Minority Influence and Social Change

Some say might makes right. But does it? One thing is certain – society is in a constant state of change. But how do these changes come about? Are they the result of organic social movements? Here, we explore the concepts of social change and minority influence in psychology, highlighting their determinants and providing useful examples.

Minority Influence and Social Change Minority Influence and Social Change

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Contents
Table of contents
    • First, we'll introduce the definition of minority influence psychology.
    • Next, we'll outline the role of minority influence in social change.
    • Then, we'll look at the minority influence examples in psychological research.
    • Based on these studies, we'll identify the three determinants of minority influence. We'll focus on minority influence consistency, minority influence flexibility and minority influence commitment.
    • Finally, we'll discuss other factors driving social change and minority movements.

    Minority Influence within Psychology

    So, what do we mean by social change? Social change occurs when society’s values, beliefs, norms, and operating methods change over time. Even though, we tend to conform to the majority's views. Throughout history, we have seen that minority movements can drive major societal norms shifts.

    Minority influence and social change, people holding a large rainbow flag over their heads, StudySmarterFig 1 - The LGBTQ+ movement is an example of minority influencing the views of the majority.

    A famous example of a movement that led to social change is the gay rights movement in the United States. Decades of consistent gay rights advocacy and campaigning have led to a massive shift in how the majority of society views and treats LGBTQIA+ people. In 2015, every state legalised gay marriage.

    Minority influence is the opposite process of conformity. While conformity involves pressure from the majority on an individual, minority influence puts pressure on the majority.

    Minority influence occurs when a minority group impacts the majority’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours.

    According to Moscovici (1968), minority influence occurs slowly over time. The minority group must gradually persuade the majority that its ideas and beliefs are correct and not just tolerable. Moscovici referred to this as a conversion process. If it unfolds successfully, it can lead to the internalisation of minority beliefs by the majority. This occurs when the majority changes their private beliefs and behaviour in response to the minority's pressure.

    Another example of a minority movement, which led to social change, is the Ramblers’ campaign for free access to private lands. One of their most consequential actions was the mass trespassing on Kinder Scout. Many Ramblers were injured, detained, and even imprisoned. However, the action resulted in a steady shift in public perception, influencing policy. As a result, we can now enjoy national parks and trails and entirely unfettered access to numerous landscapes throughout the UK.

    The Role of Minority Influence in Social Change

    The process of minorities creating social change occurs through several stages. First, the minority is in direct opposition to the majority's views and current social norms, it is not accepted by society and can be met with resistance. Then the process of conversion occurs, through which the views of the majority members are slowly changed.

    As more and more people start to convert their views, the snowball effect occurs. At this stage, the minority becomes the majority and the previous social norms shift. Finally, once the minority position is fully integrated into the new societal norms, society can forget that it was not always this way. This is called social cryptomnesia, it occurs when the minority ideas become a social truth.

    Minority influence and social change, black woman putting her vote into the ballot box, StudySmarterFig 2 - The right of women and minorities to vote is currently regarded as a social truth, but it was not one in the past.

    Minority Influence: Examples in Research

    Let's take a look at psychological studies providing further insights into how minorities influence social change.

    Moscovici's (1968) Blue-Green Study

    Moscovici asked a group of six people to look at 36 coloured slides. All slides were different shades of blue. Participants had to indicate whether they thought each slide was blue or green. However, a minority consisting of two participants (secretly part of the research team) would claim that some slides shown were green.

    As a result of this minority influence, participants changed their answer to green 8.5% of the time.

    However, when the minority was less consistent, meaning they would sometimes label the same slide as green and sometimes as blue, the majority was influenced only 1% of the time. The study shows that a more consistent minority is more likely to influence the majority.

    Nemeth (1986)

    In this experiment, the investigator asked groups of four participants to estimate the compensation a ski lift accident victim should receive. Each group had one confederate who represented the minority and argued that the victim deserved less compensation. The confederate would not compromise in one situation and would rigidly hold to their position.

