasons. Some did not conform because they were confident that their choices were right, and they were confident even though they acknowledged that they had been deviant in the face of unanimous agreement among the confederates. Others who had not conformed claimed that they had concentrated totally on the demands of the task, and they had not really noticed what the confederates said.

As for the conformists, a small percentage of them claimed to actually have seen the wrong line as a correct match. If these participants were telling the truth, we must conclude that private acceptance was at work in Asch's study. These participants privately accepted the belief of the majority opinion. They were not simply complying with the group. About half of the rest of the conformists claimed that they had seen the lines correctly but that when they heard the majority choice, they decided that they must have been wrong. They then went along with the group. Whether this is compliance or private acceptance is debatable. However, the remaining conformists clearly complied. They said that they thought their choice was correct but that they had gone along with the group anyway.

Thus, as we can see, we cannot assume that Asch's experiment revealed solely elements concerning compliance. It appears that perhaps both types of conformity, compliance and private acceptance, were at work in his study. Nevertheless, Asch's work reveals a great deal about compliance. He also performed variations on his original test that yielded further findings. In addition, other researchers have been able to build on Asch's work.

Variations. Asch compared his original findings with the results of some variations on his first test procedure. Some examples of his experiments, along with their results, are:

1. A test with two "real" participants instead of one. If one of the two did not immediately comply, the other knew that he or she had an ally. This circumstance lowered the conformity rate to 10.4 percent.

2. A study that had one confederate who always answered correctly. The real participant now always had an ally. This decreased the conformity rate further, to 5.5 percent. We can conclude from this test that one ally is enough to markedly decrease conformity when someone faces an overwhelming majority.

3. An experiment in which a confederate answered correctly at the beginning and then soon "deserted" to the majority. This situation did not help the real participant's courage. The conformity rate was 28.5 percent for these groups, which was barely less than when the participant had no ally at all.

4. A study that had a confederate who stopped conforming and started to say the right answer, thereby joining the real participant. This was quite helpful for the participant and lowered conformity rates to 8.7 percent.

Asch also varied the number of confederates facing a lone test participant. He did this to discover whether conformity would increase as the size of the opposing majority grew. As you recall, the control groups had participants who conformed at the rate of only .67 percent. The results when Asch increased the majority size to various levels were:

# of Confederates







% of Conformity







As the numbers show, there is a high percentage of conformity when a lone dissenter faces a unified majority of only three people. It appears that this small group size is sufficient to cause a conformity rate that is close to maximum potential. Increasing the number of confederates beyond three does not seem to raise conformity levels significantly.

Gerard study. More than a decade after these original experiments, Gerard (1965) examined the plight of the lone dissenter. He applied the tenets of cognitive dissonance theory to the results from Asch's study. As Gerard pointed out, the naive participant is faced with two unpleasant choices in Asch's experiment. He or she can conform, in opposition to his or her true impressions, or he or she can dissent in the face of possible ridicule and embarrassment. Both choices lead to dissonance.

We can see how conformity would cause a state of dissonance in Asch's experiment. The compliant participant has three internal statements that reveal how the internal conflict occurs. He or she is thinking, for instance, "I saw that line C was closest to the standard," "I said that line A was closest to the standard," and "Line A and line C cannot both be closest to the standard."

Gerard hypothesized that a compliant participant could lower his or her internal dissonance as the experiment continued. The participant could do so by

1. "Seeing" the same way as the group. This is what a small majority claimed to have done in Asch's study.

2. Deciding that what they see is wrong. Many participants did this.

3. Attributing the responsibility for what they say to the group. In this way, they feel that the group pressured them to say the wrong thing and that they can comply with a clear conscience. Quite a few of Asch's participants relieved their dissonance in this way.

It is similarly true that deviation, as well as conformity, leads to a state of dissonance. The participant feels that, "I said that line C was closest to the standard," "The group said that line A was closest," and "I am a member of the group." A person can lower this feeling of dissonance by psychologically disassociating from the group. A person could do this by telling himself or herself something like, "I know I am a member of this group, but I don't care whether the group likes me. I will continue to say the truth."

Gerard saw these conditions at work in Asch's experiments. Gerard took these findings and hypothesized that a participant's first choice of behavior is important. The person can choose to deviate or to conform on the first trial. Whichever action the person chooses, his or her cognitions will probably change so that internal dissonance will decrease in subsequent trials.

For example, Joe feels pressured by his group of friends to help them steal a car. Internally, Joe does not believe that he should help them. Joe needs to decide what he will do the first time his friends ask him to steal. Let us say that, as a first example, Joe does not go along with his friends. To have internal harmony, Joe dissociates himself from the group and decides that these particular friends are not very important to him. As time goes by and as his friends pressure him to steal other things, the likelihood is that Joe will continue to refuse. He can do this because the group does not mean very much to him anymore. On the other hand, if Joe steals a car the first time, it is likely that he will continue to do so. He will probably tell himself that the group is right and that stealing is not so bad, in order to lower his internal dissonance.

As you recall, there were consistencies in individual participants' behavior over trials during Asch's study. These results supported Gerard's hypothesis.

What is interesting about the dissonance interpretation of Asch's study is how it relates to an idea we discussed earlier. As we showed, a member will continue to disbelieve a group's opinion if he or she blames the group for his or her act of compliance. If, for instance, Joe is forced to go with his friends and steal the car, Joe will probably not come to believe that stealing is all right. This is similar to the third response that we noted above for people who comply with a group. In fact, a person who feels this way may come to dislike the group and deviate more.

