What is conformity? Conformity is the tendency for an individual to align their attitudes, beliefs, and behavior with those of the people around them. Conformity can take the form of overt social pressure or subtler, unconscious influence. Regardless if its form, it can be a powerful force – able to change how large groups behave, to start or end conflicts and much more. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/conformity, n.d.). This is a very interesting social psychology topic makes me think of Hong Kong Protest 2019 which we have been experienced in the past 8 months on the violence protest situation and the actions have been supported by a large group of Hong Kongese. In this essay, I would like to study why people conform or agree with the violence activities even though in rational, all people from our education, we understand this is an illegal action.
Here with a quick recall on what we had experienced in 2019 : Starting from 1 July, protesters break-in at the Legislative Council, smashing window and vandalizing the building; 14 July clashes in Shatin tended into a fight between the riot police force and protesters; 21 July mob attack in Yuen Long; 11 Aug woman shot in eye; 31 August escalating violence in different districts. Demonstrators set fires to barricade and brawled with the police. A new “acceptable” norm of fighting against police with threw bricks and firebombs. 1 October, the protests in Hong Kong escalated after the police shot a protester for the first time. 12-18 Nov, violence upgraded into a real battle in universities. Police fired tear gas and water cannons, as protesters bunkered inside and slug arrows, gasoline bombs and bricks at the police. (Jin Wu, 2019) During the period, Hong Kong itself was covered with marks of the unrest, with shops vandalized and boarded up, and many subways stations entrances charcoal-black from fires set by protesters. Violence in smaller scale continued till the breakout of the Coronavirus recently. Hong Kong has never been experienced such a violence riot activity in the history. How did the public react for such violence? Petrol bombs and vandalism may not be popular in most of the citizens, but public opinion was still stood firmly on the side of protesters. An author for a report which was conducted for the Chinese University of Hong Kong that surveyed public attitudes toward the protests from August to October said that public opinion was “still firmly on the side of the democracy movement’s key demands”. (Lee, 2019) In what way people conform & why people conform?
There are many different situations where people conform and psychologists have categorized three main types of conformity, including: compliance, identification and internalization. Compliance is considered as the lowest level of conformity. An individual change his public behavior but not his own beliefs. The change is usually a short-term change and is often the result of normative social influence. Identification is the middle level of conformity. An individual change his public behavior and his own beliefs, but only in the presence of the group, like compliance, the change is usually a short-term change and is often the result of normative social influence. Internalization is the deepest level of conformity. An individual not only changes his public behavior and authentically changes his own beliefs. This is usually a long-term change and often the result of informational social influence. (Betteridge, 2016)
In Hong protest 2019, we saw all these 3 forms of conformity among our community. Some people compliance to avoid being “punished”, like some store-owners compliance to avoid the stores being vandalized or to be able to maintain a business. They put “stickers wall” in their store to show they were the supporters of protesters. Some parent’s compliance was to avoid the breakdown relationship with their children. Deep down of their heart, they still believed the importance of law and order. They couldn’t accept illegal behavior.
The soft -line protesters (He Li Fei) is a group of people who conform in the form of Identification in my perspective. “He Lai Fei” the three Chinese words stands for “Peaceful, Rational and Anti Violence”. However, gradually even when demonstrations became increasingly violent, in face of the general public, they defended the protesters — they were provoked, or were fighting for a greater good. However, in private time, they still believed violence action was not good to the community and they still think law and order was important. (Yeung, 2019)
Internalization is the deepest level of conformity. You can easily see the hard-line protesters were in this type of conformity. Many of them indeed school students, especially university students. They were well educated, fully understood law & order and fully aware what was criminal acts. However, in the so-called “revolutionary” in Hong Kong, they fully believed in their violence act was completely inevitable; they saw themselves as being forced to meter out justice in a system that lacks accountability and in fact of a government, they deem unresponsive. They needed to take up the leading role to protect and push for Hong Kong’s democracy and fought against the incompetent government. (Elaine Yu, 2019)
Why do people conform? There are three main reasons as to why people conform, normative social influence, informational social influence and social impact theory.
Normative Social influence means people conform as they want to be included, accepted and to avoid uncomfortable feeling and being social rejection. Majority can manipulate others by exerting pressure on them to conform, sometimes even force with fear and power. (Cook, 2011). It reflected in Hong Kong protest; people afraid of being unfriend by their peer group; student got bully if they didn’t show their support; store owner feared of vandalism etc.
Another reason of conformity is Informational Social Influence is where people conform as they believe the others are experts, someone who people believe is “right” or with authority. This can lead to permanent changes in beliefs, values and behaviors. (Cook, 2011) Hong Kong protest, it showed the power of “information” lead, especially with the power of key social media, power of key political party leader which gained many “followers”. The hatred speech indeed raised the same emotional and grievance of the general public which easily drove the conformity.
Last but not the least, there is a theory developed by Latané to explain why people conform in some situations but not others. The key principles of this explanation are:
• Number – a higher levels of conformity when there is a higher number of followers
• Strength – a higher levels of conformity when there are a more important people
• Immediacy – an easier to get conform when it is a smaller the group size (Cook, 2011)
From this, it is not difficult to link with the Hong Kong protest for the massive scale with involve
millions of people’ support and influence by key political figures and social media.
However, does everyone conform?
In view of the Hong Kong protest, standing in sharp contrast on the other side are members of the self-dubbed ‘silent majority’ — people who oppose the unrest. They argue that the protesters are spreading chaos and fear across the city, trashing the economy, and hurting not just their own cause but everybody caught in the crossfire. Many say there can be no pardoning of the protesters’ violence and vandalism. That means not every will conform, why is it?
Some psychologists are now beginning to pay attention to this question with the suggestion that the opposite side of the coin to conformity is authenticity. Authentic people are able to overcome their desires to fit in and be part of the crowd. (Joseph, 2016). Some people have a stronger mind and sought for individual differentiation and uniqueness. (Martin, n.d.). Cultural, education also influence a person’s level of conformity.
Conformity is a powerful social force that can influence our behavior for good and sometimes bad. It is a powerful force can even at times make us do things that conflicts with our attitude, ethnics and morals, very often, unconsciously. Conformity can sometimes benefit society, in some settings, conformists strengthen social bonds, whereas dissenters imperil them, or at least introduce tension.