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Conformity to Social Roles

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Conformity to Social Roles

Conformity to Social Roles Kawaii characters StudySmarterKawaii characters (from left to right): Nyan Cat, the pixelated Pop-Tart rainbow cat, the storefront of a Hello Kitty store, and a 3-D rendering of Pikachu, the Pokemon character, Wikimedia

What do Nyan Cat, Pokemon, and Hello Kitty have to do with conformity to social roles? These simplified, cute characters developed out of the cultural phenomenon of ‘Kawaii’ (Japanese for ‘cute’) that started in the late 1970s in Japan as a rejection of social roles and norms.

It began when an increasing number of teenage girls started writing school texts with rounded letters, exclamation points, and pictures; so much so that this unorthodox way of writing was banned in schools.

The simplified, rounded graphic style became the hallmark of the desire of teenagers of the time to rebel against the expectations put on them by society, to take life more seriously, consisting of getting a job, acting seriously and starting a family. Instead, this new way of writing allowed young people to express themselves freely and have fun by retaining their playful and childlike innocence. Since then, Kawaii has become mainstream and has influenced much of Japanese culture, from food and entertainment, to how people dress and act.

Whether people accept or reject social roles and norms, the expectations that society puts on people and the way they react to them play a big part in understanding human behaviour in terms of conformity to social roles. This is why it’s an important topic in social psychology. We will now explore the theory and examples of the topic at hand as well as discuss research into conformity to social roles.

What is conformity to social roles?

Social conformity is when individual changes their behaviour to match what is expected of them by a group or within a specific social setting. The reason that people conform is that they identify with a group. Identification is a type of conformity that means that values are shared with a group that someone wants to be a part of, but the behaviour change isn’t quite as permanent as internalisation.

Social roles are the patterns of behaviour that members of a group take on, as a part in a film or play. Expectations regarding behaviour accompany these patterns. Some roles are present from birth (e.g. gender, social status), others are acquired (e.g., profession, marital status). Typical roles could be student, teacher, mother, child, salesperson, or customer.

The role of ‘child’ would come with the expectation that this person is carefree, dependent, and obedient, whereas, for the role of ‘parent’, the expectation would be for them to be authoritative, responsible, and caring.

Conformity to a social role would be acting more authoritatively when you’re the captain of a sports team than you would be if you’re out and about with your friends. This change in behaviour could be explained by you fulfilling the role expected in each group.


What are social norms?

Social norms are appropriate or acceptable behaviour for members of a particular group (‘normal behaviour’). They can either be formal, such as following ethical standards for professions, or informal, such as cultural customs.

Taking off shoes before entering a household is customary in many Asian countries, this is an example of a social norm.

Conformity to social roles evaluation

What are the disadvantages and advantages of conformity to social roles?

Advantages of conformity to social roles

Conforming to social roles benefit people in different ways; it can be seen as protection against social rejection, and help the different members of society work together smoothly. This is because it makes it easier to predict the behaviour of others and adjust your own behaviour accordingly.

If you know that everyone on the road will drive on the left-hand side, it makes it safer for you to drive on the left side as well. If you know that a teacher will speak to you in a calm, respectful manner, it’s easier to concentrate on the subject matter. If you wear skater clothes and go skateboarding, you’re more likely to be accepted by the skateboarding community.

Disadvantages of conformity to social roles

Conforming to social roles can suppress minorities and uniformity of thought (‘groupthink’) that can limit creativity, individuality and innovation. It can even lead to discrimination against groups that don’t conform.

For instance, illnesses or disabilities lead to people behaving in ways that are not in keeping with societal expectations of adults. People with M.S. (multiple sclerosis) sometimes lose their balance due to their condition; but an adult stumbling is mostly associated with anti-social behaviour and intoxication, so often people with M.S. get treated unfairly as they’re seen to not be conforming to a social norm.

What are some examples of studies into conformity to social roles?

A few classic experiments have shaped the way psychologists understand conformity to social roles. Let’s have a look at them.

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment

One of the most famous and controversial experiments regarding social conformity was Phillip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which investigated the power of social norms and roles. Here, participants of a study were randomly assigned the role of ‘guard’ or ‘prisoner’ and kept in a simulated jail for six days. The experiment ended in unexpected levels of abuse and distress subjected to the participants by the guards. Zimbardo’s main conclusion from the experiment was that anyone could turn abusive, given the right situational circumstances.

