Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctiveness

Paul E. Smaldino, Joshua M. Epstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We demonstrate that individual behaviours directed at the attainment of distinctiveness can in fact produce complete social conformity. We thus offer an unexpected generative mechanism for this central social phenomenon. Specifically, we establish that agents who have fixed needs to be distinct and adapt their positions to achieve distinctiveness goals, can nevertheless self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity. This seemingly paradoxical result is deduced formally from a small number of natural assumptions and is then explored at length computationally. Interesting departures from this conformity equilibrium are also possible, including divergence in positions. The effect of extremist minorities on these dynamics is discussed. A simple extension is then introduced, which allows the model to generate and maintain social diversity, including multimodal distinctiveness distributions. The paper contributes formal definitions, analytical deductions and counterintuitive findings to the literature on individual distinctiveness and social conformity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number140437
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2015


  • Anti-conformity
  • Opinion dynamics
  • Optimal distinctiveness
  • Social influence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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