The Relationship Between Conformity and Consumer Purchasing Decisions
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DERUSSY, C. L. (2004). The Relationship Between Conformity and Consumer Purchasing Decisions. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 30, 2017 .

The Relationship Between Conformity and Consumer Purchasing Decisions

Sponsored by: ELIZABETH HAMMER (
Abstract People’s need to be accepted in social situations can be a powerful way for marketers to sell products. Thirty-two males and females from Loyola ages 18-21 participated in this descriptive study. There were two variables, willingness to conform in a group and stated willingness to purchase the product once they were alone. An Asch paradigm was used for the study, where participants stated their opinion verbally in front of the group. Participants then filled out a private questionnaire that asked them to state whether they thought the product was high quality, and if they would purchase the product. It was hypothesized that when in a group setting the subject would verbally conform to the group. It was further hypothesized that on the private questionnaire they would stick by what they first said. The results were not consistent with the hypothesis. The only thing participants were consistent in was not conforming. This study had some limitations, but the concept of conformity should still be studied further, especially in regard to people’s ages.

The Relationship Between Conformity and Consumer Purchasing DecisionsMarketing engineers are always looking for new ways to sell products. We live in a consumer driven economy, so it is important to look for effective ways to market products. And now there is even more pressure on marketers because people’s motivation to spend has changed. People are spending money on products based on ads and images more than any economic value they might have or rational reason (Chen-Yu & Seock, 2002). The behaviors that affect purchasing should be of particular interest to marketers. Combining psychology with marketing could create some powerful ways to promote products. Finding out what motivates people to buy is an essential part of marketing. One motivator for teens is the need to conform (Chen-Yu & Seock, 2002). Conformity is generally defined as behaving or thinking in a socially acceptable or expected way (Merriam-Webster, 2002). Conformity is defined a little differently in terms of marketing, to mean the tendency of opinions to establish a group norm, or the tendency that people have to comply with the group norm (Lascu & Zinkhan, 1999). Conformity can be a very powerful tool to get people to think a certain way. People usually conform because they want to be liked and accepted by a certain group, they do not want to stand out. People also use other people to get information about products. They can do this in several ways. Some people observe others’ behavior, and others just directly ask for others’ opinions. This need to blend in and follow the majority can play a large part in people’s behavior and decision-making. People have a large effect on other people, especially in personal settings. This interpersonal influence has different manifestations, and one is consumer susceptibility to interpersonal influence (Bearden, Netemeyer, & Teel, 1989). This influence that people have over each other can be used pro-actively in marketing. This manifestation is defined as the need to identify one’s image with other people by buying and using certain products, and the willingness to conform to others’ expectations about purchasing decisions (Bearden, Netemeyer, et al., 1989). In 1955 Solomon Asch designed a study to see how strong people’s desire to conform was. To sum up the study, it involved six confederates and one participant seated in a room, who were asked to identify which line matched the height of another line. The confederates were told to say that the line that was obviously a different size from the other was the right answer. In most cases the participant agreed with the group. He changed his experiment around, and found that you only need to have three people in a group to have an effect on a person. Asch found that it was more important to have the whole group be unanimous in their answer. Interestingly, when asked, everyone said that independence was preferable to conformity (Asch, 1955). So as much as people want to deny that they conform, it seems that the desire to fit in usually wins over the desire to be independent. There are different factors and situations that can have an effect on people’s willingness to conform. Age plays a big role in whether or not people conform, and Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) said that adolescents are the most likely age group to conform. An entire article by Chen-Yu and Seock (2002) was devoted to adolescents, and what motivates them to make clothing purchases. They found that friends had the most influence on each other at this age. This is probably because they are breaking away from their parents, and they have more freedom to make their own decisions. Teens usually do not yet know what they want or who they are, so they look for outside influences to help them in their decision making. They need to identify with peer groups (Chen-Yu & Seock, 2002). Children between the ages of 8 and 12, or preadolescents, are also important as potential consumers. Meyer and Anderson (2000) address preadolescents and conformity. They say that this is the age at which children start thinking about and noticing products. Both Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) and Chen-Yu and Seock (2002) note that parent’s influence over what children want diminishes with age. They want to fit in with their peers, so their parent’s opinions become less important. It is important that they fit in with their peer group. Aside from age, people’s personalities and perceptions of themselves can have a big part in whether or not an individual will be likely to be influenced or to then conform. Bearden and Rose (1990) and Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) both mention the term public self-consciousness. They say that it is an important characteristic that determines behavior, because people with a heightened sense of public self-consciousness are very sensitive to people’s opinions, and what is going on around them. From a marketing perspective, Bearden and Rose (1990) said that people who have more public self-consciousness are aware that the people around them form opinions of them because of the products that they choose. These people are then more likely to conform, to avoid feelings of embarrassment or alienation. Other things mentioned that affect conformity were assertiveness, anxiety level, self-confidence, and even general set up of the group. Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) detail these things. If a person is usually assertive they are less likely to conform. Also if they have low-levels of anxiety and high self-confidence they are less likely to conform. Lascu and Zinkhan also found that if there was no leader in the group, everyone was more likely to conform. They mention that a person’s status in the group can determine if they will conform. If they do not feel valued, they are more likely to conform, but disagree privately. Also groups without a leader tend to have more conformity. They also found that more interaction within the group members, and if group members shared similarities, conformity was more likely to occur. Sometimes people conform just to avoid punishment, or to get an award (Lascu & Zinkhan 1999). For marketers, the important thing is whether or not the person finally decides to actually purchase the product. They want to know that even if a person says in a group that they like the product, when they are alone will still purchase it. Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) write about two types of conformity, public compliance and private acceptance, which address this question. Public compliance is defined as conforming in group settings, and private acceptance is then internalizing what you said in the group (Lascu & Zinkhan, 1999). Their study said that there would only be private acceptance if the person wants to be a part of the group. A marketing technique, called the self-prophecy effect, uses public compliance in hopes of achieving private acceptance (Spangenberg, Sprott, Grohmann, & Ronn, 2003). Marketers get potential consumers to say what they think they are going to do, and then the consumer ends up doing it because that is what they said they were going to do. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is thought to work because people want to avoid cognitive dissonance (Spangenberg et al., 2003). People do not want to say one thing, but then do another, because it can create conflict within themselves. So if you can get someone to say something, it is much more likely that they will do it. Chen-Yu and Seock’s study (2002) also said that the older people get, the more their influences shift from peers to the media. People start looking at other sources for guidance. This is where markers come in. Their job is to be there to inform consumers about their products, and then convince these people to buy them. The present investigators want to look closer at how conformity can be used in the market place. Commercials already show products being used in social situations. This is further evidence that we are social beings, and are heavily influenced by our surroundings (Bearden, Netemeyer, et al., 1989). Marketers want to know if it would be successful to take this need humans have to be socially accepted a step further by using conformity on purpose. It is hypothesized that the participants will conform when put in a group setting by verbally agreeing with the rest of the group. It is further hypothesized that on the private questionnaire they will actively stand by their opinion by circling the answer stating that they would actually buy the product in a store.

