Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 9: The dual functions of conformity to norms: Mastery and connectedness (pp. 314322)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Expecting Consensus (p. 315)
  2. The Dual Functions of Conformity to Norms (pp. 315319)
    1. Norms provide mastery insurance
    2. Norms give us feelings of connectedness
    3. Mastery, connectedness, or both?
  3. Whose Consensus? The Impact of Reference Groups (pp. 319322)
Expecting Consensus

The key factor to conformity is the expectation of consensus; People tend to overestimate the extent to which others agree with their views. This is called the false consensus effect.

Research activity: Expecting consensus

People not only expect others to share their opinions, but views of others also influence people's opinions; we see the world the same way as others see it.

When views are shared, this agreement increases our confidence that we are seeing things correctly.

The Dual Functions of Conformity to Norms
Norms provide mastery insurance

People believe that consensus tells us something about reality. Conforming to group norms therefore satisfies our need for mastery.

When people privately conform because they believe group norms reflect reality, the group has informational influence.

When the stakes are high, people are even more motivated to make accurate decisions, and thus conform even more.

Breaking the consensus undermines the influence of the group. In addition, it undermines confidence in reality, and as a result we might feel confusion, anxiety, and uncertainty.

Norms give us feelings of connectedness

Norms give us feelings of connectedness because conforming to group norms results in attaining a positive and valued social identity, and in winning respect from other group members. Confirming thus leads to experiencing a sense of belonging, and it demonstrates commitment to other group members.

A group has normative influence when people conform to fulfill their need for connectedness.

People who conform to group norms most strongly are more positively evaluated.

Consequently, when people do not conform to their group norms, it undermines the identity we derive from that group. People who conform feel happier than people who do not conform.

Mastery, connectedness, or both?

When doing intellectual tasks, the need for mastery may take precedence over the need for connectedness, because they require us to focus on facts and information. Establishing mastery is more important in these tasks than expressing connectedness.

In judgmental tasks, the focus is on value-laden social and personal issues. The need for connectedness is then more important than the need for mastery.

But, most of the time, the need for mastery and the need for connectedness are fulfilled simultaneously by conformity to group norms. These functions make conformity to norms central to success in social life.

Research activity: Mastery and connectedness

Whose Consensus? The Impact of Reference Groups

A reference group is the group of people you turn to when needing support for a decision or evaluation.

Because intellective tasks have a single answer, many people can serve as a reference group; however, when making judgmental decisions, people turn to those who have similar attitudes, values, and relationships.

People are more influenced by in-group members than by out-group members, because we do not expect to agree with out-group members or people we dislike.

Persuasive appeals from in-group members are more likely to be accepted, and are processed more systematically than appeals from out-group members. When messages from in-group members are strong, they are most likely to be accepted, while weak messages are most likely to be rejected. Messages from out-group members are most likely to be rejected, regardless of the quality of the argument.

Conformity to group norms occurs even when group members are not present, but the presence of group members increases conformity to group norms even more. The impact of a group is also higher when members identify strongly with their group, and when the group interacts frequently and closely.

So what does this mean?

Conforming to group norms (1) satisfies our need for mastery, because people believe that consensus tells something about reality; and (2) gives us feelings of connectedness, because conforming to group norms results in attaining a positive and valued social identity, and in winning respect from other group members. A group has informational influence when people conform because of the need for mastery, and normative influence when conforming out of their need for connectedness. The type of task influences which need is more important and which people serve as a reference group. The presence of group members, identification, and the frequency and closeness of interaction influence the amount of conformity to group norms.

Next topic

How groups form norms: Processes of social influence

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 9 introduction
  2. Conformity to social norms
  3. The dual functions of conformity to norms: Mastery and connectedness
  4. How groups form norms: Processes of social influence
  5. Conformity pressure:Undermining true consensus
  6. Minority influence: The value of dissent
  7. Chapter overview (PDF)
  8. Fill-in-the-blanks
  9. Multiple-choice questions