Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Living Experiment 1: Day of Nonconformity

This assignment is the first Living Experiment of the semester. Successful completion of the assignment will add five points to your course total.

Step I: Participate in the Day of Nonconformity

On Friday, October 3rd, our Social Psychology class will observe a "Day of Nonconformity." To participate in this event, your challenge will be to live each minute of that day in a way that is as uninfluenced as possible by conformity pressures to appear cool, fit in with a group, or go along with others to be liked or accepted. In other words, for a full 24-hour period you should live in a way that is true to yourself while not infringing on the rights of others.

When carrying out this assignment, leave no behavior unexamined -- from washing your face to eating lunch to talking with friends to watching TV. That is, don't just avoid obvious acts of phoniness or insincerity; strive for the deepest level of authenticity, in whatever way you define it for yourself. The goal is not to be different, unique, or selfish, but to be your own person.

Note: To minimize any bias in social reactions, it is best if you do not tell others about the class assignment until after the Day of Nonconformity is over. Also, under no circumstances should you behave in a way that harms others or is unethical or illegal (yes, this means keeping your clothes on in public).

Step II: Write About Your Experience

At the beginning of class on October 7th, turn in a social psychological analysis of what the day was like (limited to one typewritten doubled-spaced page using 12-point font and 1" margins). Here are some sample questions you might address:

  • How did you define nonconformity, and what did you focus your efforts on?

  • If your behavior was different than normal, which person did you like more: the "Day of Nonconformity you" or the "normal you"? If you preferred the "Day of Nonconformity you," what are the psychological factors that prevent this "you" from coming out?

  • What are the psychological costs and benefits of living authentically? In your view, do the benefits outweigh the costs?

  • How did others respond to your nonconformity? Do you think they noticed a difference in your behavior? What attributions did people make for your behavior, and why?

  • If you wanted to encourage others to behave as you did during the Day of Nonconformity, what psychological techniques would you use?

  • If you were to predict your behavior one month from now, do you think it will be changed in any way as a result of participating in the Day of Nonconformity? If so, how? If not, why not?

In carrying out this assignment, try to go beyond superficial descriptive accounts and see if you can arrive at social psychological insights about yourself or others. Later in the semester, Professor Plous will share a few of these accounts with the class. If you prefer that your account not be shared, simply make a note of this on the sheet that you turn in.

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