Difference between Conformity and Obedience

Conformity and obedience are social behaviors. Both are responses to external influences with distinct characteristics that differentiate one from the other.


Conformity vs Obedience
Peer or group pressure is a common factor of conformity

Conformity involves adjusting one’s attitudes or conduct in order to belong or to be accepted into a particular group. Factors that bring about this behavior may include a need to “fit in” or be received favorably, a desire to be correct, or an aspiration to accomplish a specific role.

Herbert Kelman (1958) classified conformity into three types: compliance, internalization, and identification.

  • Compliance occurs when an individual allows himself to be influenced by a person or group and adapts the new order so as to gain approval or avoid rejection though he may not genuinely agree with them. This type of conformity ends when the influencing person or group ceases to exist, making it thus a temporary change in behavior.
  • Internalization occurs when an individual allows himself to be influenced by concepts and behavior akin to his own value system. Therefore, conformity goes beyond outward manifestation and involves internal conviction translating to the adoption of the new value system. In contrast to compliance, this change in behavior is permanent.
  • Identification is conformity that is observable in an individual who exhibits outward manifestations of a genuine desire to join or be one with a person or group, or to be socially aligned with them. Accordingly, he carries out the particular social role expected of the social group. As in compliance, there is a change in outward behavior and it does not necessarily affect the private belief system.
Adolf Hitler, an example of a figure of authority

Obedience is a behavioral response to an instruction given by a figure of authority. This happens in different contexts, such as one’s home, school, or workplace, among other settings. It is a response to a given mandate usually done without question, out of fear or respect, to avoid punishment or various unpleasant consequences.

Conformity vs Obedience

What is the difference between conformity and obedience? Both behaviors involve pressure and influence but certain characteristics allow differentiation of one from the other.

Conformity involves the adoption of an influencing person’s or group’s attitudes and conduct as a means to achieving acceptance by and approval from, or association with, the person or group. This is whether or not there is genuine acceptance of the influencing person’s or group’s norms. Thus, this may or may not include a change in value system. Conformity is also adopted to counter fear of rejection. On the other hand, obedience is a response to an order or instruction given by a person of authority or power, without an alteration in one’s value system. It is done out of fear or reverence to avoid punishment or unfavorable outcomes.

Comparison Chart

Conformity Obedience
adoption of a person or group’s standards for acceptance, approval, or association response to mandate given by a figure of authority
may involve alteration of value system does not involve alteration of value system
done to avoid rejection done to avoid punishment or unpleasant consequences


Below is the video that provides more information on conformity and obedience, including examples and factors that influence each behavior.