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Minority Influence and Social Change

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Minority Influence and Social Change

Some say might makes right. But does it really? 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.

So what do we mean by social change?

Social change is when a society’s values, beliefs, norms and ways of operating change over time.

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

Minority Influence and Social Change [+] LGBTQ+ march social change example [+] StudySmarter

LGBTQ+ march as an example of social change, Flaticon

Another example 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, which influenced policy. As a result, we can now enjoy national parks and trails, as well as entirely unfettered access to numerous landscapes throughout the UK.

What is minority influence?

Minority influence occurs when a minority group impacts the majority’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. According to Moscovici (1968), minority influence is a long process in which the minority group must gradually persuade the majority that its ideas and beliefs are correct and not just tolerable.

Minority influence is the polar opposite of conformity. Instead of a bigger majority group influencing the behaviours and beliefs of a smaller minority group, the minority group must gradually attempt to persuade the majority that it is correct. Moscovici referred to this as a conversion process, which essentially means internalisation (when someone changes their private beliefs and behaviour in response to social influence).

How does minority influence lead to social change?

The process of minority influence leading to social change is as follows:

  • Minority influence.
  • Conversion.
  • The snowball effect is when initial, small actions such as advocating for a minority can lead to society-wide changes in attitudes, e.g., when the minority becomes the majority.
  • Social cryptomnesia is when activism is no longer seen as an idea but as a social truth.

Minority Influence and Social Change [+] Process of social change [+] StudySmarter

Process of social change, Jay Makepeace, StudySmarter Originals

What are some famous examples of research into minority influence?

A closer look at some famous studies provides further insights into how minorities influence social change.

Moscovici (1968) blue-green study

Moscovici asked a group of six people to look at 36 coloured slides. All of the slides were different shades of blue. Participants had to indicate whether they thought each slide was blue or green, with two confederates (participants secretly part of the research team) choosing green each time. This approach resulted in the majority changing their answer to green 8.5% of the time. In a second group with less consistent teammates, the majority answered that the slides were green only 1% of the time. The study results show 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 that 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. Let us take a closer look at these factors.

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.

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 is 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.

Flexibility

Flexibility means that the minority is willing 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 a homosexual minority was less successful in persuading a heterosexual member of the majority to support gay rights than a heterosexual minority would be. The reason is that the heterosexual member of the majority identifies more with the heterosexual minority and they see themselves as more similar and understanding of each other. For the heterosexual majority, the homosexual minority is an ‘other’, and this could make it appear that they are only trying to advance their interests.

Bashir et al. (2013) found that people sometimes resist social change, even when they believe it is necessary because they do not want to be 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). For example, because men cannot identify with women’s experiences, they find it more difficult to identify with feminism, and misrepresentations can influence their judgment more easily.

Style of thinking

Diane Mackie (1987) counters Moscovici’s original claim that minority influence compels members of the majority group to think long and hard about their own views and opinions rather than just following the crowd. According to Mackie, due to conformity and our desire to assume that everyone thinks the same way we do, discovering that the majority does not think the same way we do can force us to think hard and embrace a similar viewpoint. Moscovici did not mention this idea, which may question the validity of his proposals.

Normative social influence

You may recall Asch’s research on social influence described earlier in this chapter.

In one of his famous line study variants, he examined the effect that deviation from the majority group had on people’s actions by instructing one of the fellow participants to give correct answers in the experiment. This approach reduced the participants’ conformity because the confederate’s dissenting opinion encouraged them. This idea could also apply to social change, where cultural norms are broken, and unjust government actions are more likely to be challenged when there is healthy dissent against them.

Public health and environmental campaigns also take advantage of normative social influence to drive positive social change.

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’ also use normative social influence to change people’s behaviour across society.

Gradual commitment

Zimbardo (2007) suggested that it is possible to achieve social change through obedience due to gradual commitment. Gradual commitment means that when someone is given a series of commands with progressively higher demands, they can be persuaded to do things they would not normally do if asked to do them immediately. It becomes more difficult to refuse to take the ‘next step’ with each new command.

