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 self-denial costs and lower levels of risk aversion will be less likely to conform.