Minority influence and social change

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Minority influence

Sometimes small minorities and even individuals gain influence and change the way that the majority think. 

In minority influence, it seems that a form of internalisation is taking place. Members of the majority actually take on the beliefs and views of a consistant minority - rather than just complying.

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Consistency - Moscovici (1969)

Mocscovici et al (1969) did research into minority influence that compared inconsistent minorities with consistent minorities.


  • Lab experiment using 192 women.
  • In groups of 6, they judged the colour of 36 slides.
  • All slides were blue, but the brightness of the blue varied.
  • 2/6 of the participants were confederates.
  • In one condition the confederates all 36 green (consistent) and in another condition they called 24 of the slides green (inconsistent). 
  • A control group was used with no confederates.
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Moscovici et al (1969)


  • In the control group called the slides green 0.25%  of the time.
  • Consistent condition - 8.4% consitently called the slides green and 32% called the slides green at least once.
  • Inconsistent condition - 1.25% of participants called the slides green 
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Moscovici et al (1969)


  • The confederates were in the minority but their views appear to have influences the real participants.
  • The use of two conditions illustrated that the minority had more influence when they were consistent in calling the slides green.
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Moscovici et al (1969)


  • Labratory experiment - lacked ecological validity
  • Results can't be generalised to men
  • Owing to the use of the control group, we know that the participants were actually influenced by the minority rather than being independently unsure of the colour of the slides.
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Flexibility - Nemeth et al (1974)

Repeated Moscovici's experiment, but instructed participants to answer with all of the colours they saw in the slide, rather than a single colour.

They ran 3 variations - where the two confederated:

  • said all of the slides were green
  • said all of the slides were green or green-blue at random
  • said the brighter slider were green-blue and the duller slides were green or vice versa

When the confederates always answered green, or varied their response randomly (so inconsistently), they had no effect on the participants' responses. 

The condition where the confederates responses varied by brightness, the confederates had a significant effect on the participants' responses. 

The confederates had most influence when they were consistent but flexible - Nemeth proposed that rigid consistency wasn't effective beause it seemed unrealistic when more subtle responces were allowed.

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Moscovici's conversion theory (1980)

Suggests that majority and minority influence are differnet processes. 

Majority influence:

  • People compare their behaviour to the majority, and change their behaviour to fit in without considering the majority's views in detail.
  • So majority influence involves compliance - it doesn't have to change their private feelings, just their behaviour.

Minority influence:

  • When a minority is consistent people may actually examine the majority's beliefs in detail because they want to understand why the minority sees things differently.
  • This can lead people to privately accepting the minority view - the convert to the minority position.
  • Social pressure to conformmay mean their behaviour doesn't actually change, at least at first.
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Initially minority views can be seen as wrong, because thy don't match up with what's considered the norm.

But by being consistent the minority group shows that it has a clear view which it's commited to, and isn't willing to compromise.

This creates a conflict - when you're faced with a consistent minority you have to seriously consider whether they might be right, and if you should change your view. Moscovici called this the validation process.

If there's no reason to dismiss the minority view, then you begin to see things as the minority does. 

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Social impact theory (1981)

Latane and Wolf 's social impact theory (1981) argued that social influence occurs when the combined effects if three factors are significant enough:

  • Strength - how powerful, knowledgeable and consistent the group appear be
  • Numbers - how many people are in the group
  • Immediacy - how close the source of influence is to you (physically or in terms of a relationship)

Latane and Wolf's theory says that minority influence happens through the same process as majority influence - it's the balance of factors that create the social influence that's different.

The number of people in a minority is relatively small, but if the minority has strength and immediacy they can still exert social influence - a majority doesn't need as much strength or immediacy, because they have the numbers. 

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Evaluation for social impact therory

Mullen (1985) conducted a meta-analysis of studies investigating social impact theory and found that lots of them relied on self-report rather than observer behaviour. He argued that support for social impact theory could actually be a result of demand characteristics. 

A field experiment by Sedikides and Jackson (1990) did provide support for social impact theory though, which contradicts Mullen's theory.

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The snowball effect

Whatever the process, minority influence is neccessary for social change to take place.

If some people in a group start to agree with a minority view then the minority becomes more influential. This results in more and more people converting to the majority view. Eventually the minority becomes a majority. 

For this to happen people need to go from privately accepting the minority view to pubically express it. 

One explanation of why this may happen is social cryptoamnesia - this means public opinion changes gradually over time, until the minority view is accepted as the norm, but people forget where the view originally came from.

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Martin Luther King

In the 1950s in America, black people didn't have the same rights as white people. For example, in parts of America, buses were segregated and black people had to give up their seats for white people.

Rev. Martin Luther King challenged the views of the majority to bring about political and social rights for black people. He and other activists used peaceful protests like marches and sit-ins. This was known as the civil rights movement. His ideas were so unpopular at the time that his house was bombed by activists, was abused and arrested.

The actions of civil rights activists influenced the majority. Nowadays there are laws than ensure people are given equal rights regardless of racial origin. 

In 1964 Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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