Going with the flow might appear easier when confronted with unanimous disagreements. However, standing up for your beliefs, expressing your opinions and demonstrating your core values can be a positive psychological experience and make you feel confident about yourself, a study reveals.
The findings showed that when trying to reach a goal, evaluating high resources and low demands leads to a mostly positive, invigorating experience called a challenge, which corresponds with feeling confident. Low resources and high demands lead to a much less confident state called a threat, which may produce feelings of anxiety.
There can be a clear divergence between what people do and say and how they feel, the study said. “People can show conformity, but going along with the group doesn’t mean they are going along happily,” said Mark Seery, Associate Professor at the University of Buffalo, in New York.
“The external behaviour isn’t necessarily a good indication of their internal experience,” Seery added. To provide insights into what it’s like being alone against the group, the team tapped into the experience of participants using psychophysiological measures, and by assessing their cardiovascular responses.
The team, thus, got a sense of how people are evaluating personal resources versus the demands of the situation while in the act of potentially conforming. The researchers assigned participants into one of four experimental conditions, each with a goal to either fit in with a group’s political opinion or assert their individuality, and with a group that either agreed or disagreed with participants’ opinion on the issue.
The results showed that when participants’ goal was to fit in with a group of people who disagreed with them, their cardiovascular responses were consistent with a psychological threat state. In contrast, when the goal was to be an individual among a group of people who disagreed with them, their cardiovascular responses were consistent with challenge.
“You may have to work to reach a goal, but when you experience a challenge, it is more like feeling invigorated than overwhelmed. It is consistent with seeing something to gain rather than focusing on what can be lost,” Seery noted.
The study, published in the journal Psychophysiology, has interesting implications, especially in an election year, when someone can be surrounded by family members, co-workers or even neighbourhood lawn signs that run contrary to one’s personal opinions. “It could easily be overwhelming to face a group on the other side of an issue or candidate, but the study suggests that reminding yourself of wanting to be an individual can make it a better experience, challenging instead of threatening, invigorating instead of overwhelming,” Seery concluded.