To conform or not to conform. That is the question.

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Mask-wearing (or not) continues to be a social psychological goldmine. In this case, let’s take a look at conformity.

The social pressure to wear or not wear a mask is pervasive. If you are not wearing a mask but are surrounded by people who are, you can feel the pressure to conform to the group’s behavior and put your mask on. If you are wearing a mask but are surrounded by people who are not, you can feel the pressure to conform to the group’s behavior and take your mask off.

Even medical doctors who know the value of wearing masks as a coronavirus transmission preventative can feel the social pressure at a party where no one else is wearing a mask, as described in the New York Times article below. And imagine being at the White House reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a reception where no one was wearing a mask.

After covering conformity, provide the following discussion prompt.


Part A. Read this New York Times article: “If You See Someone Not Wearing a Mask, Do You Say Something? (It’s better to link to this September 13, 2020 article in your library database as students may have exceeded their number of free New York Times articles for the month.) From our textbook reading, identify the factors that increase the likelihood of conforming. For each, note whether the factor was present in Dr. Robert Klitzman’s party experience. Provide evidence from the article.

Part B. Review these photos taken on September 26, 2020. For each factor that increases the likelihood of conforming, note whether the factor was present. Provide evidence from the photos and article.

Part C. Have you had a similar experience where you felt social pressure to wear a mask or not? Describe the experience. Which factors that increase the likelihood of conforming were present for you? Which were absent? Finally, what did you do: conform or not conform?

Part D. Lastly, when put in the same position again, would thinking about the factors that increase the likelihood of conforming affect your ability to resist the social pressure? Why or why not?

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.