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Med Educ. 2014 Sep;48(9):851-9. doi: 10.1111/medu.12510.

The good and bad of group conformity: a call for a new programme of research in medical education.

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Department of Community Health Sciences, Medical Education Specialization, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.



Given that a significant portion of medical education occurs in various social settings (small groups, large classes, clinical environments), it is critical to examine how group members interact. One type of influence on these interactions is conformity, whereby an individual changes his or her own behaviour to match incorrect responses of others in a group. Conformity to peer pressure has been replicated in experimental research conducted in many countries over the last 60 years. There is newly emerging empirical evidence of this effect in medical education, suggesting that subtle motivations and pressures within a group may prevent students from challenging or questioning information that seems incorrect.


This narrative review aims to present an overview of theory and findings in research into conformity in the fields of social psychology, business, sociology and aviation theory to demonstrate its direct relevance to medical education and the health professions.


We searched online databases (MEDLINE, PubMed, PsycINFO and ProQuest) from the University of Calgary catalogue. We also searched citations in articles reviewed and references provided by colleagues. We limited our narrative review to publications released between 1950 and 2012.


Group conformity behaviour may be one of a number of communication challenges associated with interprofessional care, and may represent a factor contributing to the burden of adverse events. This paper calls for a new programme of research into conformity in medical education that provides systematic empirical evidence of its relevance and applications in education, health care and practice.


This review reveals decades of anecdotal and empirical evidence that conformity is a pervasive phenomenon across disciplines. Further research is needed to elucidate which situations pose the greatest risk for the occurrence of conformity, how to manage it in practice and its implications for patient safety.

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