However, once the compliant member comes to blame himself or herself for compliance, the stage is set for the person to begin to privately accept the group's decision. If this happens, in all likelihood the person will like the group more. This is the method by which "brainwashing" can occur. For instance, if Joe's group taunts him by saying that he is just like them or he would not have had them for friends in the first place, Joe may begin to feel personally responsible for having friends who ask him to steal. He may begin to believe his group and start to think that stealing is all right. If this happens, Joe's group has successfully "brainwashed" him.

Private acceptance can occur in other ways also. The following experiment shows this.

Private Acceptance

Sherif study. Imagine the following circumstances: You have again consented to participate in an experiment that you think is about perception. This time the experimenter promises you that no confederates will pressure you to do anything. The researcher takes you into a dark room, where you are alone. Suddenly, a point of light appears before you. It seems to move erratically for a few seconds, and then it disappears. The experimenter asks you to report how far the light appeared to move.

There is a problem, however. You are not sure how big the room is. Nor do you know how far the light was from you. In other words, you have no frame of reference against which you can compare the light's movement. How can you make your judgment when you have no frame of reference or basis that you can use to evaluate the light?

This is the prototype procedure for a series of studies that Sherif performed in 1935. In reality, the light did not move at all. What occurred was a physiological phenomenon that scientists call an "autokinetic effect." The phenomenon is a tendency for lights to appear to move when there are no points of reference for the eye to use to "tie them down."

Subjective standards. Sherif's first studies showed that his participants quickly established subjective standards that they could use as points of reference. They would then judge the amount of apparent movement against these "standards." How could they do this? The participants would often use their first judgment and the movement that they saw in it as their standard for comparison. They would then use the immediately subsequent judgments in order to estimate the range of possible movement for the light.

In Sherif's study, there was a wide range of standards that the participants created. The smallest standard for the range of movement for the light was about one inch. By contrast, the largest standard was about 7 inches. Once an individual established a subjective standard, he or she continued to use that standard in subsequent experimental sessions.

A group "norm" for judgment. Sherif's next concern was to discover what would occur if individuals performed the task in groups. In the groups, the participants announced their estimates, one by one, in one another's presence. We can hypothesize two possible results for this study. As you recall, the light does not actually move. Instead, the movement that someone observes is actually a result of his or her own unique visual system. Thus, one possible result for the study could be that each participant would "see" very different amounts of movement. If this happened, each person would have a personal standard for judgment, and the other group members would not influence this standard.

A second possibility could be that each person, having no standard to begin with, would instead look to other group members for an idea of how to judge the movement. The individual judgments would then start to influence one another. This would result in a group standard that all members would adopt.

Sherif asked some participants to begin the study by performing one series of judgments alone. He then asked them to work in groups of two or three and do three more series of judgments, doing each series on a different day. Some of the groups were made up of participants who had created very diverse subjective standards during their individual judgments. When these people came together in groups, they showed marked convergence of their standards during the very first series of evaluations. Their standards continued to converge during their second and third series of trials together. However, their ideas of criteria never completely converged. This implies that their original, individual standards still had some effect as they worked together. Nevertheless, it was also clear that the group had created a norm for judgment.

Sherif asked a second sample of participants to make three series of judgments in groups and then to do one series alone. In this case, the group members established a very close convergence of their individual standards almost immediately. Their ideas converged more so than at any time for the previous groups. After convergence, the group norm for judgment averaged about three to four inches. Further, the groups retained their initial norms throughout the other two group sessions. In the individual trials, the participants further continued to use the same group norms for judgment. This occurred even when the individual trials occurred as much as six months after the group sessions. Divergence among the participants' judgments did begin to occur during the end of the individual series. It would be interesting to discover how much more divergence from the group norm would have occurred if the participants had performed more individual sessions.

Sherif's conclusions. Sherif argued quite convincingly that his results are an example of private acceptance and not an example of compliance. First, Sherif showed that the only standard for judgment in his study was "social reality." This was unlike Asch's study. In Asch's experiment, the perceptual difference between the standard and the line that the confederates "chose" was objectively clear. It was so clear that more than 99 percent of the time the control groups made correct judgments. In Sherif's study, on the other hand, the standard for judgment came only from the "reality" that the group created. It was not objective. In fact, we can liken Sherif's experiment to an accuracy task, such as the one we described in Chapter 2 when we examined Gordon's work. For Gordon's task, the average of the participants' judgments was the best answer. If we make such a comparison, the participants' "strategy" of convergence would be optimal in Sherif's study. Second, Sherif's participants continued to use the group standard in subsequent individual sessions. This implies that they actually believed in the group's opinion.

Much later, in 1961, Sherif conducted further research. In these studies, the participants "accidentally" overheard another participant's judgment while they waited to make their own. The participants never met each other. Even so, the judgments of the participants approximated the ones that they had overheard. It is unlikely that people would merely be complying in such a circumstance. There was no group pressure for the participants to conform to the standard that they had heard.

We can further clarify the differences between the Asch and Sherif studies by comparing the demands that the studies made on the participants. In the Asch studies, the perceptual task was clear enough that the participants should have been certain of the correct answers. Of course, the unified response of the confederates was bound to make the participants less certain. However, despite this fact, the participants found Asch's perceptual task very clear. The test was so unambiguous that most of the participants rarely questioned their perception. They either stuck to their guns a majority of the time, or they complied to save face, not because they mistrusted their senses.

