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Comparing and Contrasting Compliance, Obedience, and Conformity


Asch (1951) invented a type of a classic experimental procedure on social psychology, in which he wanted to see if there exist an answer to the question “why don’t people behave the way they do?” He asked a one similar question to different individuals in a group and made his conclusions using the answers. He concluded that wrong answers meant pressure from the group while right answers meant no pressure. From his experiments, on can see that society influences how people behave and what they thin. Obedience compliance and conformity (COC) are a group of social behaviors that an individual makes use of to get through his/her daily social activities. In other words, they are a form of social influence, which brings changes in a person or a group of people’s emotions, attitudes, decisions and behavior (Cialdini, 2006). Choi, Price, and Vinokur (2003, p. 358) identified two ways that showed how society can influence an individual’s beliefs. One way is through a one’s personal experiences with the group, and the two is the pressure that the group puts on a member. This shows that the society have an impact on how its members behave in regards to COC (Price, & Vinokur, 2003, p. 358). Some theories assert that the society has “ambient stimuli” which spreads though everyone, Therefore, all the societal rules and laws bind everyone (Choi, Price, & Vinokur, 2003, p. 358).

Comparing and Contrasting Compliance, Obedience, and Conformity

Social psychologists try to examine the influence of a person on others and other people’s influence on him/her. This influence is a crucial aspect of research in social psychology. Social psychology thus, looks at the concept of social influence and its manifestations in individuals. Many theorists have tried to explain the concept of COC by accounting on its origin, principles, origins, and the relationship within these three concepts. In their accounts, it stands out that COC is a crucial element that holds the society together. COC draws its influence from the society thus social influence. Social influence is any modification in a person’s actions because of another’s influence either intentionally or unintentionally. Such changes occur depending how the changed individual perceives the other person inflicting the changes. The change that social influence brings in a person is not a normal behavior, which involves persuasion. Instead, the person under influence has no choice but to change. According to Fiske (2010), the norms of society control the function of social/group influence through COC. This paper discusses the concept of COC, their similarities, differences as well as how various individuals apply them in real life situations.

Compliance is a submissive reaction or response that one makes to react to another person’s request. It is a condition in which a person accepts to do what another wants. Compliance can come in different ways including Foot in the door technique, door in the face technique and low-ball technique. Foot in the door technique assumes that when a person agrees to a small request, he is likely to comply with a larger request than the first one. In other words, the technique creates a belief that to make a person comply, one must attempt smaller requests firsts then follow with bigger ones. This technique works on consistency principle. Door in the face states that refusal to a large suggestion will automatically lead to acceptance of a small one. For example, when a shopkeeper sells his products at $40, he is likely to negotiate with a buyer who has $30 and eventually accept $35. Law-ball technique says that an individual increases his requests when the compliant is willing to accept them. This technique works on the commitment principle. When a person makes a request, the other party may choose to accept the request or reject it. Therefore, for one to comply, the parties must make an agreement. Factors such as power, presents, favors, friendship, age, occupation, and status may dictate compliance. What someone requests and how and how another reacts to the requests thus, depends on the relationship between them.

McLeod (2007) says that obedience portrays when one behaves in a different manner when someone in authority commands him/her. Obedience entails a form of social influence where an individual individual’s actions are a response to an order or authority. In some way, obedience is a forced compliance in which refusal to obey results to punishment. Usually, obedience works on power and hierarchy. The person who gives the orders is in a higher position or status than the one taking orders. For example, a company’s CEO may order the gate man to clean the compound. In this case, the gateman must obey. Factors like power, status, money, law, and individuals need influence the degree of obedience that the commander will receive from his victim. However, Obedience is purely hierarchical and those in junior positions are likely to obey those in senior positions (those in power). Obedience may have a direct impact on conformity and compliance. For instance, a class teacher can command a student to complete his/her homework and the student will comply with or without accepting. In the same manner, the teachers order will make the student conform to the requirement of completing the homework. Usually, obedience aims at reducing vices in the community by punishing lawbreakers. Rules and regulations therefore are the determinants of obedience. These rules create a prison like environment under which the authority has a right to eliminate criminals and maintain harmonious relationships within the society.

