Conformity in education: Synthesis of Topic

15 Apr

Over the last 4 blogs I’ve been discussing the various ways that conformity can be seen in education: in the forms of Uniforms, Rules, Lessons and Punishment.  Although the majority of the evidence that I found showed that conformity used in these ways has positive effects on behaviour and academic achievement, there are those which claim the exact opposite.

In my first blog on this topic, I focused on Uniforms.  Among other benefits, it was found that implementing school uniforms reduced absenteeism in schools by 44% for the average student (Evans, Kremer & Ngatia, 2009), and that academic achievement also improved (Pate, 1999).  However there will always be those who disagree; in this case Brunsma & Rockquemore (2010) arguing that uniforms in fact create a negative impact on academic achievement.

The next issue I addressed was Rules.  In his famous electric shock study, Milgram (1963) found that people will obey even ridiculous instructions when they are given by an authority figure.  So I thought about how this may be applied in a school situation, and actually thought that it may work the other way: students may deliberately disobey an authority figure (such as a teacher) in order to gain social standing with their peers.  Thornberg (2008) further described how forcing students to comply to rules with which they don’t agree will create feelings of resentment and negative behaviour, which may affect their work and academic achievement.

The next logical step was to investigate Lessons.  Asch (1951)’s study on conformity showed that a staggering 75% of adults will conform at least once, giving an obviously incorrect answer just to go along with the majority decision.  When I thought about how this may apply to an education setting, it worried me.  Children are, in general, a lot more easily influenced than adults, so imagine how high the rate of conformity will be for them, especially in a classroom setting where there is added peer pressure.  Conforming to an incorrect answer may affect a child’s confidence and academic achievement, however there are solutions such as Direct Instruction to combat this.  As I looked further into this, there became an apparent plus side to conformity in Lessons.  Crutchfield (1955) found that those individuals who conform tend to have less leadership ability and ego strength.  This means that children will be easier to control and so more academic material can be got through; a huge positive.

The final topic I looked at was Punishment.  As those who disobey rules, don’t wear school uniform where it is implemented, or don’t go to lessons are punished as consequences, I believe that punishment can be seen as a way of ensuring that conformity is maintained.  Given the previously mentioned positive results of conformity, we could immediately say that punishment is a good thing.  However, it is not a long-term solution to reducing problem behaviour (Costenbader & Markson, 1998).

So conformity definitely exists in education, but is it beneficial or not?  Well, schools worldwide cannot be wrong for generations and generations.  Uniforms, Rules, Lessons and Punishment are used in pretty much every school there is (yes, I am aware of those who don’t have strict uniform codes!), and with good results.  Although I have highlighted one or two negative points, they are far outweighed by the benefits of conformity in education.  If used in the correct way, psychological principles such as these can benefit our education for the better.




  • The impact of distributing school uniforms on children’s education in kenya.  (Evans, Kremer & Ngatia, 2009).
  • The influence of a mandatory school uniform policy.  (Pate, 1999).
  • Effects of student uniforms on attendance, behavior problems, substance use, and academic achievement.  (Brunsma & Rockquemore, 2010).
  • Behavioural study of obedience.  (Milgram, 1963).
  • School children’s reasoning about school rules.  (Thornberg, 2008).
  • Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments.  (Asch, 1951).
  • Conformity and character. (Crutchfield, 1955).
  • School suspension: A study with secondary school students.  (Costenbader & Markson, 1998).

15 Responses to “Conformity in education: Synthesis of Topic”

  1. intelligencepluscharacter April 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    I think that conformity in education is an interesting topic, particularly with school uniforms. When it comes to how the people that have to wear them think, it’s a mixed bag. Speaking from experience, I never had a problem with school uniform. If anything, it was so much easier than having to find something to wear every day. However, I know some of my friends hated it and would have much rather worn something else. But what are the implications of uniforms? Starr (2000) found that elementary and middle schools in America actually reported less disruptive behaviour and violence, a finding supported by Pate (1999). When you think about all the problems that go along with wearing your own clothes, such as less wealthy children being bullied, gangs forming etc, it is not hard to understand why uniforms seem to be a good thing. I know there will always be people who argue against it, but on the whole I think uniforms are good. And I can positively say with 100% confidence, that in all my years of wearing a school uniform I have never sat down to do work and think “blast, normally I am really creative, but with this uniform on I just can’t think”.