In the Sherif studies, the perceptual task was so vague that most participants did not have much confidence in their judgments. Research on other topics has shown what happens when people are uncertain about their judgments or decisions. They react by looking elsewhere for information that could help them. In Sherif's experiment, the only place the participants could go for additional information was to one another. In fact, the people in Sherif's experiment should have had more confidence in the group's standard for judgment. It was natural that they looked to the group for help. This led to the participants' private acceptance of the group standard. In contrast, the only participants in the Asch study who came to trust the group judgment more than their own were those who privately accepted the wrong line as correct.

Thus far, we have considered conformity an individual process. We have shown that individuals often place themselves under great pressure to conform when they face a disagreeing majority. This internal pressure may lead people to conform merely in their behavior because they desire to impress a group or belong to it. This kind of conformity is compliance. The personal pressure may instead lead people to conform in attitude also. This private acceptance could occur because people desire to maintain consistency or to lower uncertainty about their cognitions. Whether a person submits to this pressure is an individual decision.

However, we must not overlook the fact that normal group settings are unlike the Asch and Sherif studies. A group can add to this internal pressure by putting a great deal of overt pressure on dissenters to make them conform or, in some cases, to continue to deviate. Now we will move on to a general discussion of deviance. As part of this examination, we will describe a study concerning the forms that group pressure can take.



Why Deviate?

As we said before, the first and foremost reason people conform is that group members must do so to make decisions. The foremost reason for deviance in groups relates to this idea. People deviate so that the group can make good decisions. It is unlikely that a group's first proposal is the best that it can possibly make. However, the group cannot make better proposals if members are unwilling to question the first suggestion.

No matter how many members support a given proposal, deviants should speak up. They should attempt to point out the weaknesses of the proposal and the comparative strengths of alternative solutions. When this happens, at the very least, the advocates of a given proposal will need to defend their position. In turn, this defense will have the positive result of giving the group a greater understanding of the proposal and its implications, even if nothing else comes of the deviant's viewpoint. In addition, the criticism from the deviants may lead to improvements in the plan, or, in some cases, it may persuade the majority to explore other possibilities before they accept the given proposal.

Even if a group unanimously supports an idea, it is to the group's advantage to have a member play "devil's advocate." A devil's advocate is not really a deviant. It is a person who may not disagree with the group consensus but who does not think that the agreed-upon proposal has undergone enough examination. In such a role, a person will voice criticism and point out possible weaknesses that he or she may not even truly feel are problems. The devil's advocate does this to ensure that the proposal has undergone a stiff evaluation before the group approves it.

Deviance can lead to conflict within groups. We can distinguish between two types of group conflict: constructive conflict and destructive conflict. Constructive conflict occurs when group members carefully weigh the strengths and weaknesses of proposals. Deviants and devil's advocates can contribute to constructive conflict by challenging any consensus that forms around one of the proposals. Constructive conflict prevents groups from prematurely adopting any proposal. It increases the number of options that groups consider and ensures that the strengths and weaknesses of each are adequately discussed. Constructive conflict can also heighten group members' interest and involvement in the group's discussion. To participate fully in constructive conflict, group members must be dedicated to choosing the proposal that is best for the entire group.

In contrast, destructive conflict occurs when members do not have the best interest of the group in mind. The group is diverted from thoughtfully analyzing all its options. For example, power struggles or personality disputes among group members can disrupt deliberation. In these cases, members attempt to "win out" over one another rather than reach a mutually acceptable consensus. Destructive conflict can even occur when members want to make the best decision for everybody but disagree about how to do so. In this circumstance, discussion can bog down in endless debate about what the group ought to be doing.

Engaging in constructive conflict is to the group's advantage if members want to make a high-quality decision, although it may come at the expense of group satisfaction. A study by Wall, Galanes, and Love (1987) supports this claim. The researchers asked 24 four- to seven-member student groups to develop a list of five topics for workshops for new students and to rank-order the five for importance. The researchers studied the interaction of these groups and counted as conflict any disagreement among three or more people that lasted for more than two statements. They also rated each disagreement as constructive or destructive conflict. The quality of the groups' work was judged to be best for groups that generally had constructive conflict, became worse for groups the more they had destructive conflict, and was worst for groups with no conflict. The "constructive" groups, however, tended to have more conflict than the "destructive" groups, and the more conflict groups had, the less satisfied their members were with their experience. Thus, the groups with constructive conflict did the best work but were least satisfied, the groups with no conflict did the worst work but were most satisfied, and the groups with destructive conflict were intermediate on both variables.

Good and Bad Deviance

At the beginning of this chapter, we differentiated between types of conformity that were usually bad versus those that were usually good. We called the former "compliance" and the latter "private acceptance." Based on some work by Merton (1957), we can make similar distinctions regarding deviant behavior. Merton's hypothesis rests on how a group member reacts to the group's goal and the group's means for reaching this goal. If a group member accepts both the goal and the means, the person has conformed. What Merton called conformity corresponds to what we have called private acceptance. When a member accepts the group's goal but rejects its means for reaching it, that is known as innovation. It is undoubtedly, in most cases, good for the group. This is an example of the kind of constructive deviance that we have described so far in this section. For example, Judy is in a group that decorates rooms for parties. If she agrees with the group goal, to decorate, and also believes in the way the group decorates, always with pink colors, Judy conforms. On the other hand, Judy may one day say that she thinks the group should use other colors, even though she still likes the group goal of decorating. In that case, Judy is being innovative.

