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Science, The Mind

Social Conformity: Do you just follow the crowd?

A nice warm cuppa can go a long way...

I’m feeling rather proud of myself at the moment: I helped save someone’s life with a cup of hot chocolate!

How can you save a life with a hot, tasty beverage?

Yesterday, I happened across a diabetic man who desperately needed some sugar. By giving him some hot chocolate to drink, I was able to put his blood sugar levels back to normal levels.

What amazed me was that this man he had been completely ignored by the rest of the general public! And when I tried to get more help, no-one would! Why can we so often reluctant to help?

Do you find it easy to be the odd one out? Today's blog is about the pressure to conform!

In my last blog, the ‘NSPCC Facebook Hoax’ it was obvious how easily we can get suckered-in to an internet hoax. But would you dare to be different and risk standing out from the crowd? Read on, to find out what it can take to go your own way…

How Hot Chocolate Saves Lives!

Yesterday afternoon I saw a man sitting on the floor in the entrance to the town library. Trowbridge town has more than its fair share of odd people, I thought! But something definitely wasn’t right about this man; He was had a trance-like stare and was shaking, like a drunk man shivering.

This man was having a diabetic ‘hypo because his blood sugar was low. It’s a very dangerous condition and if he was left alone, within minutes he could pass out and slip into a coma. I tried to get the library staff to help but they ignored me and then blankly refused to believe me!

I eventually found a hot chocolate machine to get the diabetic man the sugar he desperately needed

I was furious! Why was I was met with disbelief and frankly ignored? Why had other people just ignored him? Surely no-one else would do the same?

Like it or not, we have a built-in desire ‘not to rock the boat’, so often we just won’t go out of our way to help. In crowds this often happens and is called the ‘bystander effect’

The bystander effect 

This ‘bystander effect’ can be so powerful that there have even been cases of people ignoring murder for fear of not conforming!

I found this great little video clip to it in action: Watch city commuters completely ignoring a collapsed person…

The video clip shows that you are less likely to get help if you aren’t wearing the right clothes! Perhaps it was the hooded top I was wearing…

And I thought hoodies were socially acceptable!!

Do you conform to culture?

Would you like to know if you’re the type of person to help someone in need? Take this short test (it’s the same one used in research and takes a couple of minutes) and find out what sort of person you are! (You can compare your results with mine)

Click to take this personality test to find out if you conform!

What your results mean:

Are you a high self-monitor?

People who are high self-monitors constantly watch other people, are very self-conscious and like to ‘look good’. They adapt well to differing social situations, but are less likely to stand out from the crowd and help someone in need.

Are you a low self-monitor?

low self-monitors are generally oblivious to how others see them! They don’t fit in as well in social gatherings and march to their own different drum. They are more likely to help other people in need.

Are you the sort of person to rock the boat?

A Festive Challenge

Now that you know what your natural tendency might be, psychologists generally agree that behaviour is a choice. So why not forget about what other’s might think and do something different this Christmas…

Perhaps not what the rest of the family had in mind...

Read More:

About Self-Monitoring behaviour patterns: http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/self-monitoring.htm

About Diabetes: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/facts/diabetesbloodsugarlow.htm

About the Bysander Effect: http://psychology.about.com/od/socialpsychology/a/bystandereffect.htm

About Social Conformity: http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/02/conformity-ten-timeless-influencers.php

About Alturism: http://wilderdom.com/psychology/social/introduction/Altruism.html

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...


5 thoughts on “Social Conformity: Do you just follow the crowd?

  1. I agree….i think it all depends on what you look like to be honest. I got 44 on the quiz 🙂

    Posted by Brandon | December 7, 2010, 1:11 pm
  2. Very interesting – thanks Dr Stu – and well done for saving the diabetic person. Does it make a difference how well we know people – ?

    Posted by Ruth Behan | December 7, 2010, 1:45 pm
    • Hi Ruth! Great question.
      The greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. One of the reasons for this is called ‘diffusion of responsibility’ which means the more people in the area, the more everyone assumes someone else will do something or is qualified to do something!
      To my knowledge, research has only been done on strangers – But I would expect that the effect would be quite a bit less if we knew who the person suffering was; as it would give us a burden of responsibility to do something… (and we’d also know that they weren’t a dangerous person or a ‘con-artist’)

      Posted by Stuart Farrimond | December 7, 2010, 2:40 pm


  1. Pingback: Beware: NSPCC Facebook Profile Hoax! | Doctor Stu's Science Blog - December 7, 2010

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