    Starr (2000)
    Pate (1999)

  2. psud46 April 17, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    To continue the debate on uniforms, a presentation given by a member of our class on Finland demonstrated their superior educational system, which is absent from uniforms. Admittedly culture may mediate the impact of uniforms on education. As you guys already noted, an obvious benefit of uniform is that it masks the economic disparity between pupils. Research has demonstrated that Finland used to have one of the lowest economic disparities in the world, yet this is on the rise. Therefore, the need for uniform may not have existed previously, but that may change at some point in the future.

    I do think this would be an interesting line of enquiry for future research, assessing the mediating impact of economic disparity on uniform conformity.


  3. jmssol April 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    Kohn (1998) has suggested that the aim of implementing forms of discipline such as punishment in the classroom is to ensure that students comply with adult demands. When used immediately after an unacceptable behaviour, punishment can decrease the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour occurring again (Mather & Goldstein, 2001). However, forms of punishment can have detrimental and long lasting effects on students. One form of punishment that has been shown to result in long term damaging effects is corporal punishment. Although corporal punishment is no longer used within the United Kingdom, some states in America still use corporal punishment in order to ensure that students comply with teacher demands. Research that has compared schools in states that do not use corporal punishment with schools in states that do use corporal punishments show that schools that use corporal punishment report lower grades in academic assessments (Hickmon, 2008). Additionally, students who have been the subject of corporal punishment discipline report academic difficulties such as lower school grades (consistent with the previous research outlined), diminished ability to concentrate, higher rates of truancy and increased likelihood of dropping out of school with a low amount or no qualifications (Society for Adolescent Medicine, 2003). Not only do students experience difficulties in education, they also experience a range of negative social consequences such as poor peer relationships, a dislike for figures of authority and increased rates of anti-social behaviour (Society for Adolescent Medicine, 2003).

    Positive reinforcement may be a more effective method of ensuring that students comply with teacher demands than punishment. Positive reinforcement techniques, such as Different Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviours teach students appropriate behaviours and reinforce the student for engaging in such behaviour (Conroy et al., 2009). For example, if a student frequently shouts across the classroom or interrupts the teacher (therefore does not comply with teacher expectations and classroom rules) the teacher could teach the student to raise their hand when they want attention and then reinforce the child when using that behaviour. This is likely to decrease the likelihood of the student shouting out again.

    Kohn, A. (1996). Beyond Discipline. From Compliance to Community. U.S.A: ASCD Publications.
    Mather, N., & Goldstein, S. (2001). Learning disabilities and challenging behaviors: A guide to intervention and classroom management. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.

    Society for Adolescent Medicine, Position Paper: Corporal Punishment in Schools, 32:5 J. Adolescent Health 385, 388 (2003). Michael Hickmon, Study: Paddling vs. ACT Scores and Civil Immunity Legislation (2008), available at

    Conroy, M. A., Sutherland, K. S., Snyder, A., Al-Hendawi, M., & Vo, A. (2009). Creating a positive classroom atmosphere: Teachers’ use of effective praise and feedback. Beyond Behavior, 18-26. Retrieved March 11, 2010, from ERIC database.

  4. sophw13 April 17, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    The point made concerning authority and rules is an interesting one. You would think that children believe an adult’s commands and teachings to be almost sacred (Piaget, 1932), however it has been found that this is not always the case. Martin et al. (1977) discovered that under certain circumstances, children disobey orders more regularly.On the other hand, adolescents and parents in another study agreed that parents should retain authority regarding moral and conventional issues (Smetana & Asqueth, 2008).
    I think that ‘respect’ is necessary in order for orders to be obeyed. Even though conformity does play a role – children obey because everyone else does – to have full obedience the commander must also have respect.

  5. te9192 April 18, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    I have thought your topic overall is a very good one, as we all went through a school system implementing the things you have discussed, so we can all relate to what you have written. I’m very interested in the way you discussed lessons in terms of conformity, and that of the study you mentioned by Crutchfield (1955). Although having less leadership skills and ego strength does allow for a more manageable classroom environment for subsequent learning, but is school not where we should be learning these skills to take into the outside world? Although the curriculum does lead itself for students to conform in examinations, when there is only one correct answer, personal development of the pupils has become a secondary focus rather than the central one (Mosher, & Sprinthall, 1971). I think conformity allows for a school to be able to run with low flexibility, easily supervised and teach a large number of children at once, running more like a factory than a school- this links to all of my blogs over the past few weeks. We are teaching them the information that is situated in just classroom education, but along with conformity, we are preventing the development of skills to be taken into the “real-world” (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1996),

    Anderson, J. R., Reder, L. M., & Simon, H. A. (1996). Situated learning and education. Educational researcher, 25(4), 5-11. Retrieved from