On the other hand, a group member can reject the group's goal but accept its means for reaching it. This is ritualism. In other words, the member "goes through the motions." Merton considers this a form of deviance, although it approximates what we have called compliance. Finally, members may reject both group goals and means. One way they can do this is by dropping out entirely, which Merton calls retreatism. Another way to substitute new, personal goals, as well as the means to reach them. This is rebellion. For instance, Judy could decide that she does not like decorating, but because she needs a job and does not mind the group, she continues decorating rooms. Judy behaves ritually, going through the work without really thinking about what ideas lie behind it. Finally, she may decide that she no longer can follow the group at all. She retreats, and leaves it entirely. On the other hand, if Judy decides that she likes her group but does not like the business of decorating rooms, then she could rebel. She might ask the group if they would like to go into other work, such as preparing gourmet food for the parties.

It is retreatism and rebellion that the group usually considers bad deviance. However, we need to be careful not to misinterpret this judgment. If a group member sincerely believes that a group's goals are wrong, he or she should either get out or rebel. This is a healthy reaction. However, the retreating or rebellious member must expect that the group will view him or her negatively. This is how we should interpret the idea that retreatism and rebellion are bad behaviors. They are unwelcome from the standpoint of the group, which loses members or becomes very disrupted when they occur.

Group Pressure

Deviants should not be surprised if the group puts unmistakable constraints on them to conform. Scientists have researched the pressure that groups apply to innovative and rebellious deviants. The results have shown that this persuasive force is quite predictable in its amount and type. Schachter performed a classic experiment (1951) that explored this issue.

Group Pressure Toward Conformity

Schachter was concerned with the extent to which groups direct communication toward dissenters. He concentrated his research this way because he worked under a particular assumption. The assumption was that groups intend for their communication to change a deviate's opinions. Thus, communication is equal to pressure from the group. The reason for this is that groups desire to change a dissenter's ideas so that they are consistent with those of the majority. Schachter believed that the amount of communication that a group directs toward a dissenter is a result of two factors: internal group pressure and dependence of the group on the deviant member.

Internal Group Pressure

The first factor is the extent to which the group feels its own internal pressure to change the dissenter's opinion. In other words, how important is it to the group to change the person's ideas? This kind of pressure should rise as the amount of disagreement that the group perceives it has with the person increases. Interestingly, Schachter hypothesized this as a curvilinear relationship. Pressure and disagreement do not exactly go hand in hand. Instead, Schachter felt that pressure increases more slowly as disagreement becomes stronger.

For example, Mark joins a tennis group. The group is very formal and runs its own tournaments. Mark starts to wear street shoes when he plays. The group tries to pressure him to wear tennis shoes instead. Next, Mark begins to argue with line judges. He disrupts the normal tranquillity of the games. The group feels more strongly that it needs to bring Mark "back in line." Soon, however, Mark is not playing full games, and he often leaves in a huff. When this higher level of disagreement is reached, the group still thinks it should pressure Mark to conform, but the feelings of the group are not much stronger than when Mark started to argue in the first place. The group is beginning to wonder if it is worth the effort to make Mark conform.

The group's internal pressure to change a dissenter's opinion also usually rises as the cohesiveness of the group and the importance of the task to the group increase. For instance, if the tennis group really enjoys being together and they think of Mark as a group member, they will fight harder to make him conform to their ideal. Also, if the group feels that playing tennis in a "formal" way is very important, they will work harder to keep Mark in line.

Dependence of the Group

The second factor regarding how much a group will communicate persuasively to a dissenter is the degree to which the group feels that it depends upon the deviant member. Schachter theorized that as disagreement increases, a group should feel less dependent upon a dissenter's input. In effect, the group rejects the member. For example, if Mark starts to miss meets entirely and swears continually at judges, the group may tell him that he can no longer play tennis with them. The level of disagreement has become so high that the group no longer wants to tolerate Mark.

Again, Schachter saw this as a curvilinear relationship with dependence decreasing at a faster pace as disagreement becomes worse. In addition, high levels of cohesiveness and devotion to the task mean that the group's dependence on a deviant who creates many problems will decrease. For example, it may be that Mark's group enjoys being together and playing formal tennis very much. In this case, if Mark becomes disagreeable to the point where he endangers these group enjoyments, it is likely that the group will depend on Mark less and less.

We can predict the result of these offsetting forces. As we have noted, the amount of pressure that a group feels toward persuading a dissenter will increase along with the perceived disagreement. As disagreement and felt pressure increase, communication toward the dissenter attempting to persuade him or her to conform will also increase. However, this will happen only until the group reaches the point where it begins to depend less on the dissenter. When this happens, the decrease in the group's feeling of dependence will compensate for its internal pressure. Thereafter, communication will decrease if the perceived disagreement continues to rise. Increasing levels of pressure will be offset by decreasing dependence levels.

For example, Mark's group will communicate with him, trying to persuade him to conform, only until they see him deviate so much that they feel the group can no longer depend on him. When this happens, the group will not bother trying to communicate with Mark anymore. Figure 6.1 illustrates the relationship between the forces.


Schachter also assumed that continued group interaction will lead a group to become more aware of disagreement when a significant degree of deviation exists than the group might otherwise have been. Thus, when a group increases the time it spends interacting, we can expect a similar rise in perceived disagreement. This causes communication to the dissenter first to increase and then decrease over the course of a group meeting.

