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Social Conformity

May 30, 2013

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,

Some of you may recognize that quote as the beginning of a monologue written by William Shakespeare. It equates the human experience to that of an actor playing a role. This idea had been around for a long time before The Bard penned these lines, and it is just as apt then as it is now. As humans, we all play roles, acting out the scenes of daily life in the manner expected of us. The only problem is that we never know the lines. So, we take our cues on how to act from those around us, our peers and social groups.

Social Conformity. . .

weeman.jpg

Social conformity is the means by which we stay in character, so to speak. We look to our culture, our peer groups, and other people around us and, by observing them, know how to act. We conform to the expectations we believe other people have for us. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we use the information from our observations to learn about our surroundings. For instance, when people need to use a public restroom, they generally use the door marked with the appropriately gendered stick figure. If you are a man, you use the door marked “Men,” sporting the manly looking stick figure, because that is what society expects from men.

. . .Goes Wrong

In the context of bathrooms, social conformity is a good thing. We conform to social standards and keep from having an embarrassing incident that requires explaining to the nice police officer why you entered the wrong bathroom. However, what happens if someone placed the same stick figure signs on the entrance to a building? There is no obvious benefit for conforming in these situations, mainly because the goal of the person using the door is to gain entrance to the building. So, if faced with these signs, would people still be compelled to conform?

The Evidence

Here are a couple videos from studies that looked at this same social conformity question. Their results are pretty surprising. What do you think you would do if faced with the same situation?

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