1. Introduction

The idea that we conform to what others are doing or approve of is not a new one. We have long been aware that we have a common tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviours of the majority - a concept known as social norms or conformity. Charles Mackay, the 19th century Scottish writer, quoted above, observed the concept in its more extreme form - that of ‘herding’ - blindly following what others are doing. Arthur Jenness’ experiments in the 1930s followed by Solomon Asch’s and others’ research in the 1950s then began to explore the concept of conformity in more detail, illustrating just how much people yield to group pressure in their judgements and decisions.

Since then our understanding has only increased and in the last few years more and more work has looked into the concept of social norms and conformity. In this article, we look at the latest understanding and findings around this concept, breaking down developments over time into three development stages – one, where we were, secondly, where we are today, and lastly where we are headed next.

It looks at ‘where we were’ – how our understanding of social norms has evolved and developed over many years of research, then going on to look at where we are today and how it is evolving.

2. Where we were