Social Networks, Self Denial, and Median Preferences: Conformity as an Evolutionary Strategy


In this article, we suggest that human attitudes of conformity can be understood as a product of adaptation. While existing models of conformity invoke preference falsification in which individuals hide their true preferences, we posit an adaptive mechanism for conformity. Specifically, because non-conformity leads to costs as a dissenting individual is shut out of social networks and majority coalitions in the collective choice context, individuals have an incentive to sublimate their original preferences to a meta-preference for conformity. However, this adaptation is not costless. Resisting original preferences imposes self-denial costs on an individual that may exceed the benefits of conforming. Further, a conforming individual foregoes the small probability that his first-best original preferences will be realized. Thus, this preference modification model of conformity predicts that individuals with high selfdenial costs and lower levels of risk aversion will be less likely to conform.