    In another situation, the confederate allowed some compromise by meeting the rest of the group halfway and offering the victim a slightly higher compensation than initially proposed. The experiment results showed that the inflexible confederate had far less influence on the views of the majority group than the flexible confederate. This finding highlights the importance of the minority group being flexible when trying to change the opinions and ideas of the majority group.

    Wood et al. (1994)

    Wood et al. is a meta-analysis of about 100 studies on minority group behaviour. The analysis found that the minority group has more influence when it is consistent in its beliefs and actions. As a result, the minority group needs to be consistent when influencing a majority group.

    Three Determinants of Minority Influence

    The three most important factors that determine the effectiveness of minority influence are consistency, flexibility, and commitment.

    Minority Influence Consistency

    A consistent minority group believes in a clear set of values and beliefs that do not suddenly change or contradict. The beliefs seem fixed, which gives the majority group the impression that they are well thought out and defensible. There are two types of minority influence consistency:

    Diachronic consistency describes the consistency of ideas over time, and synchronic consistency describes the consistency of ideas among those who hold them.

    An example of diachronic consistency is that gay rights advocates took more than a hundred years to organise and campaign for the legalisation of gay marriage in many Western countries. Their belief that people should treat same-sex relationships the same as heterosexual relationships has survived today.

    One example of synchronous agreement is that the LGBTQIA+ community and its advocates share many of the same beliefs, including freedom of expression and freedom for people to have relationships with whomever they choose. This gives them greater collective power and strengthens their message in the eyes of the majority group.

    Minority Influence Commitment

    Commitment refers to the perception that a group is serious about its beliefs and willing to initiate and implement change.

    There are numerous ways in which a minority group can demonstrate commitment to their cause:

    • Sticking to their beliefs over time despite opposition and oppression.

    • Publicly demonstrating and protesting.

    • Making sacrifices for their beliefs, such as prosecution during a demonstration.

    This approach is thought to be effective because of the augmentation principle.

    The augmentation principle states that if a person or movement is carried out action despite great opposition, obstacles, or difficulties, their beliefs are perceived as ‘stronger than those obstacles’ and therefore appear more valid.

    An example of this is the LGBTQIA+ movement, which has persisted in its demonstrations since its inception despite repeated examples of persecution and violence against its members. The augmentation principle can lead members of the majority group to show respect or understanding for the minority group as they see their sacrifice and true beliefs being expressed and defended.

    Minority influence and social change, protesters holding banners supporting the movement of women in Iran, StudySmarter

    Fig 3 - Social movements often require commitment from members even under the threat of violence.

    The Augmentation Principle Minority Influence

    The minority tend to have an internal locus of control and believe they drive their own destiny. Usually, the minority have an internal locus of control. Committed minorities, i.e. those who take risks for their cause, tend to affect the majority through an augmentation principle. It means the majority value the importance of the cause - as the minority are risking their lives for it.

    Minority Influence Flexibility

    Flexibility refers to the minority's willingness to compromise. When the majority group sees that the minority group is willing to compromise or engage in honest discussion to satisfy everyone, they are taken more seriously and treated with more care and respect. If a minority group is seen as dogmatic (rigid in their views) or too demanding, this can put people off.

    What other Factors Drive Social Change?

    There are other insights on social change that Moscovici did not address but are still worth discussing. Let us look at some notable studies and explain what they found.

    Identification with the Minority Group

    Maass et al. (1982) found that heterosexual individuals were more successful at convincing members of the heterosexual majority to support gay rights compared to homosexual individuals. The reason is that the heterosexual member of the majority identified with and was more understanding of other heterosexuals. For the heterosexual majority, the homosexual minority is an ‘other’, this perception can result in a lack of understanding or even hostility towards their message.

    Bashir et al. (2013) found that people sometimes resist social change, even when they believe it is necessary because they want to avoid being associated with negative stereotypes attributed to proponents of these ideas.

    For example, some people reject feminism because feminists are often portrayed as ‘man-haters’ (misandrists).

    Style of Thinking

    Mosccovici proposed that encouraging critical thinking can help the conversion process because it compels the majority of group members to question their beliefs rather than blindly following the crowd intellectually.

