To be right or to be liked? : Correlates of preschoolers’ informational and normative conformity

Abstract: Humans conform. That is, humans align their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs with others to learn and adapt. When we are uncertain, naïve, or believe that others know better than us – we can conform for informational reasons and imitate behaviors or ideas observed from the majority of those around us. If the masses are doing something we can suppose that it likely is effective or right. Likewise, when we need to strengthen bonds with others, fear being ostracized, or simply wish to befriend other individuals, we can normatively conform and strategically imitate their behaviors or ideas to signal affiliation outwardly, while still privately retaining our original beliefs. Importantly, although conformity is intrinsic to all human cultures and age-groups, there is also notable inter-individual variability in conformity propensity: Some individuals tend to conform often while others conform very rarely. This applies to both adults and young children. In this thesis I have addressed the variability in children’s conformity by investigating both propensity and motivation using an individual differences perspective. The overarching aim was to identify psychological (personality traits) and psychosocial factors (parents’ personality and parental style), as well as other social behaviors (obedience and altruistic behavior) that can help to explain why some children conform more than others, and importantly, why they differ in their motivation to conform.Using an Asch-style paradigm to elicit public conformity in 3.5-year-olds using adult (Study I) and peer (Studies II and III) confederates, we established individuals’ conformity propensity over eight trials. Additionally, using an eye-tracking task during each trial, we measured what the participant privately held as true after publicly conforming. This measure allowed us to differentiate whether the conformity was informational (believing that the majority’s inaccurate testimony was correct) or normative (knowing that it was not, but conforming for social reasons). The main findings reported in this thesis are (i) the personality trait extroversion has a U-shaped relationship with conformity propensity – low and high scores on this trait are predictive of more conformity to both adults (Study I) and peers (Study III); (ii) when children conform, high extroversion is predictive of doing so for a normative motivation and low extroversion for an informational (Studies I and III); (iii) children with higher conformity propensities are more likely to have displayed altruistic behavior but not obedience (Study II); and (iv) fathers’ authoritarian parental style is associated with their children’s conformity propensity (Study II).

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