Thursday, April 25, 2013

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Social conformity; almost everyone does it.  When you go to class, do you usually sit in the same desk every day?  When all of your friends are going out to the bar and they ask you to join them, do you?  If a teacher asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, do you raise your hand with everyone else?  Why do you say certain phrases or wear certain clothes or do the things that you do?

The reason is conformity; people are influenced socially whether it’s conscious or not.  Social norms are implicit, unspoken “rules” that a group follows in society.  Those that fail or refuse to conform will be labeled an “outcast” and is independent and separate from society, i.e. a “loner”.  There are two types of conformity: informational and normative.  Informational social influence occurs when one wants to obtain accurate information, for example, if they are uncertain about what to do in a certain situation.  Normative social influence occurs when someone wants to be accepted by a certain group of people.  

It is human nature to be socially accepted and liked, like the saying “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”.

This need for social acceptance has been found in non-human primates by researchers from the University of St. Andrews.  They related the behavior of wild vervet monkeys in South Africa to the human desire to seek ‘local knowledge’ and conform to cultural norms when visiting a new place.  They observed migrating male vervet monkeys quickly and willingly conforming to the local norms, which may seem strange, but the behaviors adopted are usually optimal for survival in their environment.  The experiment even showed a new generation of infant monkeys conforming the same as the adult monkeys. 

The study that led to the discovery of social conformity in non-human primates was described as “rare experimental proof of ‘cultural transmission’ in wild primates to date.”  The next step could be to research which part of the brain allows the capacity for this behavior.  Who knows what will be discovered next.  

Posted by Jessica Westover (3)


  1. It's interesting to think of this in the context of modern human social behavior.

    You said the "conforming" vervet monkeys adopted the local norms to increase survival in their new environment. Currently, humans do not need to do this to survive, so why do we do it anyways?

    Joseph Starrett(3)

  2. I find this article very interesting. It seems to be suggesting that social conformity in humans is an evolved trait handed down to us fom our earlier primate ancestors that increases our capacity for survival, if I understand it right. While we are used to thinking about natural selection acting on physical characteristics, it is intriguing to see it act on behavioral characteristics. Have you found any other research that looks at what specific genes or neural processes might be involved in social conformity in primates?

    Sean McDougall

  3. Have you found any information stating anything regarding whether there are other species that fall into social conformity?

    -Ashley Sterpka (1)