The Power of Conformity

October 24, 2014 (old blog)

Conformity is powerful; in a paper our team recently submitted to Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy (fingers crossed for publication!), we discuss the human tendency to conform and how this impacts physical activity.

Taken from the paper:

Few individuals wish to be labeled as the ‘outsider’ in fear of stigmatization, and there seems to be an implicit acceptance associated with melding into what is considered ‘typical’ or ‘normal’. …Studies have shown that more than one-third of participants will knowingly change a response from correct to incorrect in order to conform to the group consensus (Asch, 1995)… this concept is often described as norm calibration, in which individuals are encouraged to calibrate their behaviour to the norm when specific behaviours and salient values are linked (Campbell-Arvai, Arvai, & Kalof, 2014).

Why do I bring this up? On Monday I went to a hockey game and couldn’t help but notice the number of fans with relatively large amounts of concession treats; it was the norm. I’m personally conflicted by health messages in society and mass behaviour – be the odd man out and say “no” to the hockey game grub, or ignore the advice to prevent future health concerns and fit in with the crowd?


Asch, S. 1995. “Opinions and Social Pressure.” In Readings about the Social Animal. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.

Campbell-Arvai, V., J. Arvai, and L. Kalof. 2014. Motivating Sustainable Food Choices: The Role of Nudges, Value Orientation, and Information Provision. Environment and Behaviour 46 (4): 453-475.


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