I was thinking about a phenomenon related to groupthink lately that I often observe. Frequently, social groups seem to collectively act or trend in ways the individual members consciously disagree with. As a simple example, consider how in many companies most people disagree with the corporate communication style but will talk in the exact same manner themselves.

I was wondering whether this is a phenomenon that has a name and is studied in sociology?

  • 1
    Perhaps Asch Conformity or authoritarian followership. Commented Mar 12 at 14:10
  • 1
    But some centuries ago such a behaviour was called Nicodemite. Commented Mar 12 at 14:44
  • 1
    What you are describing sounds similar to the concept of false compromise. This occurs when parties to a collective decision agree to adopt a compromise position, but nobody actually prefers or agrees with the position agreed upon.
    – Bumble
    Commented Mar 12 at 15:51
  • 2
    I'd say: "normal"
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 12 at 23:14
  • 1
    Dysfunctional. Commented Mar 14 at 19:42

3 Answers 3


The word is silent dissent. Social groups operate as holistic entities with emergent properties that transcend the sum of their members. These groups may engage in collective actions or behaviors that reflect shared norms, values, and practices. However, individual members retain their autonomy and subjective perspectives. Despite participating in collective actions, individuals may harbor dissenting opinions or preferences that diverge from the group consensus.

Group cohesion and conformity play significant roles in shaping collective behavior. Social pressure, norms, and expectations within a group can influence individuals to align their actions with the perceived consensus, even if they disagree. The desire for social acceptance, fear of rejection, and the need to maintain harmony within the group may compel individuals to conform to collective norms and behaviors, even if they privately hold dissenting views.

There is dialectical tension between individuality and group identity, wherein individuals navigate between asserting their autonomy and affiliating with collective entities. While individuals may maintain their unique perspectives and values, they also seek belongingness and validation within social groups. This tension can manifest in situations where individuals compromise their dissenting views to maintain group cohesion or avoid conflict.

Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals experience psychological discomfort when their beliefs or behaviors conflict with each other. To alleviate this discomfort, individuals may engage in rationalization or cognitive reevaluation to justify their actions and reconcile inconsistencies. In the context of the observed phenomenon, individuals may rationalize their participation in collective actions by minimizing the significance of their dissenting views or attributing their behavior to external pressures or situational factors.

Understanding the discrepancy between individual dissent and collective action highlights the complexities of social influence and identity dynamics. Recognizing this phenomenon prompts reflection on the balance between individual autonomy and group conformity in shaping behavior. Encouraging critical self-reflection and fostering environments that value diversity of thought and expression can mitigate the pressures of conformity and promote authentic engagement within social groups.

  • 1
    I must say this is an excellent answer and silent dissent is an interesting concept. I like how you mention emergent phenomena. I think the phenomenon I'm interested in is one. But you also don't seem to name the phenomenon where the social consensus that emerges is contrary to the majority individual opinion. I think I am just going to refer to it as a paradoxical consensus. Commented Mar 20 at 15:47
  • Since this answer is AI generated without proper reference, it goes against this site's policies.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Mar 20 at 19:55

Disliking something about the social environment, but going along with it to avoid negative consequences such as conflict or disapproval is called "pragmatism", "being realistic", or more specifically, "going along to get along". No society can possibly be set up that doesn't have aspects that certain members of the society don't like, so inevitably, there will have to be some people who must choose between going along to get along, or rebelling. If enough people rebel, it can lead to social change, but the new rules usually have just as many or more dissatisfied people as the original rules, so there is no net benefit to justify the turmoil. People in general only think of their own circumstances and how the social rules effect themselves, not what purposes the rules might serve.

  • Dissenting or 'rebelling' can be quite civilised though, like with Greta Thunberg and/or environmental shareholder activists. Interestingly, change is this arena is significantly coming from direct legal challenges to government bypassing whatever is the population's majority opinion, yielding to rationality. Commented Mar 13 at 9:15
  • #derailing. This is not the place to have this conversation. Comments are being flagged. Commented Mar 14 at 16:54
  • @JuliusH., does "derailing" mean that someone is saying something that goes against the approved narrative? Commented Mar 14 at 18:22
  • I appreciate your answer but I don't think you quite understand what I refer too. In my scenario there is no minority that would rebel against a majority. If anything, to approximate it would be a majority rebelling against a minority. I am describing a situation in which the vast majority of the members of a social group in social life espouse values that contradict the ones they have privately and might even espouse to trusted other members of the group. The term false consensus approaches what I mean, but in a false consensus one can still openly dissent but just note they are compromising. Commented Mar 20 at 15:42

If collective action is read within the context of political philosophy, then there is a term that fits: dissent. From WP:

Dissent is an opinion, philosophy or sentiment of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or policy enforced under the authority of a government, political party or other entity or individual. A dissenting person may be referred to as a dissenter.

And if the majority doesn't act in a way to stifle dissent, then that is called tolerance (SEP). If dissent is translated into political action legally, it is often called advocacy or lobbying, and if it crosses the line into illegality it might be characterized on a moralistic range from civil disobedience to terrorism. A society that is broadly amenable to dissent and civil disobedience is called liberal, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, is totalitarianism. Western Europe is largely considered liberal, for instance, and places like North Korea are considered totalitarian.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .