People tend to go along with social norms and options suggested by the majority in a group. Passively following what others do, even if it is against one’s judgement and beliefs, is called social conformity.
As social beings, humans strive for society’s approval. People often change their behavior so that it matches the responses of the rest. We are constantly comparing our interpretation of reality to that of others in order to make sure we behave correctly.
Imagine a situation in which an individual has to make a decision she later needs to justify to a group of people. If their views on the issue are known, most people would conform to the position of the audience to gain their approval. On average 32% of people conformed with the obviously incorrect judgement of the majority when comparing the length of 4 straight black lines.
However, people from collectivist and individualistic countries exhibit conformist behavior to a different extent. 74 % of a group of Americans compared to only 24% of East Asians choose the less common pen color when they were faced with the decision. Therefore, people in societies which highly value individuality are less likely to make a choice just because it is a popular one.
Social conformity has important implications for global businesses. A decision-maker choosing whether to put an emphasis on the popularity of a given product or its exclusivity should carefully consider the context of the market.
Cialdini R, Goldstein N (2004) Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology 55:591-621.