Increasing Conformity for Positive Social Change: Making Yuppies Follow the Rules

Yeah, so contrary to some folks' ideas that some of us do nothing but blog, it's a busy time for me, at the end of a semester, so I thought I'd bring you a piece written a couple years ago for my graduate social psychology course. Here was the assignment's requirements: provide a "brief description of a situation in which either conformity or obedience can be increased or decreased in order to promote positive social change. Provide at least three specific ways of addressing conformity or obedience in the situation and describe the intended results."

Here you go: how I would make yuppies obey the rules of pick ups and drop offs at their children's schools (please note, that even two years before I began blogging I was happily working to piss people off):

So many different situations relating to increasing conformity occurred to me that choosing one to focus on was challenging. Flippantly, I have to say that one situation where conformity needs to be increased is at my middle child’s elementary school for pickup in the afternoon. Today specifically, on the 99th day of the school year three parents decided to defy the rules and thumb their noses at the fifty parents of kindergarteners (pick-up times vary by ten minutes for each three grades, as do the areas for pick-up, so as to minimize traffic jams) and park in the middle of the driveway blocking the 25 cars each to the left and the right who were either in the drive-up and pick-up lane or in the park-and-walk-across lane. This is not particularly new; many do this as the pick-ups are underway, but to do this 10 minutes before the pick-ups began was quite unusual.

Baron, Byrne, and Branscombe (2006) describe ingratiation as a way to increase conformity and compliance. According to this tactic, if I could somehow manage to plaster a sincere, friendly, oh-wouldn’t-it-be-wonderful smile on my face and casually stroll over to the car of the nose-thumbers and engage them in a conversation that somehow credibly describes my admiration for their eagerness to reclaim their child while appealing to their charity to allow the rest of us to grab our sweet little things and be quickly on our way to maximize our enjoyment of interaction with the little darlings from the comfort of our own homes, perhaps I could successfully appeal to them to park and walk to get their child or to line up like everyone else. The problem would be in conveying an insincere emotion of admiration so that they believed I liked them, I truly liked them. Of course, after today, when I walked by the three cars and made eye contact with each of the cell-phone conversing, multitasking parents as I walked over to get my own child, they might not buy my professed admiration after visually displaying my appreciation of their thoughtful compliance of the rules.

Cialdini and Goldstein (2004) talk about the need for social norms to be “salient” in order for people to attend and conform to the norms (p. 597). Obviously these parents who routinely ignore the rules do not find waiting their turn particularly relevant to them. I get it, I do, they’re busy people who’ve made the time to pick their children up, and they’ve got places to be. Waiting in line is too much of a burden to bear. And I do get it, even though there is, I admit, some facetiousness to my tone. So, in order to get compliance from the parents who park or stop where they have been asked not to, increasing the salience of conforming to the social norms, would seem to be a goal. This school does not seem to hold the same kinds of or frequency of parent nights, and the children are at the beginning of their school career, so sports, band, and drama are not activities being conducted that would lead to parental interaction. In addition, the district is quite large, about 70 square miles, much of it rural, farm country, with suburban developments popping up fairly rapidly, so that there has been rapid growth in the school district over the last five years. As a result, while there are some interconnections between some families due to neighborhood commonality or church membership, for the vast majority of the students, the only common interest held is their child/children attending the same school. It is often not enough to foster as sense of connection or relatedness, and the tendency of most to remain in their vehicle, conversing on a cellphone does not lead to developing relationships with other students’ parents. If I were a school administrator, I would attempt to foster some form of relatedness. Having seen the ineffectiveness of repeated letters home requesting compliance with drop-off and pick-up routines, I would hold a series of meetings for each grade, so that the size of meetings was not overly unwieldy (there are over 700 K through 2nd graders in the school), and I would work at creating a sense of investment by the families in the school, so as to increase the salience of the social norms that are important to the school leadership.

Cialdini (1999) writes of “six psychological principles that can be considered the most powerful influences” on the social influence process: reciprocation, commitment/consistency, authority, social validation, scarcity, and liking (p. 92). If I were the administrator holding the meeting described above, I would try to appeal to the parents’ desire to be good models (appeal to the commitment they have already made to their children to teach them and raise them so that they will be well-adjusted, contributing adults). I would, while showing that I liked the parents and their punctuality and desire to reclaim their children, point out that ignoring the rules in place, of which the children were aware, was counterproductive to their commitment to be good and effective parents. I would invoke my authority role as principal of the school to add weight to my request for compliance, and I would praise those parents publicly who follow the rules set out for the safe and speedy transfer of children from school to family, noting that in today’s often uncivil world (Scarcity), those who are willing to show kindness and consideration are a sight for sore eyes.

Baron, R., Byrne, D., & Branscombe, N. (2006). Social psychology (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Cialdini, R. (1999). Of tricks and tumors: Some little-recognized costs of dishonest use of effective social influence. Psychology & Marketing, 16(2), 91-98. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from PsycINFO database.

Cialdini, R., & Goldstein, N. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-621. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from PsycINFO database

1 comment:

kathleen said...

heehee this cracked me ( a faceless cohort) up. I hate when people don't follow the driving protocols at school! Man your school is HUGE! I think we have 300 kids from pre-school to 5th.