    However, Diane Mackie (1987) counters this claim. According to Mackie, discovering that the majority does not think the same way we do can force us to think deeper about our position, so we can embrace the majority's viewpoint.

    Normative Social Influence

    In one of his famous line judgement studies, Solomon Asch found that individuals are less likely to conform to the incorrect majority if at least one other person opposed the majority views. This gave the participant support to oppose the majority as well. Feeling like we are not alone can encourage us to voice our opposition towards the majority.

    This idea could also apply to social change, unjust government actions are more likely to be challenged when there is dissent against them. Public health and environmental campaigns also take advantage of normative social influence to drive positive social change. This practice discourages people from certain behaviours by highlighting how if they engage in them, they will no longer fit in.

    For example, campaigns have pointed to the low number of teens who smoke today as a way to discourage teens from smoking. Environmental movements such as ‘Bin it. Others do it’ use normative social influence to change people’s behaviour across society.

    Minority Influence and Social Change - Key takeaways

      • Social change means that society’s values, ideas, systems, and norms change over time.
      • Minority influence occurs when a minority group impacts the majority’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. The minority can create social change through the process of conversion.
      • Moscovici (1968), Nemeth (1986) and Wood et al. (1994) studied the factors that make minority groups most effective at influencing the majority.
      • For a minority group to most successfully influence the majority, it must be consistent, committed, and flexible.
      • Other factors driving social change include identification with the minority group, style of thinking, as well as the normative social influence.

    References

    1. Wood, W., Lundgren, S., Ouellette, J. A., Busceme, S., & Blackstone, T. (1994). Minority influence: a meta-analytic review of social influence processes. Psychological bulletin, 115(3), 323–345. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.115.3.323
    2. Nemeth, C. J. (1986). Differential contributions of majority and minority influence. Psychological Review, 93(1), 23–32. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.93.1.23
    3. Moscovici, S., Lage, E., & Naffrechoux, M. (1969). Influence of a Consistent Minority on the Responses of a Majority in a Color Perception Task. Sociometry, 32(4), 365–380. https://doi.org/10.2307/2786541
    4. Mackie, D. M. (1987). Systematic and nonsystematic processing of majority and minority persuasive communications. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(1), 41–52. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.53.1.41
    5. Maass, A., Clark, R. D., & Haberkorn, G. (1982). The effects of differential ascribed category membership and norms on minority influence. European Journal of Social Psychology, 12(1), 89–104. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2420120107
    6. Bashir, Lockwood, P., Chasteen, A. L., Nadolny, D., & Noyes, I. (2013). The ironic impact of activists: Negative stereotypes reduce social change influence: The ironic impact of activists. European Journal of Social Psychology, 43(7), 614–626. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.1983
    Frequently Asked Questions about Minority Influence and Social Change

    How does minority influence affect social change?

    Minority influence affects social change via conversion, the snowball effect and social cryptomnesia. It slowly affects the views of members of the majority until the minority becomes the majority, resulting in social change.

    What are minority influence examples?

    Examples of minority influence are the LGBTQIA+ movement and the Ramblers campaign in the UK.

    What is the role of minority influence in social change?

    Minority influence plays a role in social change by affecting the beliefs and behaviour of the majority group, which can ultimately lead to conversion, the snowball effect, and social cryptomnesia.

    What is minority influence and how does it affect other individuals? 

    Minority influence occurs when a minority group impacts the majority’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. It can affect other individuals who are members of the majority through the process of conversion.

    What are examples of social change?

    Examples of social change include women and minorities having the right to vote, gay people having the right to marry or people in the UK having access to national parks, trails, and landscapes as a result of the Ramblers movement.

    What is the difference between social change and minority influence? 

    Minority influence is the pressure that the minority puts on the majority to change, and it's part of the process of social change. Social change refers to a shift in the ideas, systems, and norms of the society.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When the majority group influences the beliefs and behaviour of the minority, it's called __________

    When a minority influences the beliefs and behaviours of the majority, it's called _____

    The snowball effect is the _____ stage of the process through which minority influence leads to social change.

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