Schachter's Methodology

Schachter informed his study participants that they were assigned to one of four "clubs." In the clubs, they would study the topics of "case study," "editorials," "movies," or "radio." The "case study" and "movie" clubs consisted of participants who had expressed interest in those topics. Schachter hoped that this manipulation would lead to high group cohesiveness. In contrast, the "editorial" and "radio" clubs had participants who were uninterested. Schachter expected these groups to be low in cohesion. Data showed that these manipulations did affect cohesiveness, as they were intended to do.

Between 8 and 10 participants showed up for the first meeting of each club. During this first meeting, Schachter asked the club members to help on another project that he was doing. He gave them the case study of "Johnny Rocco." Johnny was a juvenile delinquent, guilty of a minor crime. Their task was to decide on a policy for dealing with him. Should they send him for help and counseling or put him in jail? The groups had 45 minutes to decide Johnny's fate. After the discussion, the researcher told the members to nominate one another for positions on committees. The committees had varying degrees of importance to the club. Finally, the club members rated the degree to which they wished one another to remain in the club. This ended the meeting and the experiment.

What was going on? First, Schachter chose the Johnny Rocco case because it was relevant to the "case study" and "editorial" clubs but not to the"movie" and "radio" groups. He thus created a second type of manipulation for the study. Table 6.1 shows the conditions in the groups to which the manipulation led.

Table 6.1










case study






The different conditions allowed Schachter to test his hypothesis regarding the ways in which relevance and cohesiveness can affect groups. He wanted to see if they affect whether a group feels "internal" pressure to have members conform. This was the first reason Schachter set up the experiment the way that he did.

Second, three "members" of each club were actually confederates. They had assigned roles to play during the discussion. One confederate was the deviant. He or she was to argue at all times for the alternative that the majority of the participants most strongly opposed. In most cases, this meant that the deviant argued for Johnny Rocco to serve a long jail sentence, while the participants argued for Johnny to get counseling. A second confederate played the role of the norm. This person was to verbally support the alternative that the group accepted. The third confederate was the slider. He or she was to begin by deviating but then move toward agreeing with the group's viewpoint as discussion continued.

Schachter's Results

One answer that Schachter sought to discover was how the real participants felt about the confederates at the end of the meetings. He did so by analyzing the committee nominations that the participants made, as well as their feelings concerning the confederates. As one would expect, the real participants saw the deviant as a less desirable group member than either the norm or the slider. In the highly cohesive groups, this discrepancy was particularly marked. The groups nominated the deviant for the lowly "correspondence" committee more often than chance would allow. Similarly, members wanted the deviant in the prestigious "executive" committee less often than chance would predict. In contrast, the groups nominated the norm and the slider confederates equally often for all committees. Clearly, other group members looked unfavorably on the deviant.

Schachter also wanted to see how much communication the groups directed toward the norm, the slider, and the deviant. To do so, he measured the amount of communication that the participants directed to the confederates during four time periods in the meeting. This allowed him to observe whether any changes occurred as the meetings progressed.

The results were only partly consistent with expectations. The total amount of communication that the group directed toward the deviant was highest for the "case study" clubs, which had the highest cohesiveness and relevance levels. This was what Schachter expected. However, the low-cohesive and low-relevancy "radio" clubs had the second highest amount of communication. This was not what Schachter predicted. He thought that these groups would have the least communication toward the deviant out of all four conditions.

Further, the amount of communication toward the dissenter became greater over time in most cases. Schachter had predicted that the amount of communication toward the deviant would increase for a while but then begin to decrease as the group members lost their willingness to tolerate the deviant. Only the high-cohesive and high-relevancy groups fit in with this theory.

These results suggest that Schachter was correct in some of his assumptions but not all. It is true that increased amounts of time interacting led to increased perceptions of disagreement. This, in turn, caused a higher level of pressure to change the deviant. However, the offsetting tendencies--to reject the deviant when the disagreement became very strong--occurred only in the special condition of a highly cohesive group that is performing a relevant task.

Finally, the communication that the group directed toward the other confederates--the norm and slider members--occurred as Schachter expected. The group directed very little communication toward the norm throughout the meeting. The amount of communication from the group toward the slider approximated the level it used toward the deviant during the beginning of the meeting. By the end of the meeting, however, the persuasive communication toward the slider decreased until it was similar to the amount that the norm member received.

Refining Schachter's Interpretations

Later research has refined the knowledge that scientists gained from Schachter's experiment. First, it is quite clear now that, with tasks that require a group to reach a consensus, the amount of communication that a group directs toward a deviant rises along with disagreements. Scientists have found that as the level of disagreement between the deviant and the group increases, so too does the communication.

Second, studies have shown that the type of communication that members direct toward a deviant changes over time. At the beginning, the group attempts to persuade the deviant to privately accept the group's opinion. The group does so by placing ever more attention upon the deviant. Group members accomplish this by focusing more and more remarks at the deviant, by talking about him or her, and by facing and directing their eye gaze at the deviant. This is a most uncomfortable experience for people who play the role of the dissenter both in experiments and in real groups. This situation changes, however, as time passes and the group comes to feel pressured to complete the task. The group members shift their arguments toward the deviant. They appeal to him or her to comply so that the group can claim a consensus and finish its task. A group member, in essence, might say to the dissenter, "Please, just go along with us so that we can do our job."

