People’s behavior in social media is the subject of many scholarly studies aimed at analyzing and evaluating psychological motives and patterns. The effect of anonymity is a significant factor that enables users to express personal opinions freely and be guided by individual standpoints. However, despite an open communication environment in social media, some characteristic properties of communication can manifest themselves, which are natural psychological reactions to certain situations. Conformity is one of the features of typical behavior, and many authors discuss this topic in the context of a virtual interaction (Anderson et al., 2014; Bowman et al., 2012; Cohen & Golden, 1972; Colliander, 2019; Guo et al., 2019).
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For instance, in their study, Guo et al. (2019) note that the variables of conformity and the feedback specificity (positive or negative) are interdependent. The authors argue that in the conditions of the unity of opinions regarding a particular issue, adaptive human behavior is a characteristic feature, and joining the majority position occurs unconsciously (Guo et al., 2019). The current study aims to describe the manifestation of conformity in social media by using an example of specific and controversial situations.
The analysis of scholarly sources on this topic allows assuming that users’ behavior can be characterized by involving specific psychological aspects. Guo et al. (2019) consider real people’s feedbacks in a virtual space and assess their propensity to make specific decisions based on the majority opinion. According to the results of the study, the predominant number of participants shows a tendency to share the opinions of a larger group, which, according to the authors, is a natural reaction of brain activity (Guo et al., 2019).
Moreover, this research shows that the manipulation of individual consciousness through the mechanism of collective influence is possible. On the example of the positive assessments of the involved participants, Guo et al. (2019) prove that behavioral patterns are flexible and adaptive. Subconscious conformity is a defensive reaction that manifests itself as a person’s confidence in the correctness of his or her choice on the basis of the belief that a certain position is shared among a large circle of other people. At the same time, the dissenter effect causes a greater resonance and is an additional topic that is raised in academic studies.
When Internet users interact on social networks, this effect may be considered in different situations. Anderson et al. (2014) analyze it in the context of cyberbullying as a dangerous phenomenon that is common in a modern virtual space and compare it with conformity behavior. According to the authors, on the world-famous social network Facebook, dissent is more frequently associated with positive opinions, which is manifested in support of victims of cyberbullying, while conformity is the result of social pressure and is often expressed in negative reviews (Anderson at al., 2014).
This quantitative study proves that dissenting behavior is more typical of men, and women are more likely to express conformity and follow the opinions of the majority (Anderson et al., 2014). Cyberbullying is one of the issues in which the comparison of such psychological patterns is particularly clear. The separation of the positions of victims and those who attack them helps identify how conflict participants and third parties behave. Thus, the informational influence on the formation of personal opinions is significant, which was also emphasized in earlier studies.
Even before the advent of the Internet, the topic of informational influence on the formation of personal opinions was raised by different scholars. For instance, Cohen and Golden (1972) analyze behavioral factors under the impact of social pressure. Despite the fact that the authors use the product evaluation topic as the basis of their research, some theses make it clear that the balance between biased and unbiased assessments is flexible and often depends on information that was initially regarded as correct (Cohen & Golden, 1972).
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By using marketing approaches as an example, Cohen and Golden (1972) discuss how exactly people’s preferences and attitudes can change if external pressure is manifested and whether conformity is a natural psychological factor. As a result, uncertainty is one of the consequences of decisions made under the influence of common opinion, and even in case of personal convictions and following individual opinions, people tend to doubt correct conclusions. This behavior may be observed today in the information sector, and one of the key forces of modern media is the ability to influence the mass opinion even if obvious contradictions are described in news articles.
To gain social approval and not to express controversial reasoning, many people follow a trend of conformity even if they do not have a clear and confident position regarding a particular phenomenon or event. Colliander (2019) describes such an effect in the context of fake news that appears in modern media periodically and provides arguments proving a tendency to imitate other people’s ideas contrary to common sense and objectivity. The author explains this position from a psychological point of view and notes that such a behavioral pattern is a consequence of the fear of losing authority and may be regarded as an incentive to increase self-esteem (Colliander, 2019).
In a virtual space, such situations are common, which, in turn, proves that fake news is largely disseminated by mass consciousness, and the effect is enhanced by collective conformity. In addition, Colliander (2019) argues that people tend to believe the majority subconsciously, and even objective arguments expressed by the minority may be perceived biased. The spread of global social networks has led to this problem, and addiction to these resources is another significant topic in the context of the issue under consideration.
The influence of social networks is manifested not only in the ability to have an impact on public opinion but also in the desire of people to spend as much time as possible in a virtual space. Bowman et al. (2012) analyze the roles played by Facebook and Twitter, two common online platforms, in the lives of modern Internet users. The authors do not consider the trend of conformity but emphasize how cognitively demanding these networks are (Bowman et al., 2012).
Based on the findings of the research, Facebook and Twitter are resources that have a significant impact on the choices users make regarding different situations, as well as psychological aspects of behavior, such as stress tolerance and motivation (Bowman et al., 2012). Also, Bowman et al. (2012) state that for males, the social networks in question are more cognitively demanding than for females, which is an unexpected finding because, according to the prevailing opinion, modern technology is rather a masculine pursuit than a feminine one. As a result, addiction to social media encourages users to spend much time online and look for answers in a virtual communication environment.
In the decision-making process, the use of social media as resources to receive recommendations and advice is a common trend. As Guo et al. (2019) remark, social approval acts as a driver that stimulates self-confidence. In most cases, this is a natural reaction since conformity in a virtual space is no less effective than in real life and, according to Anderson et al. (2014), is a more desirable effect than dissent. Despite the possible fallacy of opinions expressed in media networks, trust in the common opinion is a more frequent phenomenon than the arguments of individuals, which also manifests itself in the case of fake news described by Colliander (2019).
As a result, the effect of mass consciousness created in online communication is strong and sustainable. This may lead to errors committed by a large number of people due to the misunderstanding of the essence or consequence of a particular issue.
The influence of social opinions on the psychological aspects of behavior and, in particular, conformity is proved by the research conducted. In the current study, the effect of approval on the basis of the general view is considered. The ambiguity of the situation on the exam test is evaluated from the perspective of the role of virtual communication as a key driver for decision making.
In this case, the following hypotheses are addressed: hiding the fact of the professor’s mistake and Abigail’s high score are approved by the overwhelming majority of Facebook post commentators, and creating a belief in the girl’s rightness is a consequence of a common opinion. Thus, people who agree with the act in question evaluate only its positive implications, and the absence of negative comments makes it possible to reason about the effect of mass consciousness.
Anderson, J., Bresnahan, M., & Musatics, C. (2014). Combating weight-based cyberbullying on Facebook with the dissenter effect. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(5), 281-286.
Bowman, N. D., Westerman, D. K., & Claus, C. J. (2012). How demanding is social media: Understanding social media diets as a function of perceived costs and benefits – A rational actor perspective. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(6), 2298-2305.
Cohen, J. B., & Golden, E. (1972). Informational social influence and product evaluation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 56(1), 54-59. Web.
Colliander, J. (2019). “This is fake news”: Investigating the role of conformity to other users’ views when commenting on and spreading disinformation in social media. Computers in Human Behavior, 97, 202-215.
Guo, D., Zhao, Y., Zhang, L., Wen, X., & Yin, C. (2019). Conformity feedback in an online review helpfulness evaluation task leads to less negative feedback-related negativity amplitudes and more positive P300 amplitudes. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 12(2), 73-87. Web.