Why We Follow the Crowd

Nonconformist © Chrisharvey | Dreamstime.com

Today is background for the posts I am doing over the next week, so try to hang with me here. Post links at the end.

I recently read an interesting article which said Self-control is contagious. It actually goes well beyond self-control. What we call “peer pressure” psychologists call normative social influence, a function of our desire to conform to the norms of “our group” and our society as a whole. Studies have found most people will do things they would not otherwise do, from eating too much to torturing someone, because of a desire to conform. One study showed that when a group is asked a question, many test subjects will give a clearly wrong answer if those ahead of them all give the wrong answer – those giving the wrong answer being told to do so ahead of time (see Asch Conformity Experiment). When this test was first done, 75% of those being tested gave an answer they knew was wrong at least once, while only 25% never conformed. Numerous follows ups have shown a variety of factors change how many give into the pressure to conform. When the answer is certain, there is less conformity. People are less likely to conform if they have a reason to “look down on” the others in the group, and are less likely to conform if they feel they are particularly knowledgeable about the subject matter of the questions. And, of course, personality plays a big part.

How likely a person is to conform is their susceptibility to normative influence (SNI). A high SNI means someone is very concerned with fitting in, and conforms easily. Low SNI individuals are less concerned with being seen as odd, and often do not conform. Low SNI individuals are the ones most likely to start new trends, to protest something is wrong, and generally challenge what the majority accepts. Often such people are shunned to some degree, but this usually does not bother them. They keep going, and keep saying what they think. If they are convinced they are right and others are wrong, they can be quite driven. I would say Martin Luther had very low SNI. Same for Martin Luther King Jr..

SNI works at many levels: family, small groups of friends, larger communities (church, work place, or school), very large groups (cities, states, and political parties), and society as a whole. The accepted norm can vary a great deal from group to group, which can be uncomfortable, especially for those with high SNI. This can lead to being a chameleon, looking to agree with any group one finds them-self in, being quiet in a group they don’t agree with, or avoiding all groups other than those where they feel comfortable.

Over the next few days, I will apply this to a variety of groups and situations we all deal with. Much of this will not be directly related to marriage, but I think as a whole it can help us to be better and stronger people, benefiting us, our families, our churches, and society at large.

By the way: As you might guess, I have low SNI. I can clearly track this to decisions I made in junior high, but I assume I naturally had fairly low SNI to start with. My low SNI allowed God to use me to start a Christian website about sex in ’97 when almost no one in the church was willing to discuss such issues openly. That’s great, but there are a couple of problems stemming from my low SNI: I see low SNI as the desired norm, and I sometimes don’t see the good that comes from our desire to conform. Fortunately, I have people around me who see things differently, and are not afraid to challenge me.

In this series about how normative influence shapes our lives:

Why we follow the crowd
Letting others influence your actions
The smallest cultural group
Your marriage as a tool to being a better person
Is your social group inbred? 
Is artificial society influencing you? 
The voices in the marriage chamber
Wrap up on social influence 

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Links to blog posts that stood out to me this last week:

New blog this week – Marriage Missions International. Another blog that should have been here long ago.

Bonus 1: Strange Sex Habits of Silicon Valley is an article that would have been a good link from my Saturday post, had I seen it earlier


Black and Married with Kids

Time, Toothpaste And Teamwork: Three Tips For A Successful Marriage: Good – and I’d never thought of #2
How Do You Feel About Make-Up Sex? : Nice thoughts, and “rules”.

The Generous Wife

Physical Too: Do something active as a couple.
3 Minute Kiss: Try it,
Don’t Wait: Don’t put your life on hold!

Hot, Holy and Humorous

Beyond the Single Orgasm: If she wants to try, here are some ideas.

Intimacy in Marriage

3 Great Reasons to Talk to Your Kids About Sex: If they are old enough for school, it’s time to say something!
The Best Way to Have Fun During Sex: Three important things for better sex.
Worship the Lord. Make Love with Your Spouse.: The important stuff.
What Do You Love About Sex? : No, really – what?

Journey to Surrender

Are You Missing Your Marriage?: Along the same lines as my Saturday post (I’d have linked if I’d seen it in time.)
Journey to Surrender: A Grace-Full Marriage – Introduction: A great start to a new series.

Marriage Gems

6 Tips to Save Family Time and Have More Fun: Good stuff – what’s eating your time?

Marriage Life

Love Loses: Yup, it does.

Marriage Missions International

Boundaries of Friendships: Your friendships do matter to your marriage.
Avoiding Emotional Adultery: Aside from being the starting place for most physical adultery, emotional cheating is harmful in and of itself.
An Affair Within Your Marriage: Give your spouse what an affair would give them.


Sex after pregnancy; What happened to “normal”?: If your bride has recently given birth, this is for you.

Mystery 32

S/He is blue. What do I do?: A woman explaining what women want when they are down – good stuff!

One Flesh Marriage

Remember Your Swear Words: And swear again!
The Nagging Wife Syndrome: You might be causing it, and you can probably help reduce it.

Romantic Act of the Day

More Than Her Lips: Try it, she might like it!

The Romantic Vineyard

Unselfishness Is Contagious: Yes it is!
Unpacking For Vacation: BRILLIANT idea!

Safe at home

Don’t Avoid All The Pain in Life . . . It Can Serve a Purpose : Avoiding pain can kill you – or your marriage!

Simple Marriage

The 90 Minute Date : If you can’t do this, you are WAY TOO BUSY!

Stupendous Marriage

Stupendous Marriage Show 046: All About the Benjamins (Money and Marriage) : Great discussion of money and Dave Ramsey’s approach to dealing with debt.

…to Love Honor and Vacuum

The Root of Marriage Problems–Selfishness: Pretty well sums it up.

8 Comments on “Why We Follow the Crowd

  1. First, a technical note, you inadvertently duplicated the “toothpaste” link as the “silicon valley” link. Fortunately it was easy to find with a search.

    Second, I don’t suppose you noticed the meta-irony in saying that low SNI is a desired norm, i.e. refusal to accept a norm on its face is a desired to norm to accept.

    • karl – Fixed, thanks for letting me know.

      I do get the irony, to some extent, which is why I said what I did. I can see why it’s good that only a few have very low SNI, but when I see people blindly following something harmful or wrong it does get me going!

  2. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

    –George Bernard Shaw

  3. I think C. S. Lewis speaks eloquently to this in his essay/speech “The Inner Ring.”

    Goodle it up for a few minutes of truly edifying reading.

    • Lou – Thanks for the link. I am a Lewis fan, but had never had read that.

      In “That Hideous Strength” Lewis shows such rings in great detail, and show what men will do to get into a ring.

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