Actors Conform, Observers React: The Effects of Behavioral Synchrony on Conformity

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Abstract

Engaging in synchronous behavior can induce a more general disposition to copy others, which increases the tendency to conform to others' preferences in an unrelated choice situation. In contrast, observing others perform synchronous behavior can induce psychological reactance and decrease conformity to others' preferences. Five experiments confirmed these different effects and circumscribed the conditions in which they occurred. Actors typically focus their attention on the goal to which their synchronous behavior is directed, inducing a copying-others mindset that generalizes to later situations. In contrast, observers focus on the actors' behavior independently of the goal to which it pertains. Consequently, they become sensitive to the restrictions on freedom that synchronous behavior requires and experience reactance. However, changing the relative attention that actors and observers pay to these factors can reverse the effects of the actors' synchronous behavior on conformity.

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