Ultimately, as time pressure continues to increase for the members, the group often begins to ignore the deviant. This is what Schachter predicted would happen. When the group gives up hope of persuading the dissenter to conform, the members turn away from the deviant and direct their entire attention toward one another. Scientists have called this "symbolic exclusion." The group acts as if the deviating member were not there. In some cases, actual exclusion occurs when the other members ask the dissenter to leave the group.

Finally, Schachter's research revealed evidence that the group will look on the deviant badly and treat him or her roughly if he or she deviates more strongly than the other group members will tolerate. Studies by scientists who replicated and extended Schachter's work also support this result. The finding implies that groups do not want dissenters unless they regard the dissenters as innovative.

However, other evidence has shown that this conclusion is not necessarily the case. As we will show in the following discussion, the functional perspective maintains that rebellious or retreating deviants can play useful roles in groups.

The Functional Perspective

According to Dentler and Erikson (1959), we should not take the fact that groups react negatively to deviant members to mean that those members cannot serve a positive function in the group. Through their research and theorizing, Dentler and Erikson intended to show that there could be value in rebellion or retreat from a functional standpoint. They felt that the presence of rebellion or retreatism can be good for a group, even if it is perhaps not necessary for a group's existence. They outlined their claims in the following three hypotheses:

1. Groups tend to induce, sustain, and permit deviant behaviors. With this idea, Dentler and Erikson did not mean to say that groups cause deviancy. What they meant is that, if the potential exists for deviant behavior on the part of a member, the group tends to channel it to its advantage. It does this rather than attempting to eliminate the deviancy.

2. Deviant behavior functions to help groups maintain a healthy emotional climate. The specific maintenance advantages that a rebellious member can bring to a group include the following:

a. Many things can lead to a buildup of tensions and hostility among group members. These things include task-oriented disagreements, pressure from outside the group, and dislike among the members. A group can use a retreating or rebellious member as the target for the expression of these problematic emotions. In essence, the members use the deviant as a scapegoat. This allows them to drain their emotions onto the deviant and return to the task at hand.

b. What a group considers to be conforming behavior is actually a range of behaviors. At one end of the range is behavior that is totally consistent with existing norms. At the other end is action that deviates from these norms just enough for the group to consider it intolerable. When a deviant goes beyond the boundary between approved and disapproved behavior, he or she is, in effect, informing the group about its own norms. In this way, the members discover the boundary between approved and disapproved behavior. For example, Sam works with a group that paints houses. One day he thins the paint more than he should to save money. When he does so, the group reacts by realizing that his behavior is outside the group's norm. Sam helps the group know the limits of its norms regarding shoddy workmanship. Also, when the group members punish a dissenter, they find out how much power the group has over member behavior and the types of punishment that the group can mete out to deviants.

c. The deviant serves as a basis for comparison that the group can use. The members can look at their own abilities, contributions to the group, and rewards from group participation in comparison with how the deviant member behaves. This idea is consistent with social comparison theory. The members see the deviant's performance and resulting punishment. As they do so, they can positively evaluate themselves and the rewards that they get from group membership. This will increase personal satisfaction for conforming group members.

d. The deviant supplies a group with a problem that the group needs to solve. The members can unite against this problem as they try to do something about it. They will attempt to bring about conformity in the deviant. Their attempt can serve as a "rallying point" for coordinated group activity. Thus, the presence of a dissenter allows the members to express and nurture group cohesion.

3. Groups resist trends toward the alienation of deviant members. Contrary to Schachter's proposal, this claim is supported by the finding that it is rare that group activity will totally exclude deviant members. Of course, constant deviance can begin to endanger a group's cohesiveness. Instead, the group must strive to maintain the deviance to a level just a bit over the boundary between approved and disapproved behavior. In this way, the members can continue to take advantage of the presence of the deviant. When there is too much conformity, the group loses the advantages that deviance can bring to it. When there is too much deviance, on the other hand, the group cannot function if the deviant continues to be present.

Conclusion: Good and Bad Conformity and Deviance

In conclusion, it appears that our natural tendency to evaluate both conformity and deviance as negative behaviors is a mistake. These behaviors are not inherently bad. In fact, they describe situations that we all face during all our lives. Any time a group member faces a choice between a popular option and an unpopular one, he or she must either conform or deviate.

We can say, however, that there are good and bad types of both conformity and deviance, as long as we note the exceptions to these judgments. Conformity is usually good for a group when all members privately accept the majority choice. The exception to this hypothesis is when members privately accept an option that the group has not properly evaluated. Such unquestioning acceptance can lead to a disastrous decision. In contrast, it is usually bad for a group when members conform to the majority choice against their better judgment. Exceptions exist to this rule also, such as during emergencies when the group best serves its function by acting on any decision it can reach.

Deviance can be healthy for groups as well. Deviance is most often good for groups when the deviants are innovative. However, again, the exception to this is that emergencies often require compliance. It is bad for a group if a member retreats or rebels, except when that group's goals need revision. Also, if Dentler and Erikson are correct, the group can often reap benefits from "controlled rebellion."


Thus far in this chapter, we have largely ignored one possible outcome of the situation in which a group majority faces one or two deviants. Although group deviants can change the opinions of the group majority, we should not expect this to happen often. As we discussed in Chapter 2, research using mock juries suggests that majority opinion wins out about 90 percent of the time. People with minority viewpoints usually feel great pressure to conform with the majority, and normally they comply or come to privately accept the majority view. This is the expected tendency. However, we should not forget that, at times, the minority can also successfully exert persuasive forces upon the majority. In the mock jury research minorities were successful persuaders about 5 percent of the time.