The BBC Prison Study

An additional study into conformity to social roles took place in 2002. Researchers Haslam and Reicher recreated the Stanford prison experiment for a BBC television series in the BBC Prison Study. Again, participants were randomly assigned a role but in contrast to the Stanford Prison Experiment, safeguarding measures were put into place. Haslam and Reich’s results differed from Zimbardo’s; the prisoners did not spontaneously take to their assigned roles and the experiment fell apart.


Conformity to Social Roles - Key takeaways

  • Conformity to social roles and social norms determines behaviour.
  • Social roles are the behaviours associated with set roles in society.
  • Social norms are expected behaviours, like customs.
  • Benefits of conformity to social roles include being able to avoid social rejection and knowing what to expect of other people.
  • Disadvantages of conformity to social roles include the suppression of innovation and individuality which can lead to discrimination of those that don’t conform.
  • The BBC Prison Study (2006) and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) are examples of research investigating conformity to social roles.

Frequently Asked Questions about Conformity to Social Roles

Social roles determine what is acceptable behaviour in society and what is not. Depending on which role is assigned to an individual, different behaviours are expected. For example, it’s acceptable for a child to crawl on the floor in a supermarket, but not an adult.

Conformity to social roles makes it easier for people to predict others’ behaviour. When behaving in a conform manner, that can be seen as insurance against social rejection.

Beyond the Stanford Prison Experiment and the BBC prison study, Carnahan (2007) replicated the Stanford Prison Experiment where he used both the original and an alternative ad to recruit for the study that didn’t mention the word ‘prison’. He found that those responding to the ‘prison’ and, on average, had higher scores in tests on aggression than the other group.

Social conformity is when individual changes their behaviour to match what is expected of them by a group or within a specific social setting. The reason that people conform is that they identify with a group. Identification is a type of conformity that means that values are shared with a group that someone wants to be a part of, but the behaviour change isn’t quite as permanent as internalisation.

Conformity to a social role would be acting more authoritatively when you’re the captain of a sports team than you would be if you’re out and about with your friends. This change in behaviour could be explained by you fulfilling the role expected in each group.

Social roles are the patterns of behaviour that members of a group take on, as a part of a film or play. Expectations regarding behaviour accompany these patterns. Some roles are present from birth (e.g., gender, social status), others are acquired (e.g., profession, marital status). Typical roles could be student, teacher, mother, child, salesperson, or customer.

Final Conformity to Social Roles Quiz

Question

What was the aim of the BBC prison study?

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Answer

The researchers aimed to observe oppressive behavior in a simulated prison setting.

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Question

How were the participants recruited?


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Answer

They were recruited through a call for volunteers for the study.

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Question

What kind of study was the BBC prison study?


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Answer

Experimental case study

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Question

What was explicitly prohibited for the Guards?


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Answer

Physical violence was explicitly prohibited for the Guards.

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Question

Did anything happen amongst the prisoners when they were told there would be no more promotions and that there were no differences between them and the guards?


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Answer

Yes; the Prisoners formed a strong group identification and began working together to implement changes in living conditions.

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Question

According to the researchers, why were the prisoners able to break into the guard's quarters and create their own 'commune'?


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Answer

The guards had no group identification and solidarity, which is why they could not achieve goals and maintain their authority.


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Question

On application of the study what did the researchers state as a reason for tyranny to take place?


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Answer

The guards could not work together, which is why tyranny took place.

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Question

Which theory did the independent variables in the study come from?


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Answer

The independent variables came from Tajfel's Social Identity Theory (1978).

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Question

What were the applications of the study?


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Answer

The study had useful applications regarding group behavior, systems of power, authority and inequality.

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Question

Why can the findings of the study not be generalised?


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Answer

The findings cannot be generalized to the wider population as it was androcentric; the participants were all male. The participants were all volunteers and so this is not representative of the population.

Show question

Question

What was Zimbardo investigating 

in the Stanford Prison Experiment?

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Answer

Zimbardo was investigating the situational influence on conformity to social roles in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

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Question

What indirect contribution did the Stanford Prison Experiment 

make to the science of psychology?



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Answer

It led to stricter ethics monitoring procedures for psychological research.

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Question

How were the two experimental conditions (“guard” or “prisoner”) assigned?


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Answer

They were assigned randomly.



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Question

What was the demographic of the sample of the Stanford Prison Experiment?



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Answer

The sample was made up of 24 male, mostly white, middle-class students.

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Question

True or false - the study participants reported to the fake prison in the basement of Stanford University on the first day of the study.



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Answer

False - the study participants had reported to the University for a screening, but on the first day of the experiment they were arrested in their homes and brought first to the police station, then the mock jail.

