Moving to a new place often involves the highest levels of conformity. When you move, you are losing all that you had in the past, and having to fit into a brand new environment that often contains very different people and very different interests. Since we are always trying to feel good about ourselves as people, fitting into the new environment is very important. We use conformity to get this accomplished. My moving story takes place in the middle of my sixth-grade year. I went to a very small elementary school in St. Louis. I had been in the same class with the same group of kids for three years. Socially, I was universally well-liked by all in the school. Things were great for me within this environment. Then I moved to Charlotte, NC. This was a very different environment for me. The kids had different interests and there were a lot more of them to fit in with. I immediately felt uncomfortable. So, I began to listen to the kid’s talk, and there was a universally “cool” thing to do in my new school.
Mountain biking was the “in” thing. So, I ran home to my parents and begged for the coolest mountain bike they could get me. I began talking to people about my new wheels and started to ride more and more. I didn’t necessarily like biking, but it was allowing me to fit in, which was most important. This story is great when looking at issues of conformity. It deals mostly with normative conformity. Normative conformity is the term used to describe actions that involve trying to be liked by another person or group of people. This matches up well with my story. I decided to start mountain biking because I wanted to fit in and be liked. Specifically, there was some reciprocity involved. I would invite people over to a trail behind my house quite often. The goal behind that was to get them to invite me over at a later date. This is a good example of reciprocity. I wasn’t inviting these kids over because I was in love with the trail, but because I wanted to go over to their houses sometime.
My story also goes along well with the idea that most normative social influence deals with public compliance, but not private acceptance. This is exactly the way things were in my case. I did not ever really like mountain biking. I found it boring and not worth the risk of getting injured. However, I publicly complied because I wanted to fit in. I would often tell the guys how much fun I was having and do everything they did, even though it made me feel uncomfortable. The social impact involved with this situation was huge for me. I had always been liked in school, and I desperately didn’t want that to change. This group of five guys was the group I really wanted to be associated with, so it was particularly important for me to fit in and conform to what they were doing. This new group of friends had power over me because I was new in town. I had no other options to fall back on. I was either going to fit in or be lonely. So, in this sense, they had a great deal of power. They also had power because mountain biking was the cool thing to do.
This is referent power. I wanted to be in the “cool” group, so these kids had power over my behavior. There was unintentional conformity involved in this situation as well. Specifically, there was a great deal of disinhibition. I had doubts about a lot of the jumps these kids were going off of on their bikes, but because they did it, I did the same thing. I would have never done something like this on my own, but I found myself doing it when the others were around because I thought that I would be alright in the end. As far as the social influence process goes, there was comparison and reciprocity involved. I would always act appropriately around this group of kids, as it was important for me to fit in. I would also, as it was said above, give out opportunities for others to ride bikes at my place, in the hope that they would give me opportunities to go to theirs in return. The most important aspect of my conformity was the desire to fit in. This is why I did what I did, and it is very interesting to look back on my actions with my new social psychology knowledge.