Conformity hinders task performance in groups – study

Science and Health

A new study looks at the impact of group conformity on task performance in various environments and leverages insights from cultural evolution, social learning, and social psychology to experimentally test the effects of conformity on group dynamics.

The study’s findings reveal that while conformity does not influence group performance in stable environments, it hinders it in temporally variable settings.

This comprehensive examination sheds light on the nuanced relationship between conformity and group outcomes, offering valuable insights into optimizing group performance and adaptability for organizations and decision-making processes.

The new study conducted by Prof. Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Federmann School of Public Policy and Dr. Taher Abofol and Prof. Ido Erev from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa has been published in the journal Springer under the title “Conformity and Group Performance.”

Group of diverse people having a business meeting. (credit: RAWPIXEL)

Cultural conformity 

Evidence has emerged regarding the profound influence of group conformity on task performance in different environments, said Sulitzean-Kenan, who specializes in political behavior, behavioral public administration, global health policy, and empirical legal studies.  

“We investigated the causal effect of group conformity, shedding light on its implications in stable and variable environments. It examined the effects of cultural evolution, social learning, and social psychology to test experimentally two fundamental hypotheses.

The first suggested that conformity improves group performance in a stable environment, while the second hypothesis proposed that it hinders adaptability and, consequently, decreases performance in a temporally variable environment.

To test these hypotheses, the researchers conducted a four-arm randomized lab experiment involving 240 university students. The study introduces a novel method for manipulating the level of conformity within groups by rewarding agreement with the group’s majority while imposing a cost on disagreement.

The results of the study revealed intriguing findings. While conformity did not significantly impact performance in a stable environment, it impaired performance in a variable environment. This suggests that conformity, while potentially beneficial in certain contexts, may hinder adaptability when circumstances are subject to change.

The research provides valuable insights into the interplay between conformity and group performance in various environments, shedding light on the factors that drive group-level and individual-level outcomes, the authors wrote. Analysis within groups further showed that lower conformity promoted more efficient adaptability in the use of social information.

The findings from this research have significant implications for organizations, teams, and decision-making processes. Understanding the role of conformity in different contexts can inform strategies to optimize group performance and adaptability, they concluded.