Behavioral Conformity of Undergraduate Students in Kenya. Which factors are determining behavarioal change?

A study among students of Moi University

Academic Paper, 2016

18 Pages, Grade: 70



Sources of influence to change in the University
Behavior change process
Learning and behavior change
Role of society in influencing behavioral change
Behavioral adaptation of newcomer students
Self-esteem and student behavior change
Personality and behavior change
Counseling as a tool for facilitating positive change

Objectives of the study

Theory of planned behavior and Theory of reasoned action

Study area

University rules and regulations
Academics versus ‘hanging out’
Substance use and cohabitation
Intervention strategies for positive behavioral adaptation




When a person joins a social organization, it is imperative that they adapt to prosper. Change of values ordinarily occurs through compliance where one entertains and accepts the influence of comrades as they hope for favorable reactions from peers. This study was an examination of behavioral change in response to customary university values and roles) among students of Moi University main campus. The key objective was to examine factors determining behavioral change among students in Moi University. It examined the adaptive behavioral responses of students to university environmental impediments and explored strategies to encourage positive behavior development. The paper argues that students are disposed to adopt negative behavior at the University. The majority of students have inadequate fortitude and emotional intelligence to confront challenges inherent in the university environment. University rules and administration have range bound consequences on the behavior of students. The paper recommends the re-structuring of freshman orientation programs, peer mentorship, increased facilitation of student clubs and extracurricular activities, institutional recognition and awarding of outstanding students, and reconstitution of the university counseling program.

Key words: University, Student, Behavior Change, Peer Influence, Social Conformity, Student Culture


Human behavior is dynamic. It varies in different contexts and with differing individuals with whom one is interacting. Behavioral change is inevitable; the individual undergoes a multiplicity of metamorphosis due to among others social, psychological, cultural, environmental, and economic factors. The nature and frequency of behavior are constrained and confined by specific role interactions. Research has shown that human beings are bound to change when they interact with others and with their shifting experiences in life. The rate and level with which individuals adopt change is different, despite exposure to the same situations depending on their personality, socio-economic background, and the length of time of contact with the change agent(s) (Sharma, 2007).

Behavior change is an interminable process which proceeds from childhood to adulthood. The shared norms, values, customs, laws, and attitudes usually determine individuals’ thoughts and feelings. When a person becomes part of a new social organization, it is paramount for him/her to adapt to fit in (Sharma, 2007). Adaptation in most cases occurs through compliance where one accepts the influence because they hope for a favorable reaction from other persons. Satisfaction from conformity is derived from the rewarding social effect(s) of accepting the influence. Adaptation also occurs through identification with individuals accepting behavioral cues and influence due to desire to establish satisfying relationships with others in the group. Satisfaction is derived from conforming and the person feels that he/she is like the other members of the group. Adaptation may also occur through internalization especially when one accepts influence because the content of the new behavior is directly rewarding and congruent with his/her existing value system.

This study conceptualizes behavior as the observable, measurable, and repeatable actions of an individual. The key elements in the definition of behavior are observability - a behavior must be seen or heard, measurability - an observer can identify its rate of occurrence, and repetition - it must occur more than once.

In universities, customs serve as standards – as ideals towards which the students aspire. Customs are inferred from regularities in behavior and a change in values has implications for subsequent behavior. In Moi University, like any other national institution of higher learning in Kenya, students have to adjust the views, values, attitudes, and general behavior to fit in the dynamic university community. Whereas some values that students are expected to uphold are outlined in the Students’ Handbook, most of the norms are left for students to infer from common sense and values of the University. Behavioral transformation is believed to have occurred when newly admitted, or continuing students comply to, identify with, and internalize new behavioral characteristics to fit their definition of an ideal university student and a comrade.

Behavior change among students in universities is ideally intended to facilitate students in coping with the challenges in campus. This is not always the case as many students end up learning and adopting negative and self-destructing behavior. The study seeks to understand the extent to which students’ behavior change at Moi University constitutes their adaptation to the university socio-cultural environment.

Sources of influence to change in the University

Change does not only arise from that which is communicated verbally to the individual but also from intentional and unintentional actions and interactions. In a society as diverse as a university, change results from all aspects of daily interaction. It may be from observation or association where the company an individual keeps influences them to change, or from media content that one is exposed to on campus. Change may also result from preconceptions and stereotypes of how a university student is supposed to behave as students strive to achieve the ‘ultimate university character’ and to fit into different circles and cliques.