MethodParticipants Thirty-two male and female students ages 18-24 that attend the University of Loyola in New Orleans participated in the study. The psychology department human participant pool was used to recruit volunteers. The researchers also passed around sign up sheets in classes at Loyola. Participation was voluntary, and the participants selected were, to the best of the investigators’ knowledge, representative of all racial/ethnic/gender groups. If anyone had a specific food or drug allergy, they were not allowed to participate in the study. MaterialThere was a survey with mostly filler questions about demographics. There were two questions at the end that asked the participants whether or not they thought the products were high quality and if they would purchase the products. This measured purchasing decisions. It was also noted on paper by the researchers if the participants agreed or disagreed verbally with the group, which measured conformity. (The pickle juice was meant to be a bad tasting drink, which the confederates were told to say was good, and the Gatorade was meant to be a good drink which the confederates said was bad.Design and Procedure This study was a descriptive study. There are two variables, conformity and purchasing decision. Coke was used as a control, and giving some groups the bad drink and some groups the good drink counterbalanced the study. Participants were brought into a room with three confederates. They all signed informed consents. Then they were told that the purpose of the study was to compare family history and background with purchasing decisions. Then everyone was asked to try the brown drink (Coke). Starting with the first confederate, everyone was asked to state their opinion of the drink, and it was noted on paper by the researchers. The confederates were told to give differing opinions on the Coke. Then everyone was asked to taste the second drink (pickle juice and Sprite or Gatorade) and then they stated their opinions again. On the second time though, if the drink was pickle juice, all of the confederates were told to say that it was a great drink. If the drink was Gatorade, the confederates were told to say that it was a very bad drink, that they did not like it. Then everyone was handed the survey, which took about five minutes to answer. The participant was then debriefed, any questions they had were answered, and we asked them to not tell anyone the nature of our study because it involved deception.

Results This study was done to see if it was reasonable to expect people to conform when they were placed in group settings. Only thirty-four percent (N=11) of the people conformed verbally with the group. Our secondary hypothesis said that the participants would stand by their opinion on paper, and state that they would purchase the product if the whole group liked the product, or would not purchase the product if the group did not like the product. Fifty-four percent (N=6) of the people that conformed were consistent in their answers on the questionnaire. Sixteen people were given pickle juice and the other sixteen were given Gatorade. Of the people who were given pickle juice, none of those who conformed were consistent in writing (marked that the product was high quality), but one said that they would purchase it. Of the seven who conformed in the Gatorade group, all were consistent in writing, and all but one said that they would purchase it. The mean age of the participants was 19.9 (SD= 1.4). There were fourteen males and eighteen females. An independent sample t-test was used to analyze the data. The alpha was set at .05 for all statistical tests. Only twenty-five percent (N=4) of the people given pickle-juice conformed, but forty-four percent (N=7) of the people given Gatorade conformed. There was no statistical significance in the different conditions (t(30) = 1.103, p=.279). This did not support our expectations.

