Social Influence

What would you do if someone asked you to take ice cream from a baby? Assuming that this isn’t your usual behaviour – what would make you follow the request? Would you do it if a friend dared you to? Or if a stranger told you to? What if the stranger was a doctor or the child’s parent? Or what if you knew the ice cream was poisoned?

Social Influence Social Influence

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Contents
Table of contents

    In social influence, we investigate what it would take to change an individual’s thinking and behaviour. To cover the basics, let us first look at the definition of social influence. We will then examine the different types of social influence and social influence theories.

    What is Social Influence?

    Many factors influence how we interact with our environment, and social influence processes play a part in many different areas, including sales, marketing, peer pressure, socialisation, persuasion, obedience, and even large-scale political and social change.

    Social influence is any change in behaviour, emotion or thinking that other individuals cause, even if their presence is only imagined, expected or implied. It also includes the interpersonal processes that lead to behaviour, emotion or thinking changes. In short, it’s about how people change their minds.

    Social influence comprises majority influence (conformity) and minority influence.

    Majority influence is how a larger group influences an individual or smaller group. In psychology, most investigations into social influence deal with majority influence, as psychology focuses on the individual.

    Minority influence is when an individual or smaller group influences a larger group. Although this has been studied in psychology, this type of large-scale social change is more the domain of sociology.

    • Kelman’s Social Influence Theory (1958) introduces three types of social influence.

    • Latané’s Social Impact Theory (1981); a very useful mathematical model for explaining social impact.

    Kelman’s theory is older, so much more research up to date has been based on his theory. These two theories will be explored in more detail below.

    What are the three different types of social influence in psychology?

    Kelman describes three levels of depth of social influence; internalisation, identification, and compliance. Any of these three could be the outcome when a group puts pressure on an individual. You can imagine the three subtypes as a continuum of how much a person matches up with a group inside their mind and with their behaviour. On the lowest level, a person is separate from a group, and at the highest level, completely unified with a group.


    Social Influence Process of social influence StudySmarter Original

    Process of social influence. In compliance, the individual and group are separate, in identification they overlap, and in internalisation, they are completely merged. Bruna Ferreira, StudySmater Originals

    What is compliance?

    What does it mean to comply? What is compliant behavior and what are psychological factors of compliance?

    Compliance is the lowest level of social influence. This is when an individual does what is directly requested of them. Typically, an individual goes along with what’s expected in public but holds different views in private. This type of social influence is short-lived and the behaviour usually stops once the individual isn’t monitored.

    Most marketing and sales aim to make customers comply with the business's request for the consumer to buy their products or use their services.

    • Wearing a uniform to school but taking it off as soon as possible when you get home.

    • Seeing an advertisement on the television that says “Buy Slurpy Delight!” and buying it next time you’re in the supermarket.

    • Picking up a friend from the airport because they asked you to.

    What is identification?

    Our identification of ourselves and the world around us has great importance. How does identification affect us and those around us?

    Identification is the medium level of social influence, where an individual identifies with the group or individuals in the group because they value the group and want to belong to it. The individual might change some behaviours in public as well as in private but might not agree with all aspects of the group's behaviour or thinking.

    The process of identification most strongly determines socialisation, peer pressure and looking up to role models. Leaders or celebrities rely on identification you might not like all aspects of a specific footballer’s life or demeanour but still put their poster up on your wall, maybe because you look up to them.

    • Cutting your hair in the most popular style.

    • Buying a celebrity-endorsed shade of lipstick.

    • Voting for a politician because they are plain-spoken and down-to-earth, not because they are particularly well-suited to the job.

    • Acting in a particularly loud and raucous manner every time you’re out with your friends.

    What is internalisation?

    Internalisation is the deepest type of conformity. Here, the individual has completely taken on the expectations of the group, in private as well as in public. This change continues on indefinitely, even in the absence of the group. In essence, internalisation leads to new behaviour. The individual is now completely part of the group, in terms of thinking and behaviour.

    • Following the religion of your parents even after they’ve passed on.

    • Retaining your cultural customs even if you’re far from your native land.

