There are many different theories or models that are meant to explain why people conform or “go with the flow” when they are in groups. Let us look at some reasons that these various theories give for such behavior.
- Informational influence. Sometimes, we will conform with a group because we will think that the group as a whole must know more than we do. We are not sure of what we believe so we go with whatever the group says, believing that the members have more knowledge than we do.
- Normative influence. We sometimes conform to what the group says not because we believe they are right, but because we want to avoid punishment or we want to gain rewards. We worry that the group will punish us in some way if we deviate. We worry that they will, for example, reject us, making us unwelcome in the group. We might worry that they will punish us by making fun of us. Alternatively, we might conform because want to gain rewards. These rewards might be in the form of the approval of the group. We would rather go along with what the group says so that we will not be teased or rejected and so that, instead, we might be praised and accepted.
- Reasons having to do with group goals. Because we identify with a group, we might want it to achieve its goals. We might fear that our group will not achieve its goals unless we conform. For example, if we are on a sports team, we will want it to win. Let’s say that our team decides that we will all shave our heads in a show of unity. We might not want to do this, but we might fear that it will hurt team unity and cause us to lose if we do not participate. Therefore, we conform in order to protect our group’s ability to achieve its goals.
There are also a large number of factors that can make us more likely to conform to a group’s decisions. We are more likely to conform if:
- The group’s opinions are closer to being unanimous.
- We care a lot about the group.
- We have low relative to other group members.
- We do not have a high opinion of ourselves.
- Our action is going to be public (people will know whether we have conformed).
- We have been brought up in a culture that prizes group harmony over individual wants and needs.
Thus, there are a variety of reasons why we might conform or “go with the flow” in a group setting. This can happen when we are not sure of ourselves. It can happen when we are afraid of the consequences of failing to conform.