The distinction between the two types of social influence—informational and normative—is important not just for understanding why people conform but because the two sources of influence produce different types of conformity: private and public. Like beauty, conformity may be skin deep, or it may penetrate beneath the surface. Private conformity, also called true acceptance or conversion, describes instances in which others cause us to change not only our overt behavior but our minds as well. To conform at this level is to be truly persuaded that others in a group are correct. In contrast, public conformity (sometimes called compliance, a term used later in this chap- ter to describe a different form of influence) refers to a more superficial change in behavior. People often respond to normative pressures by pretending to agree even when privately they do not. This often happens when we want to curry favor with others. The politician who tells voters whatever they want to hear is a case in point.
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How, you might be wondering, can social psychologists tell the difference between the private and public conformist when both exhibit the same change in observable behavior? The difference is that compared with someone who merely acquiesces in public, the individual who is truly persuaded maintains that change long after the group is out of the picture. When this distinction is applied to Sher- if’s and Asch’s research, the results come out as expected. At the end of his study, Sherif retested participants alone and found that their estimates continued to reflect the norm previously established in their group—even among those who were retested a full year after the experiment.