2011 October 18 Tuesday
Non-Conformists Better At Working Toward Common Good

Non-conformists go beyond the standard and are better at cooperation.

If you follow the pack are you more likely to co-operate with others in it? Not necessarily according to research into social behaviour by academics at the University of East Anglia.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, shows that people who do not conform are most likely to work together for the greater good, while conforming to social norms can actually make people less likely to co-operate a finding which surprised the researchers and could have implications in the workplace for team design and operations management.

To innovate you've got to deviate from the existing way of doing things. Non-conformists are more likely to deviate. The conformists on a team conform to a lower standard.

"Here we've got a measure of people's co-operation, which could apply to any situation where you've two or more people who are trying to co-operate in an activity. For example in a work setting, if you are part of a team working on a project you expect everyone to put the same effort in to the task. The expectation is that people who are high in social desirability will conform to the effort other people are putting into the task, but actually the conforming people may be less helpful because they take their cue from the less helpful members of the team. They are conforming to the person who is not necessarily working that hard."

"If someone is less conformist they may take a lead and put in more effort, so then others may be prepared to put in more effort themselves, and the individuals and the team benefit. Conformity can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you are conforming to."

Some more contrarianism: Attempts to make people less prejudiced can backfire.

Organizations and programs have been set up all over the globe in the hopes of urging people to end prejudice. According to a research article, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, such programs may actually increase prejudices.

Lisa Legault, Jennifer Gutsell and Michael Inzlicht, from the University of Toronto Scarborough, were interested in exploring how one's everyday environment influences people's motivation toward prejudice reduction.

The authors conducted two experiments which looked at the effect of two different types of motivational intervention a controlled form (telling people what they should do) and a more personal form (explaining why being non-prejudiced is enjoyable and personally valuable).

In experiment one; participants were randomly assigned one of two brochures to read: an autonomy brochure or a controlling brochure. These brochures discussed a new campus initiative to reduce prejudice. A third group was offered no motivational instructions to reduce prejudice. The authors found that, ironically, those who read the controlling brochure later demonstrated more prejudice than those who had not been urged to reduce prejudice. Those who read the brochure designed to support personal motivation showed less prejudice than those in the other two groups.

In experiment two, participants were randomly assigned a questionnaire, designed to stimulate personal or controlling motivation to reduce prejudice. The authors found that those who were exposed to controlling messages regarding prejudice reduction showed significantly more prejudice than those who did not receive any controlling cues.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 October 18 07:18 PM  Human Nature Excellence


Comments
tommy said at October 20, 2011 12:00 AM:

To innovate you've got to deviate from the existing way of doing things. Non-conformists are more likely to deviate. The conformists on a team conform to a lower standard.

Yes, this doesn't surprise me at all. Conformists, by definition, accept the status quo more readily. The disadvantage to non-conformists is that while they think outside the box and approach issues energetically over the short run, they tend to form fractious groups where consensus is easily lost (i.e. they may not be able to agree on the definition of the "common good" over the long haul and ultimately break apart). I suspect that leaders of non-conformist groups may often attempt to prevent this by becoming increasingly dogmatic, intolerant and authoritarian. Groupthink may take over among leaders whenever a tightly managed group of non-conformists runs into trouble. This authoritarian tendency, in turn, results in alienation among those with the greatest non-conformist tendencies and this may also result in splintering whenever members can safely walk away from a project.

solaris said at October 20, 2011 12:39 PM:

>"To innovate you've got to deviate from the existing way of doing things. Non-conformists are more likely to deviate."


That's all true, but it does not .. er, "conform" to what THEY are saying, which is the seemingly tautological clam that "conforming to social norms can actually make people less likely to co-operate".

The riddle is solved if you click through the link and read their rather silly definitions of terms. The study says nothing about innovation (which Parker reads into it) and it actually also says nothing useful about cooperation and conforming.

When they say that "conformity does not equal cooperation", they mean that "in the experimental game we played we found that people who believed that everybody should be willing to pay tax for the mutual good in fact were less likely to be willing to pay tax themselves".

There may be some interesting politico-economic lessons here relating to the "left" and "right", but it says nothing at all about the intersection of conforming and cooperation in the sense that everybody outside the research team understands these words.

solaris said at October 20, 2011 12:42 PM:

>"Conformists, by definition, accept the status quo more readily."

You should read the definition of "conformity" employed in the study rather than assume they are using your own understanding of the word. In fairness, so should Randall Parker.

tommy said at October 20, 2011 5:06 PM:

You should read the definition of "conformity" employed in the study rather than assume they are using your own understanding of the word. In fairness, so should Randall Parker.

I read the article. No definition is provided and the impression I got from the article is that conformity was a psychology trait measured before the game was conducted.

The pertinent part to my mind comes at the end:

"In this study, although people who are highly conformist might state they are more likely to pay tax, conformity may, in fact, have made them unlikely to pay more than their partner paid previously.

solaris said at October 20, 2011 5:47 PM:

>"I read the article. No definition is provided"


Read it again.

"Participants' conformity was measured by how much they wished to conform to social expectations and be seen in a positive light, known as 'social desirability'. They completed a standardised measure and were also asked about their attitude towards paying tax. People who score highly on social desirability are more likely to conform, for example by paying tax, and agree with others. The researchers expected that they would be more likely to co-operate as well."

Here's the Cliff Notes version of this study: "For certain definitions of the words "conformist" and "cooperation" it was found that "conformists" did not "cooperate" as well as "non-conformists".


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