    • Waiting at the crosslights even if there’s no car or person in sight.

    What is obedience in psychology?

    A good dog? A child who completes their school work? What is obedience? What is obedience within psychology?

    Obedience is a type of social influence where the pressure doesn’t come from a peer but rather stems from an authority figure who directly instructs or gives orders.

    Usually, these authority figures have the power to punish disobedience they have legitimate authority. Depending on whether the individual is the one taking or giving the orders, they are either identifying with a role or complying with orders.

    The first studies into obedience started after World War II when the big question was whether there were people whose personalities were just naturally more obedient compared to others. Researchers who looked into this were Theodor Adorno and Stanley Milgram.

    Milgram demonstrated that the circumstances (situational variables e.g. whether an authority figure wears a uniform) determined the likelihood of a person to obey. To explain his findings, he later developed his Agency Theory which states that to be effective, the authority must be legitimate.

    What are majority and minority influences in psychology?

    It is important to know what a majority or a minority influence is. How does this relate to the influences of psychology?

    Majority and minority Influences are terms that refer to which direction the influence flows between a larger group (majority) and a smaller group or individual (minority).

    What is majority influence or conformity (normative and informational influence)?

    In majority influence or conformity, the larger group influences the individual or smaller group. There are two explanations of why people conform: either they want to be accepted in a group (normative influence as investigated by Asch and Zimbardo), or they want to do what is correct informational influence as investigated by Sherif. Informational influence is more important in situations where there is no clear answer. Asch also found that group size, unanimity and task difficulty affect conformity.

    Conformity does not have to be enforced with specific instructions like obedience. Rather it’s the sum of all the spoken and unspoken social norms and expectations that a person has to follow to be part of a group. Whether the internal world that leads to obedience is more one of compliance or identification is still a matter of debate (see Zimbardo in his Stanford Prison Experiment versus the BBC Prison Study.

    There are also ways in which any social influence can be resisted. The two main factors determining if one can resist social influence are whether a person is supported or whether they feel in control of their own decisions.

    What is minority influence?

    In minority influence, the individual or smaller group influences the larger group and causes a change in the behaviour or thinking of the larger group. This social change is more likely to be permanent and internalised. The main factors that contribute to social change are consistency, the commitment of the minority group and flexibility of the majority group.

    An example of minority influence leading to social change is the process by which suffragettes obtained the vote for women in the western world. At the time the suffragettes were founded, women couldn’t vote, have their own money, or even have custody over their own children. This often led to devastating abuses and miserable lives for women.

    Social Influence Minority influence feminism movement StudySmarterFeminism movement as an example of minority influence, Katarina Gadže, StudySmarter Originals (images from Canva)

    In the beginning, the vote was fought for by small groups of women protesting their lack of say in government and in life by having sit-ins and demonstrations, being arrested and going on hunger strikes. But over time many men and women alike started to support their cause. The women's rights movement became a mass movement; resulting in the majority taking on the thinking of a few.

    Nowadays, it’s normal for women to be able to vote and have a bank account. What started as a handful of women ended up leading to changes benefitting women in law and society that are still transforming society today.


    Social Influence - Key takeaways

    • Social influence means changes in behaviour or thinking as a result of influence by others.
    • Social influence comprises majority influence/conformity, minority influence and resistance to social influence.
    • Majority influence or conformity is when a large group influences an individual or minority.
    • Minority influence is when an individual or small group influences the majority. This can lead to long-lasting social change.
    • There are three subtypes of conformity; compliance, identification and internalisation.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Social Influence

    What does social influence mean?

    Social influence is when an individual or group changes their thinking or behaviour in response to another person or group.

    What is normative social influence?

    Normative social influence is when someone feels the need to change their behaviour to match the social norms of their current environment or company.

    What is informational social influence?

    Informational social influence is when someone feels the need to change their behaviour as a response to information gained from other people or the environment.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What kind of study was the BBC prison study?

    Milgram’s Agency Theory focuses on the influence of what factors on obedience?

    True or false? Situational influence can only influence personality, not the other way.

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