Show question

Question

Were the prisoners and guards 

allowed to go home at night?



Show answer

Answer

The prisoners weren’t allowed to go 

home at night but the guards were.

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Question

Were the prisoners allowed to leave when they asked Zimbardo and the guards?


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Answer

The prisoners were not allowed to leave when they asked Zimbardo or the guards. They however could have walked out or, as some did, insisted on leaving.

Show question

Question

What makes the Stanford Prison 

Experiment considered unethical?


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Answer

Even though there was no physical abuse, study participants suffered under psychological strain- one had a nervous breakdown. Also, they were verbally refused to leave the study, which means they were lied to, as they were always free to leave.



Show question

Question

What’s it called when you are doing something 

that conflicts with your own values?


Show answer

Answer

When you behave in a way that conflicts with your

own values, it’s called cognitive dissonance.

Show question

Question

What’s it called when you are doing something 

that conflicts with your own values?

Show answer

Answer

When you behave in a way that conflicts with your 

own values, it’s called cognitive dissonance.

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Question

What indicated to Zimbardo that both prisoners and 

guards started to identify with their roles?

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Answer

The guards started to show unprompted authoritative behaviour and the 

prisoners started to believe that they had deserved to be in jail.

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Question

What is a demand characteristic?



Show answer

Answer

A demand characteristic is when 

a study participant subconsciously 

behaves in a way that they feel is expected of them.

Show question

Question

What later research into conformity to social 

roles indicate that there might have been 

some dispositional influence at play in 

the Stanford Prison Experiment?



Show answer

Answer

Carnahan’s (2012) replication of the Stanford Prison Experiment using two different ads shows that people with higher personality test scores in aggression and lack of empathy were more drawn to the ad for a study about “prison life” than those drawn to the other ad.

Show question

Question

What is the type of conformity most closely associated with conformity to social roles?



Show answer

Answer

Identification is the type of conformity most closely associated with conformity to social roles because the values of the group have been taken on as being part of the person, but it’s not a permanent change.

Show question

Question

What is a social role and how does it 

differ from a social norm?



Show answer

Answer

Social roles are specific parts that a person plays as part of a group that goes hand in hand with expectations of behaviour. On the other hand, social norms are the standard behaviours expected.

Show question

Question

Is conformity to social roles negative or positive?



Show answer

Answer

Conformity to social roles can be 

negative or positive.

Show question

Question

What is the benefit of conformity to social roles?



Show answer

Answer

Conformity to a social role helps the many parts of a group interact harmoniously and ensure that membership of the group is retained.

Show question

Question

Amal is 12. When Amal’s mother is sick and can’t get out of bed, he takes care of his 

younger sisters by cooking them and taking them to the park to play and chat with 

them. But his favourite thing to do is to put on his black baseball cap which he thinks 

looks great, and go play football with his cousin in the park and shout with joy at the 

top of his lungs when he scores a goal. Explain Amal’s behaviour using the terms 

conformity, social roles, and social norms.



Show answer

Answer

At times, Amal conforms to the social role of “parent” when he takes on the role of his sick mother to provide food and support to his siblings. He conforms to the social norm of how a “parent” should act by showing caring, kind, and nurturing behaviour as part of this role. Other times, Amal takes on the role of “teenager” or “child”, conforming to the social norms of how a teenager should dress and playing and shouting in a carefree manner.


Show question

Question

What are some examples of research into conformity to social roles?



Show answer

Answer

Philipp Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and the BBC Prison Study are some examples of research into conformity to social roles.

Show question

Question

Some professions such as doctors or lawyers can be fired if they break confidentiality with their patients/customers. What is the law of confidentiality of doctors and lawyers an example of? 



Show answer

Answer

Confidentiality, as part of some professions, is an example of 

a social norm. Most social norms are unofficial, but some, like confidentiality 

for doctors and lawyers, are enforced by law.

Show question

Question

When travelling to Thailand, it is not acceptable to touch the heads of children. This is because the head is considered sacred. Which of the following terms is this custom an example of?

      A. A social role

      B. Conformity

      C. A social norm

      D. Social influence      



Show answer

Answer

The right answer is C

A custom is a cultural form of expected behaviour.      

Show question

Question

The punk counterculture started with punk rock as a reaction to commercialised rock music of the 70s. Punk fashion involved colorful mohawks, clothing held together by safety pins and punk rock was loud music that used curse words and protested authority. Explain the phenomenon of punk rock using the terms social norm and conformity.



Show answer

Answer

Punk was a rejection of social norms of the 70s. Punks used music, fashion, and art to refuse to conform to the social norms expected of adults at the time.