Minority Influence and Social Change - Key takeaways

  • Social change means that society’s values, ideas, systems, and norms change over time.
  • A famous example of social change is the different attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in the last century.
  • Minority influence means that a minority group influences the majority group.
  • For a minority group to most successfully influence the majority, it must be consistent, committed, and flexible.
  • The two types of consistency are diachronic and synchronic consistency.
  • The augmentation principle states that an individual’s or group’s ideas have more value when they prevail against strong opposition, such as the state.
  • Identification with the minority group also affects the minority’s influence. A majority group is more likely to understand and support a group with which it feels some connection.
  • Sometimes people resist supporting minority groups because they are associated with negative stereotypes. (e.g., feminists are called ‘man-haters’ or environmentalists are called ‘tree-huggers’).
  • When people see minority groups dissenting against social norms, they may be encouraged also to violate the norms and join their cause because they are under the influence of societal norms.
  • Gradual commitment can bring about social change over time by slowly influencing people’s behaviour and beliefs. Gay marriage, for example, would not have been legalised without all the smaller steps that advocates took first.

Frequently Asked Questions about Minority Influence and Social Change

Minority influence affects social change via conversion, the snowball effect and social cryptomnesia.

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

The role of minority influence in social change is its ability to affect the beliefs and behaviour of the majority group, which can ultimately lead to conversion, the snowball effect, and social cryptomnesia.

The three most important factors that determine the effectiveness of minority influence are consistency, flexibility, and commitment. Let us take a closer look at these factors.

Social media gives minority groups an easy way to access a large audience and put the information across in various ways that can be easily read and shared.

Final Minority Influence and Social Change Quiz

Question

What is social change?

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Answer

Social change is when a society’s values, beliefs, norms and ways of operating change over time.

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What effect does minority influence have on society?

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Minority influence can influence and change the opinions, views and ideas of individuals and groups in the majority, leading to social change.

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What is minority influence?

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Minority influence is when a minority group in society influences the majority’s opinions, values, and actions.

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 What are the four main stages of social change?

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The four main stages of social change are minority influence, conversion, the snowball effect, and social cryptomnesia.

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What is conversion?

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Conversion is similar to internalisation. It is when someone changes their private beliefs and behaviour in response to social influence.

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What is the snowball effect? 


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The snowball effect is when initial, small actions such as advocating for a minority can lead to society-wide changes in attitudes, e.g., when the minority becomes the majority.

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What is social cryptomnesia?

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Social cryptomnesia is when activism is no longer seen as an idea but as a social truth.

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What did Moscovici’s blue-green study find out? 


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The blue-green study found that more consistent minority groups are more likely to influence the majority successfully.

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What did Nemeth (1986) find out?

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Answer

Nemeth’s 1986 study found that more flexible minority groups are more likely to influence the majority successfully.

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What is flexibility in minority influence?

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Flexibility is the willingness for the minority group to compromise and reach an understanding with the majority group

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What is the commitment in minority influence?

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Commitment describes how much a minority group is willing to advocate for their cause, including how much time they dedicate to advocacy and how much they are ready to sacrifice (e.g., facing violence or prosecution).

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What is consistency in minority influence? 


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Consistency refers to the minority group’s ability to stick to their ideas.

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What are the two types of consistency in minority influence?

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The two types of consistency are diachronic and synchronic consistency.

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What do the two types of consistency mean?

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

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How does identification with the minority group affect minority influence?

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Maass et al. found it is harder for minority groups to influence majority groups when they don’t relate to the minority group or see the members of the minority as ‘other’.

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How can normative social influence affect social change?

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Normative social influence has been used to prevent smoking in teenagers and discourage littering. Campaigns highlight how most teenagers don’t smoke these days and how most people don’t litter. This practice discourages people from smoking or littering because people wish to fit in with the majority group and may not smoke or litter if they feel they wouldn’t fit in.

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