Social Influence

HideShow resource information

Types of Conformity


  • Occurs when a person genuinely accepts the group norms
  • Results in private and public change of opinion/behaviour
  • Change is likely to be permanent as attitudes have become internalised - attitude persists even in the absense of other group members


  • Sometimes we conform to the behaviour/opinions of a group because there is something about the group we value
  • Identify with the group to be a part of it
  • May mean publicly changing opinions to achieve this goal even if we don't privately agree with the group


  • Simply going along with others in public but privately not changing personal opinions/behaviour - stops as soon as group pressure stops
1 of 25

Explanations for Conformity

Informational Social Influence:

  • ISI is about who has better info - you or the rest of the group
  • The reason individuals follow the behaviour of the group (the majority) is beacuse people want to be right
  • ISI is a cognitive process - to do with what you think
  • Most likely to happen in new situations or situations with ambiguity
  • Typical in crisis situations where decisions have to be made quickly

Normative Social Influence:

  • NSI is about norms - what is normal or typical behaviour for a social group
  • Norms regulate behaviour of groups and individuals
  • People follow the norms for social approval and to be liked
  • NSI is an emotional process
  • Most likely to happen with strangers (feeling fear of rejection)
  • We are most concerned about  the social approval of our friends
  • May be more pronounced in stressful situations - in need of social support
2 of 25

Conformity - Evaluation

Research Support for ISI:

  • Lucas et al (2006) asked students to give answers to math problems that were easy or more difficult - greater conformity to incorrect answers when they were difficult
  • This shows that people conform in situations where they don't know the answer - the outcome predicted by ISI

Individual Differences in NSI:

  • People less concerned with being liked are less affected by NSI than those who care more - nAffiliators - McGhee and Teevan (1967) found that students high in need of afiliation were most likely to conform
  • This shows that desire to be like uderlines conformity for some people more than others - individual differneces in the way people respond

ISI and NSI Work Together

  • In the Asch experiment, conformity is reduced when there is one other dissenting ppt
  • This dissenter may reduce power of NSI or reduce power of ISI
  • This shows it isn't always possible to be sure whether NSI or ISI is at work - casts doubt over them being 2 processes operating independently
3 of 25

Conformity - Asch's Research


  • Tested conformity by showing ppts 2 large white cards - 1 with a 'standard' line on and the other with 3 'comparison' lines - 1 of the lines the same others substantially different
  • Ppts were 123 American male undergraduates - each naive ppt tested with a group of 6 and 8 confederates - naive ppt not aware the others were confederates
  • 1st few trials confederates gave correct answer but started making errors - all insrtucted to give the same wrong answer
  • Each ppt took part in 18 trials and on 12 'critical' trials confederates gave the wrong answer
  • A trial was 1 occasion identifying the length of the standard line


  • Naive ppt gave a wrong answer 36.8% of the time
  • Overall 25% of ppts didn't conform - 75% did at least once
  • When ppts were interviewed afterwards they said hey conformed to avoid rejection - NSI
4 of 25

Conformity - Asch's Variations

1. Group Size

  • Wanted to know whether group size would be more important than agreement of group
  • Found that with 3 confederates conformity to wrong answer rose to 31.8%
  • Addition of further confederates made little difference - suggests a small minority isn't sufficient for influence to be exerted but no need for a majority of more than 3

2. Unanimity

  • Wanted to know if the presence of another non-conforming person would affect ppts conformity
  • He introduced a confederate who disagreed with others, sometimes giving correct answer
  • Presense of this confederate meant conformity reduced by 9% from when all confederates were unanimous
  • The influence of the majority depends to some extent on the group being unanimous

3. Task Difficulty

  • Asch made line task more difficult by making stimulus line and comparison lines more similar in length
  • Conformity increased under these conditions - suggests ISI plays a greater role when task is harder
5 of 25

