cooperation_work.jpgYou might think following social norms makes people more amenable to cooperating, but according to new research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, conformity actually makes people less likely to work together, even if it's for a good cause.

For this study, researchers Dr. Piers Fleming and Professor Daniel Zizzo of the University of East Anglia tested participants for their levels of conformity by measuring how much they wanted to stick to norms and become socially desirable. The two noted that those who scored high on this scale also answered that they were more likely to pay their taxes and agree with others. Thus, they concluded these individuals would have a high cooperation rate, as well.

The researchers then paired participants with similar conformity levels and asked them to play a game in which they decided how much money to put for a fund intended for the public good. Everyone who cooperated got mutual benefits, but not participating would mean certain players would get a certain amount of money from others without having to put any in themselves.

Contrary to what the researchers thought would happen, those with high conformity levels were less likely to share money compared to those with low scores. When half of the pairs were praised for their contributions in an effort to encourage them, only those who scored low in conformity shared more money.

Professor Zizzo said the highly conformist participants were most probably influenced by their partners' own investments, making them unwilling to contribute a bigger sum than their partner already did. "By contrast, the less conforming individuals were willing to ignore their partners' investments and to invest more when they were encouraged by the approval score."

Dr. Fleming explains that this is because the conformists could be getting their cues from the less helpful members of the group, especially at work. "If someone is less conformist, they may take a lead and put in more effort, so then others may be prepared to put in more effort themselves, and the individuals and the team benefit. Conformity can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you are conforming to," he says.

If you're experiencing problems with your team at work, then, consider stepping up yourself--even when you normally don't take the lead--so that your teammates will take their cue from you. Not only will this encourage your co-workers to do well; you'll be able to give yourself a leg up in the career race too.

Are you in need of work advice? Try reading these articles for tips:

(Photo by Highways Agency via Flickr Creative Commons)
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