Before talking about conformity, show students this 24-second video. Five little boys, one-by-one, are exiting a tent. The first four all trip and fall on their way out. Boys two, three, and four even manage cringe-worthy face plants. Boy number five is the only one to successfully navigate the tent opening, but rather than bask in the glory of his success, he falls to the ground, landing nicely between boys three and four.
Ask students to take a minute to jot down why they think boy number five chose to fall. Next, ask students to share their ideas with one or two students around them.
Ask the class, “Why do you think he chose to fall?” Many will say he did it to be liked or to fit in (conformity). Some may say that if it were his first time in a tent, his choice to fall may be due to observational learning. “That’s just how you exit a tent,” he may have concluded. Or perhaps he didn’t want the other boys to feel bad for falling. “See? It’s not easy to get out. All of us fell!”
Ask students to take a minute to think on their own how they could test whether such behavior is likely due to conformity or, say, observational learning. In his particular case, we could ask Boy Five to exit a tent with no one present. If he purposefully falls on his way out, the evidence leans toward an observational learning explanation for his intentional fall.
Working with the assumption that his behavior was due to conformity, ask students to take a minute to write down what factors may have contributed to his choice. To help students think about this question, ask what could have been different so that boy number five may have made the choice to remain upright. After thinking quietly on their own, give students a couple minutes to share their factors with one or two other students. Gather responses by going around the room asking each group in turn to name one factor that has not already been mentioned that may have contributed to his decision to fall. Possible responses include the presence of others, particularly boys his age, his behavior was observable, and the group was unanimous (they all fell).
With that as an introduction to conformity, your students are prepped to hear about Solomon Asch’s classic conformity studies.