Conformity, Deindividuation & Social Loafing

Conformity, Deindividuation & Social Loafing


Conformity refers to the way in which people’s opinions and behaviour are influenced by those around them. This is sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious.

So why do we conform?

  • To be right: According to Deutsch and Gerrard (1955) this is because we are keen to behave in the right way, or we want to be seen to be doing the right thing. If we are unsure how to behave in a given situation then it is likely we will look to the people around us, especially to older or more experienced people, in order to understand how to behave.
  • To be liked: As social animals we also want to be liked: conforming is one way we can improve our chances of being approved of. You may have noticed that friends tend to exhibit similar kinds of behaviour when they are around each other.

Sherif (1935) wanted to know if listening to other people’s judgement influences our own. He put a number of participants in a dark room and asked them to judge how far a spot of light moved across the screen. In actual fact the spot didn’t move at all but appeared to as a result of an optical illusion. When the participants gave independent judgements their estimates varied considerably. When participants were placed in groups of three, however, their estimates moved much closer together.

  • Conclusions and limitations: He concluded that, in ambiguous situations, people make use of other’s judgements to inform their own. It has been argued, however, that this wasn’t the best test of conformity precisely because the situation was ambiguous.


Deindividuation is a term used to describe a temporary situation in which an individual loses his sense of identity and therefore responsibility. People in large crowds or gangs can become deindividuated when they feel that they have become anonymous and that their behaviour as an individual is not being observed. It is in these circumstances that an individual is most likely to behave badly, perhaps because he feels that there is such a small chance of being caught and punished. An example of this may be found in the London riots in August 2011, where large numbers of people damaged and looted shops.

Zimbardo (1969) wanted to see if there was a difference between how people behaved in large cities and small towns. To do this he left a car with the bonnet up in both places. In New York people very quickly started stealing parts from the car. In Palo Alto one person touched the car to lower the bonnet when it was raining.

  • Conclusion and limitations: Zimbardo concluded that the deindividuation caused by living in big cities leads to more antisocial forms of behaviour. Some people may criticise Zimbardo for so firmly assuming that deindividuation was responsible for causing this kind of behaviour.
  • Practical applications: The use of CCTV cameras, especially in cities, has helped to reduce crime. The chances of deindividuation are reduced when someone feels they are being watched and that there is a chance they will be punished for wrongdoing.


Social loafing

Social loafing in psychology is the term used to describe the reduction of effort an individual puts in when he is part of a team doing the same job. In a sense this is linked to deindividuation because the individual knows that his level of effort is less likely to be monitored when he is part of a crowd.

Latane et al. (1979) wanted to know what effect being put into a group would have on each participant’s effort levels. 84 participants wearing headphones (which blocked out all sound) were asked to clap and shout as loudly as they could alongside differing numbers of people doing the same thing. It was found that as the group size increased each participant produced less sound of their own.

    • Conclusions and limitations: It was concluded that people will put in less effort when they are part of a group contributing towards the same task. It could be argued that this was an artificial exercise and lacked ecological validity. In addition it has since been discovered that not all cultures behave in the same way.