“We all want to belong, to fit in, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And that can make us vulnerable to the influence of others.” — Adam Grant
Social influence and conformity biases are pervasive in our daily lives, affecting the way we make decisions and interact with others.
In this list, we will explore 30 common biases that influence how we perceive and respond to social situations, from the way we form opinions to the way we follow authority.
By understanding these biases, we can become more aware of how our own beliefs and behaviors are shaped by the people around us and make more informed decisions.
What are Social Influence and Conformity Biases?
Social influence and conformity biases are the tendency for people to change their behavior, beliefs, or attitudes to match those of others in a group, often because they want to fit in or be accepted.
It can happen in a variety of situations, such as peer pressure or social media influence, and can lead people to make decisions they may not have made on their own.
Social Influence and Conformity Biases
Here are some examples of common social influence and conformity biases:
- Authority bias: Tendency to give undue weight to the opinion of an authority figure.
- Availability heuristic bias: Judging the likelihood of an event based on how easily examples of it come to mind.
- Backfire effect: The tendency for people to hold onto their beliefs even more strongly when presented with evidence that contradicts them.
- Bandwagon effect: The tendency to follow the beliefs or actions of the larger group.
- Bystander effect: The tendency for people to not intervene in an emergency situation when others are present.
- Bystander apathy effect: The belief that someone else will take action or responsibility in an emergency situation.
- Clustering illusion: The tendency to see patterns or clusters in random data.
- Conformity bias: The tendency to conform to the beliefs or behaviors of a group, even if they go against your personal beliefs.
- Door-in-the-face technique: Making an initial large request in order to increase the chances of a person agreeing to a smaller request later.
- Escalation of commitment: The tendency to invest more resources in a failing course of action to justify previous investments.
- False consensus effect: The belief that others share our beliefs or attitudes more than they actually do.
- Foot-in-the-door technique: Making an initial small request in order to increase the chances of a person agreeing to a larger request later.
- Framing effect: The way information is presented can influence the way it is perceived.
- Groupthink effect: The tendency for a group to make irrational or dysfunctional decisions due to pressure to conform.
- Halo effect: The tendency to judge a person based on one positive trait or characteristic.
- Herd mentality: The tendency to follow the beliefs or behaviors of the larger group without questioning.
- Information cascade: The tendency to follow the actions or beliefs of others in order to fit in or be accepted.
- Law of unintended consequences: The idea that actions or decisions can have unforeseen or unintended outcomes.
- Negativity bias: The tendency to focus on negative information or experiences more than positive ones.
- Normative social influence: The pressure to conform to the expectations of others in order to be accepted or fit in.
- Obedience bias: The tendency to obey authority figures even if it goes against personal beliefs or values.
- “Our side” bias / In-group bias: The tendency to favor members of one’s own group over those outside the group.
- Out-group homogeneity bias: The belief that members of a different group are more similar to each other than they actually are.
- Reactance effect: The tendency to resist attempts to influence our behavior, especially when it threatens our sense of freedom or autonomy.
- Representativeness heuristic bias: The tendency to make assumptions based on stereotypes or previous experiences.
- Social comparison bias: The tendency to compare oneself to others in order to evaluate oneself.
- Social desirability bias: The tendency to give socially acceptable answers instead of truthful ones.
- Social proof phenomenon: The tendency to follow the actions or beliefs of others in order to make the “right” decision.
- Status quo bias: The tendency to prefer things to stay the same rather than change.
- Stockholm syndrome: The tendency for hostages to develop positive feelings towards their captors.
- Survivorship bias: The tendency to focus on the successes rather than the failures due to a lack of information or perspective.
- Ultimatum game effect: The tendency for people to reject offers that are perceived as unfair, even if they stand to gain from the offer.
10 Examples of How To Use the Social Influence and Conformity Biases to Think and Do Better
Here are some examples of how to use the social influence and conformity biases to think and do better:
- Authority bias: By not blindly following authority, we can critically evaluate their recommendations and make informed decisions that are best for us. An interesting example of authority bias is the famous Milgram experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. In this experiment, participants were instructed to administer electric shocks to another person (who was actually an actor) when they answered questions incorrectly. The participants were told that the shocks could be painful, but they were urged to continue by an authority figure (a researcher in a lab coat). Despite the actor’s pleas to stop and the increasing voltage of the shocks, most participants continued to administer shocks because they felt compelled to follow the authority figure’s instructions. This experiment demonstrated the powerful influence that authority can have on our behavior, even when it goes against our personal values and beliefs.
- Availability heuristic bias: By recognizing that the information that is most readily available to us might not be the most accurate or representative, we can make more informed decisions. An interesting example of availability heuristic bias in terms of social influence and conformity is the way news and media can shape our perception of reality. When we see a particular type of story repeatedly in the news, such as stories of crime or violence, we may begin to overestimate the likelihood of these events happening in our own lives. This bias can lead us to conform to societal norms of fear and mistrust, rather than questioning the sources of these beliefs and seeking out more balanced information.
