Psychology - Social Influence

Social Influence

Social Influence in Everyday Life

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Types of Conformity

KELMAN (1958): proposed 3 types of conformity-

Compliance: going along with others to gain their approval or avoid disappointment. Compliance to the views or actions of the majority can result in public compliance but little or no private attitude changes

Internalisation: going along with others because you have accepted their point of view because its consistent with your own. Identification can lead to acceptance of a group's point of view both publicly and privately.

Identification: going along with others because you have accepted their point of view but only because of a desire to be like them. By adopting someone else's attitudes and behaviors, they feel part if the group.

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Research into majority influence

ASCH (1956): 123 American male undergraduates were asked to volunteer for a vision test but it was actually was majority influence test. There was actually only 1 participant and all the others were confederates. They were asked to look at 3 lines of different length and then in turn stated which line was the same as the standard line. although this was fairly obvious, on some trials the real participant made the wrong choice.

Procedures: participants always answered in the same order with the partipant always answering second to last or last. The confederates were instructed to give the same incorrect answer to 12 out of the 18 trials.

Findings: on the 12 critical trials 36.8% of the responses by the participant were incorrect. One quarter of the participants never conformed on any of the trials. On a control trial Asch found that 1% of people do make mistakes.

Why: After interviewing some participants Asch found that people conform because of: Distortion of perception, distortion of judgement, distortion of action.

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Variations of ASCH study

The Difficulty of the task: ASCH made the differences in the lines smaller so that the correct answer was less obvious. Under these circumstances the level of conformity increased.

Size of the majority: ASCH found little conformity when the majority just consisted of 1 or 2 indiviuals. However under a majority of 3, the conforming responses jumped up to 30%.

The unanimity of the majority: in the original study, the confederates unaimously gave the same answer. When the participant was given the support of either another real participant or confederate, conformity levels dropped significantly reducing errors from 32% to 5.5%.

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Evaluation of ASCH's Study

The findings could be considered unique as they only use culture- male americans in the 1950s.

Only 1/3rd of participants conformed so the other 2/3rds remained independent and stuck to their opinion .

Ethics: Deception and lack of informed consent

Validity: the task that was set is rather an insignificant task and one where people would be willing to conform as it does not matter much. On a more important task we would expect conformity levels to drop.

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Culture and Conformity: Meta analysis

SMITH AND BOND (1998): analysed comformity studies carried out between 1952 and 1994 that had used the same or similar procedures as ASCH's original study. 133 studies in 17 countries.

Results: the impact of cultural variables on conformity levels was greater than any other variable such as gender. Levels on conformity had declined steadily since ASCH's study. Conformity was significantly higher with larger majrity sizes, a greater proportion of female participants and more ambigous stimuli.

Limitations: Cultures are not all the same, therefore they may be oversimplification. Problem of what is meaningful and relevent in different cultures.

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Conformity to Minority influence

Moscovivi's Reasearch

MOSCOVIVI ET AL. (1969): investegated the view that social influence occurs not just through  compliance to majority views but through a change of previously held opinions. In order for this to occur, the minority must be consistent in their views and this will lead to conflict in the rest of the majority group leading them to question and possibly change their views.

Procedures: 32 groups of 6 women, out of the 6, 2 were confederates. They were shown 36 blue coloured slides with different filters and intensity to give each a different hue. Participants were told that the experiment was on colour perception and they were asked to describe the colour. The confederates consistently reported that the slides were green.

Findings: Overall, the participants agreed with the minority on 8.42% of the trials. 32% gave the same answer as the confederate at least once. When the confederates reported inconsistently ( on 12 trials say blue) the agreement with the minority went down to 1.25%.

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Other research and ethics

WOOD ET AL.(1994): confirmed that minorities can be influential by being consistent in their arguments through a meta-analysis of 97 studies. This research found that minorities who were percieved as being especially consistent wer particularly influential. They also found that majority group members tended to avoid aligning themselves with the minority members who are seen as deviant, so that they are not seen as deviant aswell. As a result, majority group members were more likely to admit being influenced by the minority privately rather than publicly.


It was necessary to decieve the participants in Moscovici's study in order to investigate the hypothesis. Participants were told the true purpose at the end of the study. As the deception was relatively harmless and did not cause any stress to the participant, it is judged to be ethically acceptable

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Explaining conformity to minority influence

Conversion theory

Minority arguments create conflict and on the basis that we would want to reduce this conflict, we would examine the minority's argument and this can lead to greater message processing.


Internalisation effect masked when minority is an outgroup, as people may not want to publicly align themselves with a deviant minority.

1) Minorities can succeed if they are consistent in their viewpoint.

2) However the person holding a minority viewpoint is frequently seen as incompetent and rejected by members of the majority.

3) Minority influence is a valuabled part of providing information on all sides of an issue

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Explaining conformity

Normative social influence- compliance in order to be liked

International social influence- desire to be right (when situation is ambigous, crisis and majority seen as experts)

Social impact theory- principles are number, strength and immediacy.

Support for social impact theory

Consolidation: over time majority increases and minority decreases and resistance is harder

Clustering: people are more influenced by closest neighbours or others with same opinion

Correlation: eventually group members opinions on other issues become similar

Continuing diversity: clustering can lead to minorities being shielded by influnces attempts by majority

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Obediance to Authority

Milgrams study

40 male volunteers paide $4.50 and told they were taking part in a study of how punishment affects learning. As well as the real participant there were 2 confederates- an experimenter and the learner. The participant always ended up as the teacher. He was told to administer high voltage electric shocks each time the learner got a question wrong and the voltage increased with each question. The learner who sat in another room gave mainly wrong answers and revieved fake shocks in silence until 300 volts. At this point the learner started to ask to stop and even pounded on the wall. If the teacher asked to stop then the experimenter would give prods saying it is essential you carry on etc.

Findings: 65% of participants continued to 450 volts the maximum shock which is potentially lethal. All participants went to 300 volts and only 5 stopped at that point (the point when the learner first objected).

Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that ordinary people are obediant to authority even when asked to behave in an inhumane way.

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Variations of Milgrams Study

Proximity of the victim: The learner was in the same room as the teacher, obediance rate dropped to 40%  as the teacher was now able to witness the learner's pain directly. In touch proximity study where the teacher had to place the learner's arm on the shock pad, obediance dropped to 30% although mean voltage was still 270V.

Proximity of the authority figure: experimenter absent study, after giving instructions the experimenter left the room and gave orders over the telephone. Only 21% continued to maximum shock level. Also participants were seen to give weaker shocks repeatedly despite telling the experimenter they were following the correct procedure.

Presence of Allies: two peers rebel, 2 copnfederates and 1 participant shared task of being the teacher. When the confederates refused to carry on almost all real participants withdrew their cooperation as well with only 10% proceeding to the maximum shock.

Increasing the teacher's discretion: the level of shock was left to the participants. Only one participant went on to the maximum shock level and 95% of participants refused to deliver any shocks beyond the point where the learner first protested.

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Ethical Issues in Obedience Research

Deception and lack of informed Consent

Participants in Milgrams study were told they were doinog an experiment on punishment and learning. Lack of informed consent but 74% of participants said they had learnt something of personal importance.

Right to Withdraw?

 It was not clear whether participants had the right to withdraw due to the prods of the experimenter as participants found it very difficult and felt they had no choice about continuing.

Protection from Psychological Harm

Psychological harm wasn't justified. Milgram said it couldn't be predicted and 84% glad to have participants.

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