Normative Social Influence

Have you ever felt you had to change how you dressed to fit in with friends or people at school? Or have you ever been unsure about what to do, so you look to see what other people are doing? These all have one thing in common: normative social influence

Normative Social Influence Normative Social Influence

Create learning materials about Normative Social Influence with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents
    • We will start by discussing the normative social influence definition.
    • Then we will discuss the differences between normative and informational social influence.
    • After we investigate the link between the Asch study (1955) and normative social influence, in this we will give a brief Asch conformity experiment summary and the Asch experiment results.

    Normative Social Influence Definition

    Have you ever done something you didn’t like because your friends wanted to do it? It could be dressing in a way you don’t like to match their style or stealing from a store because they wanted you to. You know that behaviour is wrong but do it anyway to fit in with your friends.

    Normative social influence is when a person conforms to specific behaviours to fit in and be accepted by a group. Typical reasons for this are social desires to be accepted and fear of rejection if they do not conform to similar behaviours and attitudes.

    Normative social influence is the pressure that causes us to conform to others to fit in. In normative social influence, we don’t agree with our behaviour but do it to be accepted by a group.

    Chances are, you see a lot of normative social influence in secondary school. Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? In Mean Girls, Cady tries to fit in with the popular girls, causing her to change how she dresses, eats, and acts. By the end, Cady reverts to how she dressed in the beginning, showing that she knew that conforming wasn’t right for her but rather done only to get socially accepted by the popular girls.

    Normative Social Influence vs Informational Social Influence

    The other main type of social influence is informational social influence. While normative and informational social influence results in the person conforming, there are different reasons for conformity.

    As we reviewed earlier, normative social influence happens when someone conforms to fit into a group. The person might not necessarily agree with what they conform to, but they are doing so to try to fit in.

    Informational social influence happens for an entirely different reason.

    Informational social influence occurs when the person is trying to be right and is looking to other people for information they don’t have.

    Normative Social Influence, Photograph of a shopping centre,. StudySmarterFig. 1. What do you do when you see a crowded store?

    For example, you walk around a shopping centre and pass a usually empty store. However, when you walk by the store today, it is very crowded, with a long line of people. You might pop in to see what is happening inside the store.

    Is there a new phone, clothing, or game there? When you go inside to look around, you have been influenced informationally. You’re assuming that the people in the store know more than you do, so you follow their behaviour and go into the store.

    Both of these types of social influence are prevalent in our daily lives. While they are different, they share the similarity of knowing that you are conforming. When you walk into the store, you know you’re going in because other people are there.

    There’s a third type of social influence that’s not as talked about as normative and informational. It’s called automatic social influence. Automatic social influence happens when you see someone do a behaviour, and you automatically imitate that behaviour. Think about yawning. Do you ever yawn after watching someone else yawn?

    Asch’s 1951 Study and Normative Social Influence

    Now that we better understand normative social influence, let’s look at one of its most famous studies, Asch’s 1955 conformity study.

    Solomon Asch was a Polish-American psychologist who was influential in studying a wide range of psychological topics but is renowned for his work in conformity (and social influence). Asch was curious about a group’s effects on an individual’s conformity levels and designed a study around that idea.

    Asch created his study in response to Sherif’s (1935) autokinetic conformity experiment, in which Sherif asked participants how much a stationary projected light on a screen appeared to move. Asch believed conformity was theoretically impossible because there was no correct answer to the task in Sherif’s experiment, making it more challenging to know whether participants had confirmed.

    With his study, Asch wanted to find out how strong the effects of conformity were even when there was an obvious answer to the task.

    He thought that even if the participants knew the correct answer in a group, the effects of normative social influence would be too strong, so that the participants would conform to the wrong answer.

    Asch’s Conformity Experiment Summary

    To start the experiment, Asch gathered participants from the student body at Swarthmore College, where he was employed.

    Asch told his participants they would partake in an experiment centred around a vision test.

    The participants were put into a group with seven other participants and informed they would judge the lengths of lines. They were given sheets of paper with four lines printed on them. One line was the target line, and the others were marked A, B, and C.

    Participants had to name the line that corresponded to the target line. The participants stated their answers out loud so everyone in the group could hear what they thought. Each participant would go through multiple trials.

    Normative Social Influence, Photograph of a table with seven chairs around it. StudySmarterFig. 2. The participants sat at a table, all hearing the others’ answers.

