Key Study: Conformity rates across cultures (Bond and Smith, 1996)

Travis DixonSocial and Cultural Psychology

While social pressures can cause conformity in many cultures, differences in cultural values and norms may affect just how much conformity can be affected by social pressures.

There has been a lot of research into the role that culture might play in conformity. In Bond and Smith’s article  they review many different studies that have investigated this idea. However, they found methodological flaws with these studies when trying to use them to make conclusions about social and cultural influences on conformity.

So they decided to conduct a meta-analysis of all the studies from different countries that they could find. They compared only studies that used the Asch experimental paradigm (the line tests). They focused on individualistic and collectivist cultures. 

Based on what you know already about these cultural dimensions, which one would you anticipate having a greater rate of conformity?

The results of the meta-analysis showed that collectivist cultures had a significantly higher rate of conformity than cultures classified as individualistic. For instance, countries like Japan, Hong Kong and Fiji had higher rates of conformity than France, the UK and the USA. 


The above description only includes the results of the study. It is important that you can offer plausible explanations for why collectivist cultures may conform more than individualistic ones. 


How conformity may have changed over the years…

Rates of conformity can vary between cultures, as Bond and Smith’s meta-analysis revealed, but in their article they also suggest that levels of conformity can change over different time periods within the same culture. For example, psychologists have suggested that the conformity Asch found in his 1950s experiments could have been a product of McCarthysim. Larsen has conducted three replications of the Asch experiments – in 1974, 1979 and 1990. The difference in rates of conformity found during these replications, Larsen argues, could be a product of changes in the social environment in the US. For example, conformity levels were higher in the 1974 replication than they were in the 1979 one. Larsen suggests this could be because in 1974 the protests against the Vietnam war were strong and student activism was common, thus students at this time were socialized into having strong voices and may have been more inclined to oppose social norms. Whereas in 1979, after the Vietnam war had ended, the activism may have reduced and students were more career oriented (Bond and Smith, pg 112, 1996 – you can read more in the original article under the heading “Comparisons Within a Culture at Different Periods in Its History”) (here).