Conformity is the tendency that leads us to modify attitudes and behaviors such as strategy of recognition of a minority group before the majority group . In other words, it is a practice that helps us to maintain self-concept and interpersonal relationships at an acceptable level of stability.

Paradoxically, the term “conformity” can be understood as submission, resignation and conformity; or as approval, harmony and agreement. This means that it is a complex process in which we can identify different nuances and expressions.

In this article we will see what conformity is according to some classical proposals of social psychology, and which types of conformity are the most common .

What is compliance?

Something that social psychology has studied for a long time is why some groups or members of a group tend to modify in an important way their opinions, expectations or behavior, before other members of the same group .

This has given rise to concepts such as social influence, obedience and conformity. The latter is the degree to which some members of a group modify their behavior, opinions or attitudes, to avoid being rejected by the other members of the group. In other words, behavior modification serves to enable the minority group or a specific individual to act according to the social norms of the majority.

Conformity then is not only a social process (it is not only determined by the majority group to which we want to belong), nor is it only a psychological process (it is not only related to individual attitude).

It is a psychosocial process, because our attitude, behaviour and opinions are modified based on the relationships we establish with others , which makes it possible for the social group to be generated.

In short, conformity consists of modifying one’s own behavior in the direction of the behaviors, emotions or opinions of the majority, as a way of defending ourselves against possible rejection; which, in turn, has to do with the relationships of authority and power that are established between the majority and the minority.

Types of conformity

Among other things, conformity theories show the need for us to relate. They make visible the interdependence that characterizes us as human beings ; interdependence that at times is transformed into a public obedience that prioritizes private or individual acceptance.

Herbert Kelman is an Austrian intellectual who has contributed in a very important way to social psychology and to studies on conformity, obedience and social influence. In the middle of the 20th century he developed three types of conformity that have remained in force in a large part of the studies on the subject.

1. Compliance

The word “fulfillment” comes from “to perform” which means to execute in accordance with an expectation. In the case of conformity by performance, it usually happens that the person agrees with the group’s opinion, while keeping his or her own opinions to himself or herself .

In this case the division between public and private space is clear: the person defends the opinions of the majority when he or she is in front of the public, although in private he or she maintains his or her own judgments.

The main motivation in this case is the need to be approved and the fear of being rejected by the majority group.

2. Identification

Identification is a psychological process by which a person assimilates and adopts certain characteristics of an external model , which may be a group or an individual.

In this sense, conformity by identification is when the person agrees with the opinion of the majority, but only when he or she is perceived as a competent member of the group.

In other words, it originates as an individual is affectively linked with a model for which he feels admiration or respect . It may be a loved one, or someone we recognize as a competent authority.

In this case, the main motivation is the source itself (the model) and the fascination it provokes. This fascination connects directly with our imaginary about the model, which is often a deeper and more difficult type of conformity to recognize.

3. Internalisation

Internalisation is a process in which the identification with the reference model, or the standard, is internalised , i.e. it becomes a fundamental part of our own person. The case of conformity by internalization is when the person remains in agreement with the majority opinion even after having left the group.

In this case, public and private space are mixed: the person accepts the belief, attitude or behaviour in both areas, which is also a long-term conformity.

This is usually the deepest. It is motivated mainly because the risk of rejection implies a significant discomfort, that is, it arises from the affective recognition that it is easier to correspond with the group , to think or feel that we are having the wrong actions or responses. In this case they connect an affective and motivational dimension (the fear of rejection) with a cognitive dimension (not wanting to be wrong).

Other proposals

Without disregarding Kelman’s contributions, social psychology has continued to study and develop theories of conformity. For example, the concepts of “informational social influence” and “normative social influence”, which correspond to numbers 1 and 3 above, are often very popular in recent years.

Bibliographic references:

  • Braga, D. (2016). Social conformity and its relationship with personality in students of the Universidad Científica del Perú”. Thesis for the professional title of licentiate in psychology. Scientific University of Peru. Recovered May 17, 2018. Available at
  • Kelman, H. (1958). Compliance, identification and internalization: the process of attitude change. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2(1): 52-60.