Conformity - Asch's Research Evaluation

A Child of it's Time

  • Perrin snd Spencer (1980) repeated Ach's study with engineering students in the UK - only 1 student conformed in a total of 396 trials
  • Could be that the students were more confident or that the 1950s were a particulary conformist time, especially in America
  • Society has changed are people tend to be less conformist today
  • Limitation of Asch's research because it mean's that the Asch effect isn't consistent and so in't a fundamental feature of human behaviour
  • Artifical Situation and Task
  • Ppts knew they were in a research study - demand characteristics in place
  • The task was trivial - no reason to conform
  • The groups didn't resemble those of everyday life
  • Limitation because it means that findings don't generalise to everday situations
  • Limited Application of Findings
  • Only men tested by Asch - other research suggests women may be more conformist than men (Neto 1995)
  • Men were from the US - individualist culture - similar studies in collectivist cultures show higher conformity rates
  • Shows that conformity levelsare sometimes hiher than what Asch found - his findings may only apply to American men
6 of 25

Conformity - Zimbardo's Research

Zimbardo set up a mock prison in the basement of thepsychology department at Stanford Uni

  • Avertised for students willing to volunteer and selected those deemed 'emotionally stable' after psychological tests
  • Student randomly assigned to the roles of prisoners and guards - to increase reality the prisoners were arrested at their homes by local plice and talen to the prison - they were blindfolded, strip searched, deloused and issued a uniform and number - prisoners' names never used, only their numbers
  • The social roles of the prisoners and guards were stricty divided - prisoners' daily routines heavily regulated - 16 rules they had to follow which were enforced by guards who worked in shifts, 3 at a time
  • The guards had their own uniform - wooden club, handcuffs, keys and mirror shades - were told they had complete power over prisoners
  • Findings:
  • The study was stopped after 6 days instead of the intended 14 - guards'behaviour became a threat to prisoners' psychological and physical health
  • 2 days in the prisoners rebelled against the harsh treatment - ripped their uniforms and shouted/swore at guards -retaliated with fire extinguishers
  • Guards employed 'divide-and-rule' tactics by playing prisners against one another - harassed prisoners constantly e.g. conducting frequent headcounts (sometimes in the middle of the night) when the prisoners would stand in line and call out their numbers
  • 1 prisoner released after 1st day showing symptoms of psychological disturbance - 2 more released on day 4 - 1 prisoner went on hunger strike, guards atempted to force feed him and punished him by putting him in 'the hole' - shunned by other prisoners
7 of 25

Conformity - Zimbardo's Research Evaluation


  • A strength is that Zimbardo and colleagues had some control over variables - obvious example is selection of ppts - emotionally stable people chosen and randomly assigned to roles
  • This was one way in which researchers tried to rule out individual personality differences as an explanation of the findings - behaviour must have been due to pressures of situation
  • Having such control increases internal validity - more confident in drawing conclusions about influence of roles on behaviour
  • Lack of Realism 
  • Banuazizi and Mohavedi (1975) argued ppts were play-acting rather than genuinely conforming
  • Performancs were based on stereotypes of how prisoners and guards should behave - e.g. 1 guard claimed he based his role on a brutual character in a film 'Cool Hand Luke'
  • This could explain the rioting as it's what they thought prisoners did
  • Quantitative data gathered during procedure showed that 90% of prisoners conversations were about prison life - Prisoner '416' expressed the view that the prison was a real one - situation real to ppts giving study higher degree of internal validity
  • Role of Dispositional Influences
  • Fromm (1973) accused Zimbardo of exagerating power of the situation to influence behaviour and minimising role of personality factors - only 1/3 of guards behavedin a brutal manner, another 1/3 applied rules fairly and the rest tried to help and support prisoners
  • Suggsts conclusion may be over-stated - guards were able to exercise right and wrong choices
8 of 25

