Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behaviour in order to fit in with a group. Conformity can also be simply defined as “yielding to group pressures”. Group pressure may take different forms, for example bullying, persuasion, teasing, criticism, etc. Conformity is also known as majority influence.
Given that a “need to belong” and be part of groups has been deeply bred into most animals and particularly human beings during our evolution, it is perhaps no surprise that people continue to seek group experiences, despite societal fragmentation.
Crowd behaviour is generally seen as arising from “deindividuation” influencing social conformity. Groups are also inclined to polarize and become more extreme in their beliefs/actions over time. Therefore, “Deindividuation” also means that individuals tend to adopt a ‘group mind’ whereby they tend to become more focused on the group goal and less on their own individual interests. By acting as a group, there is also a diffusion of responsibility. It’s difficult to hold an individual accountable and make them identifiable when an act was performed by a collective.
Nowadays, social conformity through flash mobbing is very acceptable and simple. It is considered a normative influence if order to get acceptance among a large group. Influencing factors for that matter are such as a large group size, unanimity in the behaviour taken, high group cohesion and perceived higher status of the group. However gender, age and culture lack of significant idealism in this case.
If you want to go flash mobbing yourself, search Facebook for a group in your local area (Madrid, Spain has 5250 members) and attend the event. This ad made by T-Mobile is just a portrayal of what can happen when social conformity is derived in some action that people do appreciate and which represents a difference from the current social order. In the same ad, we can clearly observe how strangers dance together hand-by and even the security forces –which are suppose to stop such public mobilizations join the dance letting aside their professional responsibility. And this is a relevant fact because the word “mob” provokes mixed emotions. Traditionally, “mobs” were a group of angry individuals gathered together in protest, often manifesting into riots. But the term “flash mob” is a gathering of people who unite for the purpose of creating happiness and joy. It is technically defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.”
The first documented flash mob was organized in Manhattan in 2003, and was said to be coordinated as a social experiment by the editor of Harper’s Magazine. Participants gathered at four different staging areas where they received instructions and held practice. It wasn’t until the day of the actual flash mob that a specific location was revealed to them (to insure that the surprise wasn’t leaked). In the ad by T-Mobile, we can observe how the same dynamic is repeated. The confederates (dancers) are aware about the event which is about to take place but they act as regular passengers at Liverpool Station. In that way, a standard behaviour replicates further actions to join the mob due to the “surprise effect”.
This curiosity continues to captivate us as thousands of random strangers coordinate these gatherings through social media on a daily basis. Many performances achieve national attention via television and the web and hit viral status. But why are we drawn to such an experiment? The answer may lie in how we are emotionally affected by them. For many of us, this emotional awakening will cue the waterworks. It’s witnessing such a huge, diverse group coming together and creating a spectacle of music and dance just for the pleasure of strangers. Perhaps it’s that we are exposed to others experiencing a freedom. Or maybe it’s simply the unity of these happy pranksters. Flash Mobs wake us up and transform one ordinary moment of commuting, shopping, or walking into a moment of PURE HAPPINESS, celebration, love, and connection. It reminds us all that we are the same inside. The ordinary guy busy on his phone, the woman adjusting her stroller, and the old man eating lunch are really all in on the same flash mob mission.
If we take this ad as a social psychology experiment on conformity, we could state that the experimenter is T-Mobile industries, which is examining in the designated experimental space –Liverpool station- a CG, the minority who aren’t confederates v/s the EG who are the confederates. The IV would be the action they take once they see the mob: dance v/s non-dancing and the DV would be the time of reaction for the same. On the other hand, the factorial design would be 2×2 (gender v/s profession) as the profession will determine the level of involvement (limited by ego) on the gender basis. Culture, race or religion would not be considered as significant factor to measure, in my opinión.
Raul Villamarin Rodriguez
IRIANS – The Neuroscience Institute