    However, that’s the deception that Asch told the participants. Here’s what really happened.

    Asch recruited his participants by telling them it was an experiment on vision, but in reality; it was a conformity test. The other seven participants in the room were confederates, members of the research team who were told beforehand how to answer each question. Asch instructed the confederates to say the correct answer initially, but as more trials went on, they were all told to answer incorrectly, despite the correct answer.

    This section of the experiment -- when the confederates were answering incorrectly -- was the part that Asch was studying. Would the participants conform to the social influence of their peers or stay with the answer they knew was right?

    Remember, this is a normative social influence because the participant knows the correct answer and is potentially choosing the wrong answer to fit in.

    Results of Asch’s Experiment

    Would you have conformed to the wrong answer in this experiment?

    If you were anything like Asch’s participants, you would have conformed. Even though there was an obvious answer to the line question, 74% of the participants answered incorrectly at least once when the confederates responded poorly. This result shows that while many participants did a handful of trials without conforming, they succumbed to the pressure at least once, despite knowing they were giving the incorrect answer.

    Normative Social Influence, a diagram example of Asch's line experiment, StudySmarterFig. 3 A diagram example of Asch’s line experiment

    This result shows the impact of normative social influence and conformity on groups. This result becomes more impactful than the control group (without confederates), where only 1% of the participants answered incorrectly.

    These findings support the claim that people are more likely to conform to a group, even if they know they are wrong. What is more impressive is that the participants were in a group of strangers! Do you think they would have conformed more or less to a group of people they knew?

    Asch’s success in this study influenced the development of what we know today as social psychology. Additionally, his research influenced later studies, such as Stanley Milgram’s shock experiment.

    Asch’s Additional Studies

    Asch ran additional experiments with changes to the setup to see if other related factors impact conformity.

    In one of Asch’s subsequent studies, he found that the participants’ conformity peaked at three confederates and then plateaued after three. This result means that in a laboratory setting like Asch, it only took a smaller group of confederates to get the same results as the initial larger group.

    Another study looked at unanimity. When just one confederate agreed with the participant, the conformity rate dropped from 76% to 5%. Additionally, conformity rates dropped (to 9%) when one confederate gave a different answer from the participant and the group. This finding suggests that social influence is significantly reduced when there is just one dissenter in a group.

    Finally, conformity increased when the task was harder, making the answer less obvious to participants. This result could be an example of informational social influence, which occurs when someone is unsure of their knowledge and looks to the information of others for help.

    Normative Social Influence - Key takeaways

    • Normative social influence is the pressure that causes us to conform to others to fit in even though we know what we’re doing isn’t right.
    • Informational social influence is looking to others for information we don’t have and copying their behaviour.
    • Asch studied conformity and normative social influence by having participants in a room with confederates and asking them to match one line to three others. He wondered whether the participants would conform to the confederates’ wrong answers.
    • Asch found that 74% of the participants conformed at least once.
    • Asch ran other variations of his experiment and found that one dissenter drops conformity rates, a more challenging task increases conformity rates, and conformity rates stay the same with three or more confederates in the room.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Normative Social Influence

    What is the Asch conformity experiment (1951)?

    The Asch conformity experiment (1951) is a study that aimed to show the effects of conformity in a group setting.

    What is normative influence conformity?

    Normative conformity or normative social influence is when people change their behaviour or beliefs to fit into a group.

    Is the Asch experiment about normative influence?

    The Asch experiment is about normative influence.  People were willing to give the wrong answer in the experiment because they felt the need to conform to the confederates.

    What is a normative social influence example? 

    A normative social influence example is peer pressure. I.e. giving in to peer pressure, e.g. vaping because the entire group also does this, and they fear rejection if they don't also vape. 

    What is the difference between normative and informational influence?

    Normative social influence is when people would rather conform to a group than be correct about something they know to be true. Informational social influence occurs when someone is unsure of their own knowledge and looks to the information of others for help.

    What is normative social influence? 

    Normative social influence is when a person conforms to specific behaviours to fit in and be accepted by a group. Typical reasons for this are social desires to be accepted and fear of rejection if they do not conform to similar behaviours and attitudes. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Asch's study was a

    DELETE: In Asch's experiment, confederates were asked to

    What was the independent variable in Asch's experiment?


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Normative Social Influence Teachers

    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App