ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (3): 531-539.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.00531

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The effect of conformity tendency on prosocial behaviors

WEI Zhenyu1(), DENG Xiangshu1, ZHAO Zhiying2   

  1. 1Research Institute of Social Development, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chengdu 611130, China
    2School of Medicine, Yale University, New Haven CT 06510, USA
  • Received:2020-03-31 Online:2021-03-15 Published:2021-01-26
  • Contact: WEI Zhenyu


Prosocial behaviors have a significant impact on social cohesion. Previous behavioral studies and fMRI studies found that prosocial behaviors can be influenced by conformity tendency, including altruistic behavior, trusting behavior, fairness, generosity and charity. People tend to be more prosocial when they observe the group members’ prosocial behaviors. This phenomenon can be defined as prosocial conformity effect. In the prosocial conformity experiments, participants need to cope with the conflict between social preference and conformity pressure. From this perspective, relative to the classical conformity experiments, participants would have stronger psychological conflict in the prosocial conformity context.

People tend to imitate others’ behaviors and adopt the deeper goals and motives of group in social context. There are two motivations underlying prosocial conformity behaviors. From a narrow perspective, prosocial conformity could represent the imitation of other behaviors. On a broad account, prosocial conformity could be a consequence of adopting the group’s prosocial attitude. It is hard to distinguish these two motivations in the current studies. Both of them is motivated by the desire for maintain a positive self-concept. Previous neuroimaging studies found that prosocial conformity is related to brain regions involved in reward processing, such as ventromedial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. People have a strong reward participation in the prosocial conformity context because prosocial behaviors are rewarded in the social group. Brain areas that were related to error processing also play a critical role in prosocial conformity. The error processing network is served as an error monitor system in the brain. Before changing, people need to be conscious of the difference in attitude and behaviors between group members and themselves. Previous studies also found that social conformity can be modulated by individuals’ preferences in interpersonal relationships. Prosocial conformity can be modulated by social value orientation, interpersonal trust and interpersonal sensitivity. Compared with pro-selfs, prosocial individuals have stronger tendency to conform with prosocial behaviors. People with high interpersonal trust were more likely to conform to group in an informational decision context, whereas individuals with low interpersonal trust were more likely to be involved in normative conformity pressure. In addition, interpersonal sensitivity can influence prosocial conformity behaviors. Individuals with high interpersonal sensitivity were more likely to follow with others’ prosocial behaviors.
The direction for future research can focus on the following points. Firstly, researchers can study the stability of prosocial conformity. It can extend our knowledge of the mechanisms underlying prosocial conformity. Secondly, future study can explore the individual differences in prosocial conformity. For instance, we know nothing about whether the individual difference in personality can modulate the effect of conformity on prosocial behavior. Thirdly, in order to understand the law of development in prosocial conformity, we can study the prosocial conformity behaviors in children and adolescents. Fourthly, it is necessary to investigate how mental patients with impaired social function cope with prosocial conformity pressure. For example, we can examine that whether people with major depression disorder is insensitive to the prosocial conformity pressure. Lastly, we can focus on the effect of culture diversity on prosocial conformity. It would be necessary to investigate the difference between collectivism and individualism in prosocial conformity.

Key words: prosocial behavior, conformity, neural mechanism, individual differences

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