Explaining Group Inﬂuence: The Role of Identity
and Emotion in Political Conformity and Polarization
Published online: 8 March 2014
Ó Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Abstract Evidence has accumulated that people often conform to political norms.
However, we know little about the mechanisms underlying political conformity.
Whose norms are people likely to follow, and why? This article discusses two
phenomena—social identity and ‘‘self-conscious’’ emotions—that are key to
understanding when and why people follow the crowd. It argues that adherence to
in-group norms is a critical basis of status among in-group peers. Conformity
generates peer approval and leads to personal pride. Deviance generates disapproval
and causes embarrassment or shame. These emotional reactions color an individ-
ual’s political perspectives, typically generating conformity. These same mecha-
nisms can spur between-group polarization. In this case, differentiation from the
norms of disliked out-groups results in peer approval and pride, and conformity to
out-group norms disapproval and embarrassment or shame. This framework is
supported by the results of two experiments that examine the inﬂuence of group
opinion norms over economic and social aspects of citizens’ political ideologies.
One exogenously varies the social identity of attitudinal majorities; the other primes
the relevant emotions. In addition to contributing to the study of political conformity
and polarization, this article adds to our growing understanding of the relevance of
social identity and emotion to political life.
Keywords Conformity Á Polarization Á Social identity Á Emotion Á Norms Á
As of July 1, 2014, the author will be Assistant Professor of Government at American University.
E. Suhay (&)
Department of Government and Law, Lafayette College, 100 Kirby Hall, Easton, PA 18042, USA
Polit Behav (2015) 37:221–251