    Mosher, R. L., Sprinthall, N. A., Atkins, V. S., Dowell, R. C., Greenspan, B. M., Griffin, A. H., & Mager, G. C. (1971). Psychological education: A means to promote personal development during adolescence. The Counseling Psychologist, 2(4), 3-82.Retrieved from

  6. Beth April 18, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Conformity in education is very interesting topic to choose in my opinion. Its difficult to know whether conformity is something that should be encourage or stopped. I think within the topic of lessons or lectures this debate is strongest. Conformity can be of use as it allows lectures and teachers to gain control over the group. As Asch (1951) found, conformity begins to increase as a group reaches over four people, meaning that lectures and classrooms will be high in conformity due to their size. Because of this high conformity it is possible for the authority in the class to gain control simply by encouraging the acceptable group norms rather than focusing on individual behaviour (Ross, 2009). By encouraging certain group norms you cause the entire group to conform to this norm and therefore only acceptable behaviour will remain. However, conformity also can discourage debate, questioning and may not encourage learning. If the class is quiet then no one will want to break the quiet to ask a question as this is not the norm. Students who engage in debate are more likely to integrate what they know and learn more broadly and improving their learning (Greenstreet, 1993). Is it better to allow more freedom and encourage debate or encourage conformity and keep control? In my opinion more freedom in oral presentations and blogs have helped me to learn more and have been more beneficial.


    Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.

    Greenstreet, R. (1993). Academic Debate and Critical Thinking: A Look at the Evidence. National Forensic Journal, 11, 13-28.

    Ross, E.A. 2009. Social Control: Control A Survey of the Foundations of Order. Piscataway, NJ: Transcation Publishers.

  7. psud0a April 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Hi there, I really enjoyed your synthesis as it can be generalised in most UK schools at present, especially regarding the uniform. The reason I believe people do not attend school when there is no school uniform is due to bullying. Victims tend to fear going to school, which hinders academic performance (Ballard et al, 1999), and due to them being ineffective in establishing peer relationships due to possibly the way they look (and their clothes), they are left lonely and abandoned due to this (Oliver et al, 1994). Conformity does also occur with the peers accepting the more threatening person, as compared to the weaker person, with a “gang” being established for social acceptance in the school (Ballard et al, 1999). Gang colours and emblems are used in American schools as part of their uniform, thus introducing a non-branded school uniform would decrease gang behaviour and establishment, less violence, and less stealing within schools if they are not branded on clothes and sneakers (Wilkins,1999).

    Wilkins, J. (1999). School Uniforms.(not clear that school uniforms will reduce violence). The Humanist, 59(2), 19.
    Ballard, M., Argus, T., & Remley, T. P. (1999). Bullying and school violence: A proposed prevention program. NASSP Bulletin, 83(607), 38-47.
    Oliver, R., Hoover, J. H., & Hazler, R. (1994). The Perceived Roles of Bullying in Small‐Town Midwestern Schools. Journal of Counseling & Development, 72(4), 416-420.

  8. beniceorleave91 April 18, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    Hi 🙂
    I have really enjoyed reading your blogs over the last few weeks.

    Conformity in the classroom or even a lecture can be a bad thing. For example when teachers or lecturers ask questions to try and gage how well the class is doing. A certain percentage will know the answers to the questions but many may not and they may just copy the majority and that would give the teacher or lecturer a skewed representation of how the class is doing.
    There is a way round this however, and that is through the use of clickers as this allows the students to think about the answer rather than just copying what everyone else is doing (Stowell, Oldham,& Bennett 2010). The clickers also allow shy students to put the answer they may think is correct rather than the answer their peers think is correct.

  9. Steph April 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    Interesting blog 🙂 most of the comments above are about conformity and uniform however i’m going to briefly discuss the punishment section that you wrote about. Discipline in schools obviously is needed otherwise schools would end up like a riot however, in some cases punishment is not necessarily needed and instead teacher should work with the child to resolve the underlying issue. An article by infonet discusses seven reasons why children misbehave some of the reasons suggested are; confusion with teacher child relationships or feeling threatened or afraid. The answer is not always punishment as this can go on and on where the child misbehaves gets attention gets told off then misbehaves and so on.

  10. ccpeers92 April 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Hi Suz, I have enjoyed reading your blogs about conformity over the past few weeks and I think you have raised some interesting and valid points. One thing I have noticed over the past few weeks is how a lot of concepts in education link together. I have found a paper by Gorman (1998) which investigates the impact of social class on parents’ attitudes toward their children’s education. The results suggest that two concepts—resistance and conformity—are central to understanding parental attitudes toward education and the process by which those attitudes are shaped. The study looked into conformity in continuing to higher education and found that the attitudes of parents toward higher education has the potential to influence their children’s attitudes towards it too as well as, their children’s chances of obtaining a degree and other things. Suggesting that conformity is sparked by parental influence. What I am getting to with this is that conformity is obviously demonstrated in the home so it seems only right that it should be used in schools too to rally re-inforce behaviours and actions. From reading all the evidence you have gathered I completely agree with your conclusion that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I even wish we had uniforms now, is that bad?