The American Psychological Association’s (2012) defines conformity as a continuous exposure of a person to beliefs, culture or practices, which make him/her, imitate the same beliefs, cultures, and practices to make him fit a particular group. Conformity is the gradual change in a person’s behavior attitude and beliefs with an aim of fitting in within a particular group, class, or status. It revolves around change of response resulting from the physical presence of other people around someone or the imaginations of the existing social customs and laws. The term also indicates an agreement to the majority’s desires when one wants to get acceptance from the group. A group may make one or more members to conform through actions of bullying, discriminating, teasing or enforcing rules and regulations (Choi, et al., 2003). In most cases, conformity works under self-deception, which is a situation in which an individual tries to match his behaviors and desires to a group’s expectations for security reasons. Conformity can have negative and positive impact on an individual. When the situational stimulus is acceptable, conformity may be beneficial. For example, when a driver maintains the right sides of the road, no accidents will occur. In the same way when a thief breaks into a bank at night, he will go to jail. There are two types of conformity: informational and normative conformities. Informational conformity occurs when an individual is in an unfamiliar place and the conditions make him change his behavior thus forced conformity. Normative conformity comes about because of social status in which an individual tries to acquire acceptance from the society. Several factors including group size, unanimity, and status influence how a person conforms.

According to Choi et al., (2003), CCC is what drives how individuals behave in the society. It controls the peoples day to day an activity thus runs the society. The society has used the concept of COC in different ways. It can help in regulating the rate of crime in the environment, eliminating undesirable behaviors, protecting people from harm, or maintaining order in the country. The components of COC work together in that one concept may lead to or control another. Social Psychology Theory outlines for the similarities and differences that exist within the concept of COC.

There are several similarities existing between compliance, obedience, and conformity. First, they are all forms of social influence in which the parties involved act according to external pressures that society exerts on them. This means that the individual has no control over COC because it acts out of outward forces. Secondly, compliance and obedience are similar in that they both indicate that a smaller commitment leads to a larger commitment and an individual who commits forms a habit of retaining that particular behavior. The foot-in-the-door approach of compliance shows that when a participant commits to a small request the beginning, for example accepting a bicycle as a birthday gift may lead the person to accept another present in future. This also reflects in the concept of conformity in which an individual accepts the influence of the group, with which he associates. Thirdly, conformity, compliance, and obedience aim at an individual’s behavior thus they both modify how a person behaves. Fourthly, all these concepts revolve around individuals in the society. This interconnects them in such a way that one cannot do without another. For example, conformity leads to compliance; obedience also causes compliance, and conformity. A child for example, will want to play if it sees other children play. This is conformity. When it joins the rest in the play activity, they accept him and this is compliance. Finally, the child will make going out to play a habit thus a behavior. Fifthly, there is isolation in all the cases. Failure to obey or comply isolates a person from the group just the way refusal to conform does. Finally, the individual has no control over COC. Since they are all eternal forces, one cannot choose to avoid them or accept. Although they interconnect, compliance, compliance, obedience, and conformity differ in several ways.

Although the concepts of COC depends on one another and share several approaches, each of them differs from another in various ways. For example, conformity and obedience differ in the following ways. One, whereas non-conformity results to neglect and rejection, disobedience causes punishment and in some cases a negative impact. Secondly, the group holds power in conformity while in obedience, power lies within the authority or the person giving orders. Lastly, obedience may influence compliance and conformity while compliance cannot dictate obedience. In comparison to conformity, obedience is because of fear of authority and punishment while conformity is fear of rejection and isolation. Obedience seeks respect to the people in power while conformity is a search of identity and belonging. Thirdly, disobedience causes physically painful torture while non-conformity results to psychological pain. Fourthly, conformity has sense of agreement while obedience lacks it. Finally, one obeys in order to avoid getting hurt while in conformity; one conforms to belong to a place.

Conformity and compliance share several of similarities. However, in compliance, both parties agree while in conformity, there is no agreement between the parties, Two, non-conformity results to dejection of the non-conforming party while non-compliance does not have an impact. Thirdly, in conformity, the society does not request an individual to conform, instead it influences the individual on the other hand, compliance, and the needy party requests another to comply. Finally, failure to comply does not have an impact on an individual while failure to conform has.

Conclusively, from the above discussion, one can say that compliance obedience and conformity are the co-factors that keep the order of the society in place. However, obedience stands at the center in binding compliance and conformity in such a way that without obedience compliance and conformity will be absent. In addition, it is clear that the society has a way of maintaining law and order through COC. Social psychology explains the influence of people on each other and the impact of their associations on individual’s behaviors. Besides, it stands out that social/ group influence is a poignant factor in psychological research about human behaviors. Several studies show that COC is a major part of societal existence though the classical and contemporary examples in the illustrations. Regulations exist so that people can follow them acting against the rules thus means disobedience. Disobedience will attract punishment from the relevant parties. The society therefore acts like a prison where prisoners have to obey, comply, and conform to the demands of the prison guard. This is what makes COC a pillar, which holds the society together. Without it, individuals cannot leave harmoniously. If there are no norms, everyone will mind hurting others; they will steal from each other, kill one another, and care less about the well-being of their neighbors.


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