Obedience - Milgram's Study Procedure


  • 40 male ppts recruited through adverts and flyers in the post - ad said he was looking for ppts for a study about memory - those recruited were 20-50yrs old with jobs ranging from unskilled to professional - offered $4.50 to take part
  • Money was given at the beginning and then there was a rigged draw for the role - a confederate always got the learner and the ppt got the teacher - the experimenter was also a confederate - ppts told they could leave the study at any time
  • Learner was strapped in a chair and wired with electrodes - the teacher was required to give a shock everytime the learner got an answer wrong - the task was to do with word pairs
  • The shocks were demonstrated to the ppt but after this they were false
  • Shocks went from 15volts and rose 30 levels to 450volts (labelled 'danger severe shock')
  • At 300v the learner banged on the wall and did not answer the next question - after 315v the learner banged again and did not give any responses after this
  • When turning to the experimenter for guidance the teacher was given a standard instruction 'An absense of response shold be treated as a wrong answer'
  • If the teacher felt unsure about continuin the experimenter would use 1 of 4 prods:
  • 'Please continue'
  • 'The experiment requires you to continue'
  • 'It is absolutely essential that you continue'
  • 'You have no other choice, you must go on'
9 of 25

Obedience - Milgram's Study Findings


  • No ppts stopped below 300v
  • 12.5% (5 ppts) stopped at 300v
  • 65% continued to 450v
  • Qualitative data was also collected - e.g. observations that the ppts showed signs of extreme tension (sweat, tremble, stuter, bite their lip, groan, dig fingernails into hands) - 3 ppts had 'full-blown uncontrollable seizures'
  • Prior to the study Milgram had asked 14 psychology students to predict the ppts behaviour - they estimated that no more than 3% of pts would go to 450v
  • All ppts were debriefed and assured their behaviour was normal
  • A follow-up questionnaire was also sent around after the experiement - 84% of pptsfelt glad they had participated in the study
10 of 25

Obedience - Milgram's Study Evaluation

  • Low Internal Validity
  • Orne + Holland (1968) argud that ppts behaved the way they did because they didn't really believe in the set up - guessing it wasn't real electric shocks
  • Perry's (2013) research supports this - listened to tapes of milgram's ppts + reported many of them doubting that the shocks were real
  • Sheridan + King (1972) supports Milgram as he found that 54% of males + 100% of females gave real 'fatal' shocks to puppies
  • This suggests the effects in Milgram's study were genuine as people behaved the same with real shocks
  • Good External Validity
  • Milgram argued that the lab setting accurately reflected wider authority relationships
  • Hofling et al (1966) studied nurses and found that 21/22 nurses obeyed unjustified demands from a doctor
  • Suggests that the processes of obedience to authority that occured in Milgram's lab can be generalised to other situations
  • Supporting Replication
  • Le Jeu de la Mort (The Game of Death) is a documentary about reality tv including a replication of Milgram's study
  • Ppts believed they were contestants in a pilot episdoe for a new game show - they were paid to give fake electric shocks, when ordered by the presenters, to other ppts (actually actors) in front of a studio audience
  • 80% of ppts gave max. shoch 460v - behaviour almost identical to Milgram's ppts - supports Milgram
11 of 25

Obedience - Situational Variables


  • The teacher and learner were in the same room - obedience rate dropped from 65% to 40%
  • Also a 'touch proximity' variation - teacher had to force learner's hand onto an 'electroshock plate' - obedience rate dropped further to 30%
  • Another proximity variation involved the experimenter leaving the room and giving instructions over the phone - obedience rate dropped again to 20.5% - ppts also pretended to give shocks or gave weaker ones than they were supposed to


  • The study was originally based at Yale University, a prestigious setting - it was repeated in a run-down building - the experimenter had less authority in this situation - obedience ates dropped to 47.5%


  • In the original study the experimenter wore a grey lab coat as a sign of authority - in the variation the experimenter was caled away to a telephone call and the role was taken over by an 'ordinary member of the public' in everyday clothes and not a lab coat
  • Obedience rate dropped to 20% - the lowest of all the variations
12 of 25