Show question

Question

What is the suppression of dissenting opinion leading to 

uniformity of thought called?



Show answer

Answer

Groupthink is the suppression of dissenting opinions 

leading to uniformity of thought.

Show question

Question

What is the type of conformity most closely associated with conformity to social roles?



Show answer

Answer

Identification is the type of conformity most closely associated with conformity to social roles because the values of the group have been taken on as being part of the person, but it’s not a permanent change.

Show question

Question

What is a social role and how does it differ from a social norm?

Show answer

Answer

Social roles are specific parts that a person plays as part of a group that go hand in hand with expectations of behaviour. On the other hand, social norms are the standard behaviours expected.



Show question

Question

Is conformity to social roles negative or positive?



Show answer

Answer

Conformity to social roles can be negative or positive. 



Show question

Question

What is the benefit of conformity to social roles?



Show answer

Answer

Conformity to a social role helps the many parts of a group interact harmoniously and ensure that membership of the group is retained.



Show question

Question

Amal is 12. When Amal’s mother is sick and can’t get out of bed, he takes care of his younger sisters by cooking them and taking them to the park to play and chat with them. But his favourite thing to do is to put on his black baseball cap which he thinks looks great, and go play football with his cousin in the park and shout with joy at the top of his lungs when he scores a goal. Explain Amal’s behaviour using the terms conformity, social roles, and social norms.



Show answer

Answer

 At times, Amal conforms to the social role of “parent” when he takes on the role of his sick mother to provide food and support to his siblings. He conforms to the social norm of how a “parent” should act by showing caring, kind, and nurturing behaviour as part of this role. Other times, Amal takes on the role of “teenager” or “child”, conforming to the social norms of how a teenager should dress and play and shouting in a carefree manner.



Show question

Question

What are some examples of research into conformity to social roles?



Show answer

Answer

Philipp Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and the BBC Prison Study are some examples of research into conformity to social roles.

Show question

Question

Some professions such as doctors or lawyers can be fired if they break confidentiality with their patients/customers. What is the law of confidentiality of doctors and lawyers an example of? 



Show answer

Answer

Confidentiality, as part of some professions, is an example of a social norm. Most social norms are unofficial, but some, like confidentiality for doctors and lawyers, are enforced by law.



Show question

Question

When travelling to Thailand, it is not acceptable to touch the heads of children. This is because the head is considered sacred. Which of the following terms is this custom an example of?



Show answer

Answer

A social norm

     



Show question

Question

The punk counterculture started with punk rock as a reaction to commercialised rock music of the 70s. Punk fashion involved colorful mohawks, clothing held together by safety pins and punk rock was loud music that used curse words and protested authority. Explain the phenomenon of punk rock using the terms social norm and conformity.



Show answer

Answer

Punk  was a rejection of social norms of the 70s. Punks used music, fashion, and art to refuse to conform to the social norms expected of adults at the time.



Show question

Question

What is the suppression of dissenting opinion leading to uniformity of thought called?



Show answer

Answer

Groupthink is the suppression of dissenting opinions leading to uniformity of thought.



Show question

Question

What is the type of conformity most closely associated with conformity to social roles?

Show answer

Answer

Identification is the type of conformity most closely associated with conformity to social roles because the values of the group have been taken on as being part of the person, but it’s not a permanent change. 



Show question

Question

What is a social role and how does it differ from a social norm?



Show answer

Answer

Social roles are specific parts that a person plays as part of a group that go hand in hand with expectations of behaviour. On the other hand, social norms are the standard behaviours expected.

Show question

Question

Is conformity to social roles negative or positive?

Show answer

Answer

Conformity to social roles can be negative or positive. 



Show question

Question

 What is the benefit of conformity to social roles?



Show answer

Answer

Conformity to a social role helps the many parts of a group interact harmoniously and ensure that membership of the group is retained.



Show question

Question

The punk counterculture started with punk rock as a reaction to commercialised rock music of the 70s. Punk fashion involved colorful mohawks, clothing held together by safety pins and punk rock was loud music that used curse words and protested authority. Explain the phenomenon of punk rock using the terms social norm and conformity.

Show answer

Answer

Punk  was a rejection of social norms of the 70s. Punks used music, fashion, and art to refuse to conform to the social norms expected of adults at the time.



Show question

Question

What is the suppression of dissenting opinion leading to uniformity of thought called?



Show answer

Answer

Groupthink is the suppression of dissenting opinions leading to uniformity of thought.

Show question

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