Social Conformity, Group Identity, and Preference Falsification

Public opinion trends regarding sensitive social issues generally exhibit movements toward a preference for greater egalitarianism and tolerance, and less willingness to accept group-based discrimination. In other words, the public expressions that individuals provide to pollsters at any given time are likely to paint an optimistic picture of the degree to which people, on average, adhere to desirable social norms. However, given well-known phenomena such as social desirability bias, such trends in aggregate opinion expression are likely to represent a mix of both real attitude changes and public compliance with perceived socially acceptable public speech. Individuals learn about the existence of norms of public speech through interpersonal social interactions, but little is known empirically about how social pressure to comply with norms operates at the micro level. Across two studies—a laboratory and survey experiment—this project addresses the question of how even minimal social pressure leads to conformity with respect to attitude expressions about adherence to egalitarian norms. Baseline attitudinal measurements were taken of subjects in a private setting, and then those measurements were used to exert social pressure in a contrived group setting. An asymmetric effect was found in which the minority of subjects who were willing to espouse an attitude in private that goes against social norms were also more likely to succumb to social pressure to change their expressed attitudes when faced with an opposed group opinion. For subjects who espoused attitudes in private that comport with broader social norms, social pressure to provide an inegalitarian response had little impact. Examining the underlying mechanisms, initial evidence suggests that subjects who change responses in the face of social pressure are engaging in preference falsification, and that the process is driven largely by group surveillance.


Dr Hendry is an assistant professor in the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He received his PhD in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and previously worked as a postdoc in the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University and an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University. Dr Hendry uses experimental, quasi-experimental, and survey methods to explore questions in political behavior, political psychology, and political communication.

Speaker(s) Dr David HENDRY
Assistant professor, Department of Methodology, the London School of Economics and Political Science
Date 15 Jan 2021 (Friday)
Time 4:00 pm
Venue Online Via ZOOM (link will be sent via email)

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