    Gorman, T.J. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography April 1998 vol. 27 no. 1 10-44.

  11. scienceofeducation2013 April 18, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    Although, like you said, there are a lot more positives to using conformity in education than there are negatives, and some negative results of conformity can actually be avoided (like the use of Direct Instruction to prevent students from just conforming to the group norm – everyone responds at once, so they have no opportunity to “copy” others). However, I think that the negative aspects of conformity definitely need to be addressed. The example that came to mind was the use of uniforms – with everyone dressed the same, anonymity is increased and it is often difficult to tell an individual from the crowd. For example, if a fight breaks out in school but is over before a teacher can get hold of the students who were fighting, it’s hard for the teacher to find those two students in the crowd of students who formed around the fighters (I don’t really understand why, I didn’t understand the mentality of high school students when I was one of them, so I won’t even attempt to understand it now!). If, from a distance, the teacher saw one of the students was wearing a red t-shirt, it would be easier for them to spot the student in the crowd.
    LeBon (1908) claimed that the reason people engage in crowd behaviour is because they are anonymous, so lose their sense of responsibility. By having all students dressed exactly the same, they are being deprived of individuality so will engage in crowd behaviours. Obviously, this can be good (if the class is already under control, it is likely to stay that way because people will conform), but can also be bad (in the example of a fight breaking out in school – if no one feels any sense of responsibility, they are not likely to try to stop the fight, they will conform and stand around watching instead of helping). This is known as deindividuation and there is a lot of research supporting it; the general idea is that people who are less identifiable (for example everyone dressed the same) are more likely to behave more inappropriately; for example, making more negative comments or using obscene language because no one will know it was them (Festinger, Pepitone & Newcomb, 1952; Cannavale, Scarr & Pepitone, 1970; Singer, Brush & Lublin, 1965).
    Due to this research, I think that taking away all students’ individuality has both benefits and drawbacks. In terms of uniform, I think that the level to which the rule is enforced is important. Allowing students to show some individuality may result in them feeling easily identifiable in a crowd so less likely to go along with the crowd mentality. However, to still maintain the positive aspect of conformity, uniforms should still be in place in schools, so there is some level of conformity encouraged.

  12. sophsimps April 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Hi there, great Blog!

    I’m particularly interested in the question of school uniforms. There’s a large array of elements a school must consider when opting whether to implement a uniform policy.

    I never was a great lover of school uniform (at the time). I imagine this was mostly due to that fact that mine was utterly hideous and my appearance was was pretty much my only concern when I was a teen. In fact, if I had known it at the time, I’m sure i’d have argued that having to wear uniform technically violated my individual rights (Virginia State Department of Education, 1992).However, one thing I hadn’t thought about when I was young was the affect of uniform on my safety. Typically, we know that uniform lowers victimisation (Scherer, 1991) but it also allows us to easily identify strangers from school members (Gursky,1996). Kauffman, (2000) states that many schools now see uniform as a key way to tackle within and between school crimes; they are often an element introduced when adopting a zero tolerance policy.

    In hindsight there werebenefits to conforming in this way that hadn’t crossed my naive mind.I definitely think the positives outweigh the negatives.

    Gursky, D. (1996). ” Uniform” Improvement?. Education Digest, 61, 46-48.
    Kaufman, P. (2000). Indicators of School Crime and Safety (1999). DIANE Publishing.
    Scherer, M. (1991). School Snapshot: Focus on African-American Culture. Educational Leadership, 49(4), 17-19.

  13. psuc202013 April 19, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job throughout the entire semester on your blogs!
    I wanted to comment on your school uniforms part and just share another piece of supporting research that suggests that uniforms improved attendance and reduced the rate of suspensions within a school (Dra, 2005). Having said this Dra also found that expulsion rates were not improved!
    This is an odd one to me! It seems to suggest that uniforms reduce small problem behaviours (those that would lead to suspension) but not the bigger problems (those that would lead to expulsion).

    I final point I would like to make is that uniforms take away a person’s sense of self and a part of their personality – since a lot of people choose to express themselves through the way that they dress.
    But, while I was writing that, I did wonder – is that a good thing in a way? Would it help to reduce bullying from intimidating ‘chavs’ to ‘moshers’?

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