When people have different opinions in a group, they often adjust their own attitudes and behaviors to match the group opinion, known as social conformity. The affiliation account of normative conformity states that people conform to norms in order to 'fit in', whereas the accuracy account of informative conformity posits that the motive to learn from others produces herding. Here, we test another possibility that following the crowd reduces the experienced negative emotion when the group decision turns out to be a bad one. Using event related potential (ERP) combined with a novel group gambling task, we found that participants were more likely to choose the option that was predominately chosen by other players in previous trials, although there was little explicit normative pressure at the decision stage and group choices were not informative. When individuals' choices were different from others, the feedback related negativity (FRN), an ERP component sensitive to losses and errors, was enhanced, suggesting that being independent is aversive. At the outcome stage, the losses minus wins FRN effect was significantly reduced following conformity choices than following independent choices. Analyses of the P300 revealed similar patterns both in the response and outcome period. Our study suggests that social conformity serves as an emotional buffer that protects individuals from experiencing strong negative emotion when the outcomes are bad.
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