Social Impact Theory

Have your friends ever insisted that you skip class? Perhaps you hesitated, but they ridiculed you for being a coward. In the end, you gave in. If so, you have been exposed to what psychologists call a social impact; this concept has been described in the social impact theory.

Social Impact Theory Social Impact Theory

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Contents
Table of contents
    • We will start by covering the social impact theory definition.

    • Then we will look at the social impact theory evaluation, i.e. why the theory is important in psychology.

    • After, we will delve into the social impact theory.

    • We will look at social impact theory examples.

    • Finally, we will discuss the dynamic social impact theory.

    Social Impact Theory Definition

    Social impact theory attempts to explain conformity alongside other group behaviours, such as obedience to authority, majority and minority behaviour, and social influence as a whole. Social impact stems from the individual’s perception of events to feel influenced even if others do not intend to influence them.

    Social impact is when individuals or groups influence the thoughts or actions of others through their behaviour or presence.

    Social Impact Theory: Importance

    Social impact theory is crucial in this area and provides valuable information. Let’s go through some examples and their evaluation. Social impact theory explains the well-known social identity theory, which describes why people behave differently depending on whether they belong to the majority or the minority. Doing so explains prejudice, why it occurs, and how to stop it.

    It attempts to explain components of the social approach (the study of the social environment and its effects on people’s behaviour). Social impact theory makes sense of studies such as Milgram’s obedience study. However, social impact theory is reductionist as it fails to consider the ability of the target to influence the source of influence.

    Photograph of two babies in the same outfits. StudySmarterFig. 1. Have you ever intentionally dressed like someone else?

    Social Impact Theory Model

    Bibb Latané, an American psychologist, was the first to propose the social impact theory. He suggested three laws of behaviour in the social impact theory: social force, immediacy, and numbers. Let us look at them in detail.

    Social Impact Theory Model: Factors

    Social force is when people feel pressured to change their behaviour or ideas when they disagree with the majority. This pressure can manifest itself in various ways, such as direct persuasion by others or jokes about people who do not fit in.

    Several factors can affect the power of social force. Strength is the perceived power of the person exerting social force. If a friend tries to get you to stay after class to study, you are less likely to do so than if a teacher does the same. The teacher has more influence and power to affect your life than a friend.

    Immediacy refers to the proximity of the social force in terms of distance and time.

    The numbers indicate that a group exerts more social force than a single person. It will always be harder to turn down plans with friends when the whole group is acting on you, rather than just a single friend, because they exert greater social force together.

    In Milgram’s 7th variation, in which the researcher confederate gave commands over the phone, obedience decreased as immediacy was reduced.

    Social Impact Theory: Psychosocial Law

    The psychosocial law states that the more sources of social pressure in a situation (i.e., the more people come into your space), the more the additional effect plateaus. While there is a big difference between one person or five people trying to peer pressure you, there is not a big difference between 20 or 30 people trying to pressure you.

    Social Impact Theory: Division of Impact

    Division of impact is the idea that social impact is equally distributed among those it is directed to. If your friends make fun of you for not wearing the latest trainers, there is less pressure to conform if you are not the only one they are making fun of.

    This idea is known as diffusion of responsibility. It states that you feel less responsible and influenced when in a group than alone.

    Milgram’s findings supported this idea of division of impact. The study found that participants felt less compelled to deliver shocks when they had peers who would not follow instructions.

    Social Impact Theory Examples

    An example of the social impact theory of social force example is...

    If your whole group bought new trainers, your friends might joke about your old ones, prompting you to buy new ones too.

    And an example of immediacy is...

    You may find it easy to turn down plans a friend tried to arrange with you over text a few days ago, but it may be harder to say no if your friend is right in front of you.

    An example of the number factor of the social impact theory is...

    When one friend asks you to go to the park, you tell them you don’t feel like going but end up going because many of your friends ask you to come along.

    Social Impact Theory: Evaluation

    The social impact theory is criticised as reductionist as it fails to consider the ability of the target to influence the source of influence.

    Numerous studies support the social impact theory. Let us take a look at some of the most notable.