Moscovici et al. Study

Moscovici, Lage, and Naffrechoux (1969) showed the potential of a minority over a majority. Their study was an imaginative reworking of the Asch procedure. In the Moscovici et al. experiment, the group's minority, rather than the majority, were confederates.

In the study, six-member groups participated in an experiment in "color perception." The experimenters showed the groups a series of 36 slides and asked them to judge the color of each. All slides were blue. However, in one condition, two confederates incorrectly claimed that every slide was green. The researchers were interested to see how often the four real participants in each group said "green." The results showed that 32 percent of the real participants said "green" at least once. Out of the total responses, 8.42 percent were "green."

Moscovici et al. crafted a second test condition in which the confederates were not consistent in their responses. They would say "green" for only 24 out of the 36 blue slides. In this condition, the "green" responses from the real participants dropped to only 1.25 percent. Thus we can conclude that the minority had a slight, immediate effect on the majority if the minority gave consistent responses.

LongTerm Effects of Minorities

The researchers next separated the participants from the groups. When they were alone, the experimenters asked each person to judge the color of a series of ambiguous blue-green slides. The people tended to say that the slides were green, and they particularly did this when they had been in groups where the confederates were consistent. Thus, it appears that the consistent minority had not only a slight immediate effect but also a significant long-term effect on the judgments of the participants. The consistent minority was able to make "green" a reasonable judgment in an ambiguous situation.

Differences Between Minority and Majority Influence

Moscovici and others have used this experiment and subsequent studies as a basis for further investigations. They have found that it is true that majorities have a greater influence on members than minorities. However, the researchers have also determined that minority influence does occur. In addition, they have discovered that the types of influences that minorities and majorities have are different.

The influences that a majority has often lead to compliance. For instance, members of a minority often join with the majority because they want the majority to look favorably upon them and accept them. They may also believe that the majority must be correct simply by virtue of being the majority. These actions tend not to be the result of a careful consideration of the issues at hand. Thus conformity with the majority is often mere compliance.

In contrast, minority influence tends to lead to private acceptance. This only takes place when the minority is consistent and displays confidence in the accuracy of its views. Under these circumstances, the minority can persuade the majority to examine the relevant issues more closely than it had previously. If this takes place, it becomes possible to change opinions. Researchers have found, however, that it usually takes some time for the changes to occur. Sometimes they appear in subsequent decisions.

Maass and Clark Study

A study by Maass and Clark (1983) supported these claims. In their experiment, uncommitted participants read summaries of imaginary five-person group discussions on gay rights. The summaries stated that a majority of four supposedly defended one side of the issue and that a minority of one member defended a contrasting viewpoint. The researchers then asked the participants to express their own attitudes toward gay rights. They told half the participants that the group would learn of the participants' attitudes. People from this half changed their opinions to become more consistent with the group majority.

In contrast, the experimenters told the other half of the participants that their attitudes would remain secret. These people's beliefs moved toward those of the one deviant. In other words, majority influence led to compliance; minority influence led to private acceptance. When the participant had to go public with their opinions, they appeared to conform with the majority. This behavior was compliance. However, their private attitudes tended to conform with the minority.

Nemeth and Wachtler Study

In an essay published in 1986, Nemeth described another difference between majority and minority influence. In her view, majorities induce group members to focus all their attention on the position that the majority itself supports. In contrast, minorities stimulate the group to seriously consider other positions, ones that the majority does not support.

When a minority is present, it leads group members to think harder about their decision. Not only can this kind of thinking lead group members to examine more closely both the majority and the minority positions, it can also stimulate the members to propose new positions. Thus, even when the group does not adopt the minority position, the presence of a minority in a group can help improve its decision making.

Study methodology. Nemeth and Wachtler (1983) performed a study that supported these ideas. The researchers placed people in six-member groups that consisted of confederates and participants. "Majority" groups included two participants and four confederates. "Minority" groups had four participants and two confederates.

Nemeth and Wachtler utilized another imaginative reworking of Asch's study. They showed the groups eight slides. Each slide included a "standard" figure and six "comparison" figures. As it was in the Asch study, each participant's task was to find the standard figure within as many of the comparison figures as possible. The researchers called on the participants in the order in which they were sitting and told them to name out loud each comparison figure that they thought contained the standard.

Figure 6.2 shows an example of a slide that the researchers used in the study:


As you can see, judging one of the comparison figures, the one marked U, as correct was easy. The others, however, were much harder to judge.

In half the groups, the confederates chose two correct answers. They chose U and then one of the more difficult, but correct, figures such as R. In the other groups, however, the confederates chose one correct answer and one wrong one. They chose U and then an incorrect figure, such as O. Whatever their answers, the confederates might be the majority or the minority in the group.

Thus, groups had either majorities or minorities of confederates, and in each group these minorities or majorities argued for either a correct answer or an incorrect one.

Study results. Nemeth and Wachtler found that the participants were more likely to follow the confederates when the confederates made up the majority in their groups rather than the minority. This was true whether the confederates gave right or wrong answers. In other words, the participants were more likely to choose both R (a correct answer) and O (an incorrect answer) if a confederate majority had chosen them than if a confederate minority had done so.