Obedience - Situational Variables Evaluation

  • Research support
  • Other studies demonstrated the influence of situational variables on obedience
  • Field experiment in NYC - Bickman (1974) had 3 confederates dress in 3 outfits - jacket + tie, milkman + a security guard - confederates stood in the street and asked passers-by to perform tasks e.g. picking up litter - people twice as likely to obey the security guard tha the one dressed in a jacket + tie
  • Supports Milgram's conclusion about uniform conveying authority
  • Lack of Internal Validity
  • Even more likely that ppts in the variations realised shocks were fake due to extra manipulation
  • Milgram himself recognised that the 'member of the public' was so contrived that some ppts may have worked out the truth
  • Limitation of all studies as it's unclear whether results are actually due to operation of obedience or because the ppts saw through the deception and acted accordingly
  • Cross-Cultural Replications
  • A general strength is that findings have been replicated in other cultures
  • Miranda et al (1981) found an obedience rate of over 90% amongst Spanish students - suggesting conclusions aren't limited to American males
  • Smith and Bond (1998) made a point that most replications are in western, developed societies - culturally not that different to USA - premature to conclude Milgram's findings on variables apply to people everywhere
13 of 25

Obedience - Agentic State

  • Milgram proposed that obedience to destructive authority e.g. the Nazis occurs because a person doesn't take responsibilty - they believe that they are acting on behalf of somebody else
  • An 'agent' is someody who acts for or in place of another

Autonomous State

  • Opposite of being in an agentic state - autonomy means indpendent or free
  • A person in an autonomous state is free to behave according to their own princples - a sense of responsibility for actions
  • The shift from autonomy to agency is the agentic shift - Milgram suggested this occurs when a person percieves someone else as a figure of authority - other person has greater power due to their position in the social heirarchy


  • Milgram raised the question of why people stay in the agentic state - had observed that many of his ppts spoke as if they wanted to quit but seemed unable to do so
  • Buffer - aspects of a situation that allow the person to ignore or minimise the damaging effect of their behaviour and thus reduce the 'moral strain' they're feeling
  • Milgram proposed a number of strategies the individual uses e.g. shifting responsibility to victim or denying damage they were doing to the victim
14 of 25

Obedience - Legitimacy of Authority

  • Most societies structured in a heirarchial way - people in certain positions hold authority over the rest
  • The authorty they wield is legitimate because it is agreed by society - most of us accept that authority figures have to be allowed to exercise social power over others because it allows society to funtion smoothly
  • One of the consequences is that some people are grated power to punish others - most people accept that police and courtshave the power to punish criminals/wrongdoers
  • We are willing to give up some independence and hand control of our behaviour to those e trust to exercise their uthoriy appropriately - we lean acceptance of authority in childhood from parents and teachers

Destructive Authority

  • Problems arise when legitimate authority becomes destructive
  • History as shown that powerful leaders can use their legitimate powers for destructive purposes and ordering people to behave in ways tht are cruel, stupid and dangeous
  • Destructive authority shown in Milgram's study when the experimenter used prods to make the ppt do something they didn't want to
15 of 25

Obedience - Agentic State and Legitimacy of Author

  • Research Support
  • Blass and Schmitt (2001) showed a film of Milgram;s study to students and asked them to identify who they felt was responsible for the harm to the learner
  • Students blamed the experimenter rather than ppt - they also indicated the responsibility was due to legiimate authority but also due to expert authority
  • A Limited Explanation
  • Agentic shift doesn't explain many of the resarch findings - doesn't explain why ppts didn't obey
  • Agentic shift doesn't explain findings from Hofling et al's study with nurses - it predicts that as nurss handed over responsibility to the doctor, they should have shown similr levels of anxiety as Milgram's ppts (not the case)
  • This suggests that, at the most, agentic shift can only acount for some situations of obedience
  • Cultural Differences
  • A strength of legitimacy of authority explaation is that it's useful account of cultural differences in obedience
  • Many studies show countries differ in degree to which people are traditionally obedient to authorityKilham and Mann (1974) replicated Milgram's stud in Australia and found only 16% of people went to full voltage
  • Mantell (1971) found a very different figure for Germany - 85%
  • This shows that some in some cultures authority is more likely to be accepted as legitimate and entitled to demand obedience from individuals - relects the ways that different societies are structured and how children are raised to percieve authority figures - such supportive findings increase validity
16 of 25

