Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 817–859 | Cite as

Political Chameleons: An Exploration of Conformity in Political Discussions

  • Taylor N. CarlsonEmail author
  • Jaime E. Settle
Original Paper


Individuals do not always express their private political opinions in front of others who disagree. Neither political scientists nor psychologists have been able to firmly establish why this behavior occurs. Previous research has explored, at length, social influence on political attitudes and persuasion. However, the concept of conformity does not involve attitude change or persuasion; it more accurately involves self-censoring to match a socially desirable norm. In an effort to improve our understanding of this behavior, we conduct two experiments to investigate perceptions and behavioral responses to contentious political interactions. Study 1 asked participants to predict how a hypothetical character would respond to a variety of political interactions among coworkers. In Study 2, participants discussed political issues with confederates who were scripted to disagree with them. The studies reveal that individuals are uncomfortable around political interactions in which they hold an opinion counter to the group. Participants both expected a hypothetical character to conform in Study 1 and actually conformed themselves in the lab session in Study 2.


Conformity Discussion Contention Politics Opinions 



The authors thank the William & Mary Omnibus Project for facilitating participant recruitment and the Social Networks and Political Psychology (SNaPP) Lab for providing both the infrastructure and research assistant team that made this study possible. The authors are also grateful for support from the National Science Foundation (grant SES-1423788), as well as the Charles Center at William & Mary for providing honors fellowship funding for Study 2. Finally, the authors thank the anonymous reviewers whose helpful comments greatly improved this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (docx 21 KB)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaLa Jolla USA
  2. 2.Government DepartmentCollege of William & MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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