- Bandwagon effect: By not just following the crowd, we can critically evaluate the choices we make and ensure they align with our values and goals. An interesting example of the Bandwagon effect is when a new restaurant opens up and there’s a long line outside. People walking by may assume that it’s a popular and good restaurant because so many others are waiting in line. As a result, they might be more likely to join the line and try the restaurant for themselves, even if they haven’t heard anything about it before. This effect can also happen in other situations, such as with popular products or trends.
- Bystander effect: By recognizing our responsibility to act in situations where others may not, we can make a positive impact on the world. An interesting example of the bystander effect occurred in 1964, when a young woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her apartment building in New York City. It was reported that 38 people heard or saw the attack taking place but did nothing to help or intervene. This phenomenon is now commonly known as the “Genovese syndrome” and has been studied extensively in psychology to understand why people are less likely to help when they are in groups.
- Door-in-the-face technique: By recognizing that someone may start with an extreme request before making a more reasonable one, we can negotiate better outcomes. An interesting example of the Door-in-the-face technique can be seen in a study conducted by researchers Cialdini, Cacioppo, Bassett, and Miller. In the study, participants were asked if they would be willing to chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents on a day trip to the zoo. Unsurprisingly, most participants declined the request. However, when asked if they would be willing to mentor a juvenile delinquent for at least two hours a week for a minimum of two years, many participants agreed. This technique demonstrates that a larger request can be made more palatable if it is preceded by an initial, much larger request which is designed to be refused.
- Escalation of commitment: By recognizing that we may become too invested in a decision or course of action, we can make a more informed choice to continue or pivot. An interesting example of the escalation of commitment bias is when a company continues to invest in a failing project or initiative despite evidence suggesting it will not be successful. This bias can occur due to the fear of losing the time, money, and resources already invested in the project, which can lead decision-makers to double down on their investment, even if it is not the most rational decision. This bias can lead to significant losses for the company, as resources are diverted away from other potentially more successful initiatives.
- False consensus effect: By recognizing that we might overestimate the extent to which others share our views, we can avoid assuming others are on the same page as us. An interesting example of the False consensus effect is when a group of friends plan a vacation to a place they assume everyone wants to go, but in reality, not everyone is interested in going there. However, because no one speaks up, the group assumes that everyone is on board with the plan and proceeds with the trip.
- Framing effect: By recognizing how different language and presentation can influence our decision-making, we can make more informed choices. An interesting example of the framing effect in social influence and conformity biases can be seen in the context of political campaigns. If a politician wants to increase support for their policy, they can frame it in a positive light by emphasizing the benefits of the policy. Conversely, if they want to decrease support for their opponent’s policy, they can frame it in a negative light by emphasizing the potential drawbacks. By framing the issue in a certain way, politicians can influence people’s perceptions and ultimately their decisions.
- Groupthink effect: By fostering diverse perspectives and encouraging open dialogue, we can make better decisions as a group. One interesting example of the groupthink effect is the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986. Despite some engineers’ concerns about the launch’s safety, the NASA managers decided to proceed with the launch due to their strong belief in the success of the mission and their group identity. This ultimately led to a catastrophic outcome, highlighting the dangers of groupthink in decision-making.
- Social proof phenomenon: By recognizing that we are influenced by the actions of others, we can make more informed choices that align with our values and goals. An interesting example of the social proof phenomenon is when a restaurant hangs a sign that says “most popular dish” next to a particular menu item. This can influence customers to choose that dish because they perceive it as being more popular and, therefore, better than other menu items. The social proof phenomenon can also be seen on social media, where people are more likely to like or follow a page that already has a large number of followers, assuming that the page is of higher quality or more popular.
“Our Side” Bias (Ingroup Bias, In-Group Favoritism)
I want to give special attention to an especially dangerous and limiting bias:
“Our side” bias
“Our side” bias, also known as ingroup bias or in-group favoritism, is the tendency to favor members of your own social group or “in-group” over those from other groups or “out-groups.” It is a cognitive bias that influences our perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors, often leading to a preference for individuals who share your beliefs, values, or identities.
This bias can manifest in various ways, such as attributing positive qualities to members of our in-group while stereotyping or devaluing out-group members. It can also result in the formation of social cliques or the exclusion of those who do not belong to your group.
“Our side” bias can have significant social implications, as it contributes to intergroup conflicts, prejudice, and discrimination. It can hinder effective communication, collaboration, and understanding between different groups, perpetuating divisions and reinforcing stereotypes.
Recognizing and addressing “our side” bias is essential for promoting inclusivity, empathy, and cooperation.
By actively seeking to understand and appreciate perspectives different from your own, you can challenge this bias and create more inclusive relationships within diverse communities.
Know Your Social Influence and Conformity Biases to Think and Do Better
Social influence and conformity biases refer to the tendency of individuals to conform to the behaviors, opinions, and attitudes of others around them.
These biases can lead to poor decision-making, as individuals may make choices that align with the group, rather than their own beliefs or values.
Examples of social influence and conformity biases include groupthink, the bystander effect, and the framing effect.
Being aware of these biases can help individuals become better critical thinkers and make more informed decisions.
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