Obedience - The Authoritarian Personality

  • Procedure
  • Adorno et al (1950) investigated the causes of the obedient personality in a study of more than 2000 middle class, white Americans and their unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups
  • Developed scales to investigate this, including the F scale (the potential for fascism) - still used to measure authoritarian personality
  • Findings
  • People with authoritarian learnings (those who scored highly on the F scale) identified with 'strong' people and were generally contemptuous of the 'weak'
  • They were conscious of their own and others' status - excessive respect to those of higher status
  • Authoritarian people had a cognitive style where there was no 'fuzziness' between categories of people, with fixed and distinctive stereotypes about other groups - strong positive correlation between authoritarianism and prejudice
  • Authoritarian Characteristics and Origin
  • People with an authoritarian personality had the tendency to be especially obedient to authority - extreme respect for authority and submissive to it
  • Show contempt for thos with inferior social status and conventional attitudes towards race and gender - believe we need powerful leaders to enforce tradition values e.g. religion and love for country
  • Authoritarian personalities are inflexible in their outlook - everything is right or wrong
  • Forms in childhood from harsh parenting - characterised by unconditional love - creates resentment and hostility in the child - fears displaced onto those percieved to be weaker
17 of 25

Obedience - The Authoritarian Personality Evaluati

  • Research Support
  • Milgram and Elms (1966) conducted interviews w/ a small sample of fully obedient ppts who scored highly on the F scale - thought there was a link between obedience and AP
  • Link is a correlation between 2 measured variables - impossible to draw a conclusion that AP causes obedience on the basis of this
  • May be that a 3rd factor is involved - both obedience and AP may be due to a lower level of education and aren't directly linked with one another (Hyman and Sheatsley 1954)
  • Limited Explanation
  • Pre-war Germany millions of people all displayed obedient, racist and anti-Semitic behaviour - despite the fact they mjust have differed in personalities in all ways - extremely unlikely they all had an AP
  • Limitation of the theory as it's clear that an alternative explanation is more realistic - social identity explains obedience
  • Political Bias
  • F-scale measures tendency towards an extreme form of right-wing ideoogy
  • Christie and Johoda (1954) argued this is a politically biased interpretation of AP - point out the reality of left-wing authoritarianism in the shape e.g. Chinese Maoism
  • Extreme left and right-wing ideologies have much in common  - both emphasise importance of complete obedience to political authority
  • Limitation because it's not a comprehensive dispositionl eplanation that can account for obedience across the whole political spectrum
18 of 25

Resistance to Social Influence - Social Support


  • Social support can help people resist conformity - pressure to conform reduced if there are non-conforming peers
  • Asch's research - person not conforming doesn't have to be giving right answer but the fact someone isn't following majority appears to enable person to be free to follow own conscience - ISI = less likely to assume you're wrong
  • Asch's research also showed that if the non-conforming person starts conforming again so does the naive ppt - NSI = less uncomfortable being in minority of 2 than 1


  • Pressure to obey can be reduced if there's another person seen to obey
  • Milgram's variation conformity dropped from 65% to 10% when there was a disobedient confederate
  • Ppt may not follow disbedient person's behaviour but the disobedience acts as a model for ppt to copy
19 of 25

Resistance to Social Influence - LOC

  • Rotter (1966) first proposed concept of locus of control
  • It's concerned w/ internal vs. external control
  • Internals believe that the things that happen to them are controlled by themselves e.g. doing well in an exam because you revised a lot
  • Externals believe that things happen without their control e.g. doing well in an exam because they had a good textbook or they failed because of bad luck
  • Continuum
  • People differ in the way they explain their successes and failures - isn't simply a matter of being internal or external
  • There is a contiuum w/ high internal LOC at one end and high external LOC at the other end - low internal and external lying in between
  • Resistance to SI
  • Internals more likely to be able to resist pressures to conform/obey - they take personal responsibilty for the things they do
  • Internals tend to be more self-confident, achievement-orientated, have higher intelligence and less need for social approval
20 of 25