The results were interesting, however, with the participants in groups that had a minority of confederates. These participants were more likely to give other correct answers than were those in the groups with a majority of confederates. The other correct answers were the ones that they found on their own, apart from the answers that the confederates gave. In other words, the participants who were in groups with a minority of confederates were relatively more likely to discover that E and I were also correct answers. Thus the presence of a minority opinion as opposed to a majority opinion was more likely to stimulate the participants to search for other correct answers.

Further, participants in groups with a minority of confederates were not more likely to choose incorrect answers, such as A, than those in groups with a majority of confederates. This finding implies that the participants in groups with a "minority" opinion were not merely voicing different answers when their turns came to speak. Instead, they were more actively searching for correct answers than the participants in the "majority" groups.

As we have argued throughout this chapter, if a group is to make high-quality decisions, it must encourage the expression of minority opinions and examine the value of alternative viewpoints. Nemeth's work is only one more piece of evidence supporting the importance of this practice.

Trout, Maass, and Kenrick Study

Nemeth's work has shown that the presence of a minority opinion leads group members to put more effort into their individual thinking about the group task. This thinking, however, may not lead to an increase in how much group members agree with the minority opinion. Instead, it may cause the opposite. If the minority argues against something that is important to a group member, the member may think harder to find reasons that the minority opinion is wrong. This, in turn, makes the member believe even more strongly in his or her original opinion.

Trout, Maass, and Kenrick (1992) performed a study that is relevant to this issue. Students read arguments in support of comprehensive final exams for all graduating seniors. The arguments proposed two starting dates. In one case, the exams would start in one year, thereby making the issue relevant to the students' own graduations. In the other case, the exams were to start in nine years, making the issue irrelevant to their own graduations.

Further, the researchers presented the arguments as if they were either the viewpoint of the majority of students on campus or of the minority. They then asked the participants to rate their opinions about the issue, and to write down any thoughts.

The overall results were consistent with Nemeth's theory. The "minority" opinion stimulated thought. The participants who believed that they read an argument based on what the minority of students wanted wrote down more thoughts than those who believed that they read something based on majority opinion.

Further data showed interesting results for whether the participants' opinions and the content of their writing were for or against the argument. Those who read the "majority" argument wrote an equal number of thoughts both for and against it. In addition, their opinions tended to be slightly in favor of the proposed plan they read. The results for those who read the "minority" argument, however, depended on how relevant the issue was to them. When the issue was not relevant to their own graduation, the findings for the participants who read the "minority" opinion were consistent with earlier studies. These participants wrote thoughts that were more likely to be for the proposal than against it. Also, their opinions tended to be clearly in favor of the plan. Thus, when the issue was not personally relevant, the argument that supposedly represented the minority of students was more likely to persuade the participants than the argument that supposedly came from the ''majority."

When the issue was relevant to the participants' own graduation, however, the findings were very different. After reading a "minority" argument, these participants wrote thoughts that were more likely to be against the proposal than for it. In addition, the "minority" arguments did not change their opinions. Thus, when the issue was personally relevant, the argument that they found most persuasive was the one that supposedly represented the majority of students, not the minority. The "minority" opinion did lead them to think harder about the proposal, but the thoughts were negative.


In a group setting, the majority of the group often favors one particular course of action when the group faces two or more possibilities. When this happens, group members can choose either to conform with the group or to deviate from the majority. Neither choice is inherently good or bad. A person's judgment about the value of conformity or deviance should depend on the reasons a member behaves in this way. For example, a group member may conform simply to do what the group wants. We call this compliance. Compliance is usually bad for the group in the sense that the group is not getting the full benefit of hearing and evaluating opposing views. However, there are times, such as in emergencies, when quick compliance is necessary.

A member might instead conform because he or she sincerely agrees with the group majority. We call this type of conformity private acceptance. It is usually good for a group. However, quick acceptance of a course of action without proper evaluation can be disastrous.

The distinction between compliance and private acceptance is somewhat murky at times. This happens because people who begin by complying tend to come eventually to privately accept the majority view.

Overall, conformity is necessary for a group to reach a decision. However, a group requires deviance to reach a good decision. Without deviance, members will accept the group's first proposal without proper evaluation.

As with conformity, there are good and bad forms of deviance. Innovation occurs when members propose alternative ways of reaching the group's goal. It is generally good for the group. The exception is a situation that requires quick action. Retreatism takes place when members drop out of the group. Rebellion happens when a person disagrees with the group's goal. Both are usually bad for the group. However, there are times when a group's goal may indeed be wrong.

Groups apply pressure upon deviants to make the deviants conform. This pressure may begin as subtle attempts to persuade the deviant to privately accept the majority view. However, it can escalate to direct efforts to gain compliance. These efforts can even reach the level of threats or exclusion from the group. Some theorists believe that groups also apply pressure on certain members to rebel. They do this because rebellious members serve some positive functions for the group.

Finally, group members holding a minority viewpoint can influence members in the majority. The type of influence that minorities can exert, however, is different from the kind that majorities usually exert. Group members who move their opinions toward the majority are often merely complying with the majority. In contrast, the influence of minorities tends to lead members toward a public acceptance of the minority point of view. Further, the presence of a minority helps stimulate group members to think deeply about issues. This often leads members to present new proposals and come to higher quality decisions than they would have if the minority viewpoint had not been present. Overall, however, group majorities tend to have greater influence over members than group minorities do.