How Does Social Psychology Explain the Concept of Conformity Compliance and Obedience?


Vincent White

How Does Social Psychology Explain the Concept of Conformity Compliance and Obedience?

Social psychology is a branch of psychology that studies how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by others. One fascinating aspect of social psychology is understanding why people conform, comply, and obey in different situations. Let’s delve into each concept and explore how social psychology explains them.


Conformity refers to adjusting one’s thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors to match those of a group or society. This phenomenon is driven by the need for acceptance, validation, and a desire to fit in.

In social psychology, Normative Social Influence explains conformity based on the fear of rejection or punishment. When individuals conform due to normative social influence, they change their behavior to align with societal norms and avoid disapproval from others. For example, a person may start wearing trendy clothes or adopting certain habits because they want to be accepted by their peers.

Another type of conformity is Informational Social Influence. This occurs when individuals look to others for guidance in ambiguous situations where they lack knowledge or expertise.

They conform because they believe that others possess more accurate information. For instance, in an emergency situation, people tend to follow the actions of those who seem knowledgeable about what needs to be done.


Compliance, on the other hand, refers to changing one’s behavior in response to a direct request or suggestion from another person or group. In compliance situations, individuals usually comply due to perceived rewards or punishments associated with their actions.

Social psychologists explain compliance through various theories such as the Foot-in-the-Door Technique and the Door-in-the-Face Technique. The Foot-in-the-Door Technique suggests that people are more likely to comply with a large request if they have already agreed to a smaller request. For example, if someone asks you for a small favor like signing a petition, you might feel obligated to comply with a larger request later, such as making a donation.

In contrast, the Door-in-the-Face Technique involves making a large initial request that is likely to be refused, followed by a smaller and more reasonable request. The idea is that by comparison, the second request seems more moderate and individuals are more inclined to comply. This technique takes advantage of the psychological principle of Reciprocity, where people feel obliged to reciprocate after someone has done them a favor.


Obedience refers to following the orders or instructions of an authority figure. It involves submitting to authority even when it may conflict with personal beliefs or values. One classic study that exemplifies obedience is Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment.

According to Milgram’s findings, individuals tend to obey authority figures due to several factors including the Legitimacy of Authority, the Gradual Increase in Demands, and the Absence of Personal Responsibility. In his experiment, participants were instructed by an authority figure to administer electric shocks to another person (who was actually an actor) when they answered questions incorrectly. Despite hearing screams of pain from the actor, many participants continued delivering shocks simply because they were instructed by an authoritative figure.

This experiment demonstrates how obedience can override personal morality and ethics when individuals perceive themselves as being under an authority’s control.

In Conclusion

Social psychology provides valuable insights into the concepts of conformity, compliance, and obedience. Conformity helps us understand why individuals change their behaviors to fit in with a group or adhere to societal norms.

Compliance sheds light on how people respond to direct requests or suggestions, often driven by the desire for rewards or fear of punishment. Obedience reveals why individuals follow orders from authority figures, even when it conflicts with personal values.

By understanding these concepts, we can gain deeper insights into human behavior and the powerful influence of social factors in shaping our actions and decisions.