Behavior change process

The factors that influence adaptation of behavior by individuals include attention, comprehension, and acceptance. New and seemingly novel values initially capture individuals’ attention, the individual has to understand and assign meaning to the message communicated and eventually, the individual accepts (knowingly or not) to take up the aspects of change communicated to them. When the change occurs, the individuals may even develop complementary habits on the new ideas (Tyson, 2013). Change may also simply be a public expression of agreement with the ideas despite the private, personal rejection of them; University students exhibit both levels of change (Rosenberg & Turner, 2004).

Learning and behavior change

Learning results in a relatively permanent change in behavior. It translates into meaningful and observable behavior change. The change must not necessarily occur immediately following the learning experience and individuals show signs of change at disparate rates. Changes are not always positive in nature and do not result only from learning but also by motivation and maturity of individuals (Tyson, 2013). The stimulus to change among university students is the new environment made up of individuals from different backgrounds and minimal supervision by authorities and parents. The response that results from this stimulus is a marked change in attitude, values, and behavior.

According to Barlow (1976), “….in each behavior adjustment there is always both a response and a stimulus or a situation which calls out the response. The responses always follow relatively immediately to the stimulus.” The stimulus to change by university students comes from the new environment (diverse community made up of persons from widely varied backgrounds), relative economic self-determination, and minimal (if any) supervision by authorities and parents. The response that results from this stimulus is change in attitude, values, and consequently general behavior.

Role of society in influencing behavioral change

According to the Idealist School when social norms apply to a person he/she naturally occupies the social role(s) attached - with a subsequent set of attitudes, duties, and expectations (Moberg, 2013). As students matriculate to and undertake to fit into the Moi University society, they are expected to adjust their behavior to fit the new roles assigned to them. The Moi University student society is significantly permissive, and behavior such as smoking, alcoholism, examination cheating, and cohabitation among others are loosely defined as immoral. This makes it more likely for students to engage in such behavior, as they perceive them to be the norm and to complement their role in the university.

Talcott Parsons argues that society must have systems that function together to keep the social system running. The first system is goal attainment - the ways in which the members as individuals and as role occupants are facilitated to achieve their objectives (Rogers, 2010). In the Campus, this is done through the formation of study groups, clubs, cliques, and other associations geared at promoting academic performance and general life on campus. The second system is adaptation - the way(s) in which individuals become habituated to their material environment by fitting in it and using it to their advantage. The third system is integration - the various devises through which individuals come together in organized relationships with minimized conflict. In campus, this is largely the role of the administration and the university rules and regulations. Lastly, there is pattern maintenance - methods of ensuring that individuals internalize and voluntarily adhere to the norms of the society in which they have become members. In the Campus, this is achieved through socialization and peer influence among newly admitted and continuing students.

Behavioral adaptation of newcomer students

In an article titled “socio-psychological behavior change among students: a case study of first-year students in Moi University, Main Campus” Sorre (2008) notes, “…..such young people are curious, adventurous and easily tempted which makes them vulnerable to change.” New students are tempted to try the things that were previously forbidden in secondary schools. From institutions where rules govern every waking moment and suddenly into one where they are in charge of their own conduct (Sorre, 2008). Change in behavior is most drastic among first-year students but continues through the entire stay of the students in the university. Changes later in campus life such as the award of bursaries and student loans, frustration by persistent poor academic performance, change in religious beliefs among others may cause a change in the conduct of a continuing student.

Self-esteem and student behavior change

A study by King & McGinnis (1972) explored the influence of self-esteem on influence that occasions behavior change. They noted that persons with high self-confidence are less susceptible to influence and are assertive in trying to influence other members of society. Individuals with high regard for their self-worth are better placed to resist reacting to the expectations communicated to them but which they do not agree with. Persons with low self-esteem, on the other hand, are likely to be less critical of ideas presented to them. They are susceptible to seek approval and acceptance of peers by adopting any practice that they presume portrays them as “cool” and indicates that they fit with the ‘cliques’ that are dominant in their society. It is for this reason that the more confident urban born students are probable to influence their rural counterparts than vice versa.


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Behavioral Conformity of Undergraduate Students in Kenya. Which factors are determining behavarioal change?
A study among students of Moi University
Moi University  (Anthropology)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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behavioral, conformity, undergraduate, students, kenya, which, university
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Judy Mugo (Author)Janet Ndururi (Author), 2016, Behavioral Conformity of Undergraduate Students in Kenya. Which factors are determining behavarioal change?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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