    Social Impact Theory: Sedikides and Jackson (1990)

    This study was a field experiment in a zoo in New York. A confederate had to ask visitors not to lean on the railings. Sedikides and Jackson subsequently observed the visitors’ behaviour. This experiment provided evidence for the ideas of strength, immediacy, and numbers in the following way:

    When the confederate was dressed as a zookeeper (thus perceived as a source of greater power and influence), visitors were more likely to obey (58%) than when they were wearing a T-shirt and shorts (36%).

    When the confederate was in the same room as the visitors, they obeyed 61% of the time. However, in another room, obedience dropped to only 7% when they were further away.

    IdeaDescription
    StrengthWhen the confederate was dressed as a zookeeper (thus perceived as a source of greater power and influence), visitors were more likely to obey (58%) than when they were wearing a T-shirt and shorts (36%).
    ImmediacyWhen the confederate was in the same room as the visitors, they obeyed 61% of the time. However, in another room, obedience dropped to only 7% when they were further away.
    The experiment found that visitors were less likely to obey in a larger group of about six (14%) than in smaller groups of one or two (60%).

    Social Impact Theory: French and Raven (1959)

    French and Raven found that, as claimed by Latané, power affects people’s actions, thoughts, and feelings. They divided this idea of power into five different categories. These are:

    • Legitimate power is the perceived power that comes from a person’s seniority and the natural authority that comes with their role.

    • Reward power derives from a person’s ability to reward good behaviour and performance.

    • Expert power arises from the perception that someone has a high knowledge, skill, or experience on the subject in question.

    • Referential power results from a person’s social standing and ability to be liked or even idolised by others.

    • Coercive power is a person’s ability to subdue others through coercion or force.

    Social Impact Theory: Darley and Latané (1968)

    In this study, participants were placed in booths to discuss health issues. A confederate was instructed to fake a heart attack. Darley and Latané hypothesised that participants would be less willing to help if more people were in the booth due to the idea of diffusion of responsibility.

    When there was only one other participant in the booth, they attempted to help the confederate in most cases (85%).

    However, when two other people were present, this number dropped to only 62%. When four or more other participants were present, they attempted to help only 31% of the time.

    This study supports Latané’s idea of numbers and diffusion of responsibility.

    Dynamic Social Impact Theory

    Social impact theory is still being researched today; however, it is now called the dynamic social impact theory.

    The dynamic social impact theory is similar to the social impact theory but focuses on how people can influence the people or things that influence them.

    Have you ever copied your friends' clothes but later saw your friends copying your hairstyle? This is an example of how the dynamic social impact theory works. The social impact theory says that only you can be influenced by someone else, while the dynamic social impact theory says you can also influence the other person.

    Let’sapplyse the example of a celebrity to the social impact theory and the dynamic social impact theory. The social impact theory would tell us that a celebrity can influence how we dress, what we eat, what we watch, and the types of people we are friends with. However, the dynamic social impact theory would say that we also can influence a celebrity. Can you think of any time that hateful comments from the public impacted a celebrity? Negative comments toward celebrities can influence them to avoid the public eye and stop posting on social media.

    Social Impact Theory - Key takeaways

    • Social impact is when individuals or groups influence the thoughts or actions of other individuals.
    • Social impact theory forms the background for many ideas and studies in psychology.
    • Three laws of behaviour exist in the social impact theory: social force, psychosocial law, and divisions of impact.
    • Factors that influence social force are strength, immediacy, and numbers.
    • The dynamic social impact theory is now referred to as the social impact theory. It states that people can both influence and be influenced by other people.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Social Impact Theory

    What is dynamic social impact theory?

    The dynamic social impact theory is similar to the social impact theory but says that people can influence the things or people that influence them. 

    How is social impact theory reductionist?

    Social impact theory is reductionist as it fails to consider the ability of the target to influence the source of influence.

    Why is social impact theory important?

    Social impact theory is important because it provides a background explanation for many theories and studies in social psychology.

    What three factors are causing social impact?

    Factors that influence social impact are strength, immediacy, and numbers.

    What is social impact theory?

    Social impact theory attempts to explain conformity alongside other group behaviours, such as obedience to authority, majority and minority behaviour, and social influence as a whole.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Social impact occurs when we are given explicit orders to conform.

    If your whole group of friends bought new trainers, your friends might make jokes about your old ones, prompting you to buy new ones too. This is an example of _______

    Sedikides and Jackson (1990) was a _____ experiment.

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