Discussion The analysis of the data did not support our hypothesis that people would conform in a group setting and then privately stand by their word. Although previous studies showed that people usually conform when in a group, ours did not match this. There were some limitations in the study. One limitation was that for the control drink the confederates were told to give differing opinions, so the subject was actually given a model for not conforming. This probably had a big affect on the participants’ decision to conform or not. Asch ( 1955) said that unanimity in the group was very important, and that if even one person disagreed with the group, it really took away the group’s power. It made it easier for people to give different opinions than the group. Asch (1955) also found that the more obviously incorrect an answer was, the less likely the participant was to conform if the group gave the wrong answer. So maybe because pickle juice and Sprite was such a horrible drink, it was easier for people to say they did not like it. If a milder drink had been used, they might have been more willing to conform. Also, the words “high-quality” could have had a negative affect on our study because while some people might think a product is low quality, they are still willing to buy it. This did happen in one of the experiments. Two previous studies, Meyer and Anderson’s (2000) and Chen-Yu and Seock’s (2002) focused on pre-adolescents or adolescents. This study was done on college students, so the differing age groups could also account for the differing results. The focus on adolescence is more about fitting in with the group, and there is a heavy dependence on friends. In early-adulthood the focus shifts to being an individual. Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) said that adolescents are the most likely out of all other age groups to conform. In college it is more acceptable to be independent, and have your own opinions. Loyola is known for being a critical thinking university, where diversity is celebrated. There are also factors within particular groups that affect conformity. Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) said that the individual has to want to be accepted by the group to conform. Maybe because the participants were only in a room together for ten minutes and did not think they would ever see the people again, they did not care what everyone else thought. Even though this research failed, there seems to be enough research in the past that supports the analysis to continue researching conformity. Age seems to play a very important role, and studies should focus more on the subject’s age, and how to reach different age groups. Culture is an important factor. A person at a liberal arts or art school might be more comfortable standing out from the group, than would someone who goes to another type of university. Whether or not the participant is in a particular club could also be of interest. For instance people in fraternities have a reputation for conforming more than those not in fraternities. The sample size was very small, but if it was bigger our results still might not be significant. Advertisements use social settings all the time to try and sell their products. When they show people drinking in a group, that is a model for conforming. This study took conformity to a different level than most advertisements by bringing it into an interpersonal situation. Even though the study failed, enough studies like this one have worked in the past to show that relating to people in person can influence their decisions. However the opinion needs to be stated in person for the tactic to work, so it is more difficult for marketers to reach all of the consumers that they want. There are many avenues that need to be explored. The more research that is done, the more flaws will be eliminated. What motivates people to conform and how it can work for everyone’s advantage can be discovered.

ReferencesAsch, S.E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure. Scientific American, 193(5), 31-35.Bearden, W.O., & Rose, R.L. (1990). Attention to social comparison information: An individual difference factor affecting consumer conformity. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 461-471.Bearden, W.O., & Neyemeyer, R.G., & Teel, J.E. (1989). Measurement of consumer susceptibility to interpersonal influence. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(4), 473-479.Chen-Yu, J.H., & Seock, Y.K. (2002). Adolescents’ clothing purchase motivations, information sources, and store selection criteria: A comparison of male/female and impulse/nonimpulse shoppers. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 31(1), 50-77.Lascu, D.N. & Zinkhan, G. (1999). Consumer conformity: Review and applications for marketing theory and practice. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 7(3), 1-12.Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. (2004). Retrieved March 29, 2004, from http://www.m-w.comMeyer, D.J., & Anderson, H.C. (2000). Preadolescents and apparel purchasing: Conformity to parents and peers in the consumer socialization process. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 15(2), 243-257.Spangenberg, E.R., Sprott, D.E., Grohmann, B., & Ronn, J. (2003). Mass-communicated prediction requests: Practical application and a cognitive dissonance explanation

Demographics:Gender M FAge: Ethnic Background: Family History:What state were you raised in?How many siblings do you have? Parent’s marital status: Single Married Divorced Widowed

Product Evaluation:Do you have any known food or drink allergies: Yes NoIf so, what are they?

Comparing the products you have just tested to similar products currently on the market, pleaseAnswer the following questions. Would you purchase this product?Product A: yes noProduct B: yes no

Do you think this product is high quality?Product A: yes noProduct B: yes no

Submitted 5/11/2004 12:06:14 PM
Last Edited 5/11/2004 12:17:41 PM
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