social conformity effect
May 25, 2014

Impact Of Social Conformity Effect Only Lasts Three Days, New Study Claims

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Even the most independent person sometimes finds his or her opinions changing in the presence of peer pressure, but new research appearing in the Association for Psychological Science (APS) journal Psychological Science reveals that there is an expiration date for the effects of social influence.

In fact, psychological scientist and study author Rongjun Yu of South China Normal University and his colleagues have found that people only feel compelled to change their own personal judgments in order to conform to a group for a maximum of three days.

“Our findings suggest that exposure to others’ opinions does indeed change our own private opinions – but it doesn’t change them forever,” he explained in an APS statement. “Just like working memory can hold about 7 items and a drug can be effective for certain amount of time, social influence seems to have a limited time window for effectiveness.”

According to the researchers, the fact that an individual’s judgments are swayed by those of others is a well-established psychological phenomenon known as the social-conformity effect. However, it remained unclear if this effect reflected a desire to fit into a group and avoid social rejection, or private acceptance marked by an actual change in private opinion that remains with a person even after the influence of others is removed.

Yu and his fellow researchers set out to find an answer to that question by recruiting Chinese college students to participate in a study that had them rate the facial attractiveness of 280 digital photographs of young adult Chinese women. After providing their rating on an eight-point scale, the participants were informed of the rating given by a peer group, and were then asked to re-rate the same faces one day, three days, one week or three months later.

The group average matched a participant’s rating just 25 percent of the time, while the group average was one-to-three points higher or lower than the participant’s rating the rest of the time, the study authors said. When each subject was asked to re-rate the photographs one and three days after the first session, the data suggested that the group score appeared to sway the judgment of each individual study participant.

However, over longer periods of time (both one week and three months after the initial session), Yu’s team observed no such influence. They claim the fact that the group’s view appeared to alter a person’s own opinion for up to three days suggests that it is not a superficial laboratory effect. Rather, the group norms appeared to have a brief but genuine impact on the privately held beliefs of individuals.

Yu said that the studies are notable because the investigators were able to control the methodological problems that can arise in a test-retest type of study, such as the innate human tendency to behave consistently over time and regress to the mean.

However, he and his colleagues are still not certain why the phenomenon lasts for three days. They now plan to continue their work and search for a possible neurological reason for the effect’s duration, and they also plant to try and find out whether or not it can be manipulated to last for shorter or longer periods of time, the APS said.