Resistance to Social Influence - Evaluation

  • Research Support - resistance to conformity
  • Allen + Levine (1971) found conformity decreased when there was 1 dissenter in an Asch-type study - this occured when dissenter wore thick glasses + said he had difficulty w/ his vision
  • Supports view that resistance isn't just motivated by following someone else but enables someone to be free of pressure
  • Research Support - resistance to obedience
  • Gamson et al (1982) found higher levels of resistance in their study than Milgram - probably because ppts in Gamson's study were in groups - 29/33 groups of ppts rebelled; peer support linked to resistance
  • Research Support - LOC
  • Holland (1967) repeated Milgram's study + measured whether ppts were internal or external
  • 37% of internals didn't continue to highest shock - only 23% of externals didn't continue
  • Increases validity of LOC and its explanation of resistance
  • Contradictory Research - LOC
  • Twenge et al (2004) analysed data from American obedience studies over a 40 year period - data showed that people have become more resistant to obedience but also more external
  • If resistance were linked to internal LOC we would expect people to be becoming more internal 
  • Challenges the link between internal LOC + resistance - results may be due to a changing society where many things are out of personal control
21 of 25

Minority Influence

  • Consistency
  • The consistency in the minority's views increases the amount of interest from others - consistency may be agreement between those in minority and/or consistency over time
  • This makes others rethink their views (maybe they have a point etc)
  • Commitment
  • Sometimes minorities engage in extreme activities to draw attention to their views - important that these are at some risk to the minority because it shows commitment to the cause
  • Majority group members pay more attention  - augmentation principle
  • Flexibility
  • Nemeth (1986) argud that consistency isn't the only important factor as it can be interpretated negatively - being extremely consistent can be seen as rigid and unflexible
  • This is off-putting to the majority and is unlikely to convert them to the minority
  • Minority need to be prepared to adapt their point of view and accept reasonable and valid counter-arguments - balance between consistency and flexibilty
  • The Process of Change
  • Hearing something new makes you think about it, specially of view is consistent/passionate
  • It's this deeper processing which is important in the process og converting to a different, minority viewpoint
  • The more people who are converted the faster the rate of conversion - the snowball effect
  • Gradually minority view becomes the majority
22 of 25

Minority Influence - Evaluation

  • Research Support for Consistency
  • Moscovici et al showed that a consistent minority opinion had a greater effect on other people than an inconsistent opinion
  • Wood et al (1994) carried out a meta-analysis of almost 100 similar studies and found that minorities who were seen as consistent were most influential - suggests consistency is a major factor in minority influence
  • Research Support for Depth of Thought
  • Martin et al (2003) gave ppts a message supporting a particular viewpoint and measured their support
  • 1 group then heard a minority group agree w/ initial view and another group heard this from a majority
  • Ppts finally exposed to a conflicting view and attitudes measured again - peple less willing to change opinion if they'd listened to minority group - suggests that minority message had been more deeply processed and had a more enduring effect
  • Artificial Tasks
  • Limitation is that tasks used were artificial e.g. coloured slides
  • Research far removed from how minorities attempt to change behaviour in real life
  • Findings lack external validity because they can't be generalised to real-life situations such as jury decision making and politicl campaigning
23 of 25

Social Change

The Special Role of Minority Influence

  • Examples: Black Americans, suffragettes, gay rights
  • Drawing attention
  • Consistency
  • Deeper Processing
  • The augmentation principle
  • The snowball effect
  • Social cryptomnesia - people have a memory that a change has occured but don't remember how it happened

Lessons from Conformity Research

  • Environmental and health campaigns increasingly exploit conformity processes by appealing to NSI - do this by providing info about what others are doing e.g. Bin it - others do

Lessons from Obedience Research

  • Gradual commitment - once a small instruction is made it is difficult to resist a bigger one; people drift into a new kind of behaviour
24 of 25

Social Change - Evaluation

  • Research Support for Normative Influences
  • Nolan et al (2008) invesigated whether social influence processes led to a reduction in energy consumption in a community - hung messages on doors in Sand Diego every week for a month
  • Key message was that more residents were trying to reduce their energy usage - some residents were just asked to save energy (no reference to others)
  • Found significant energy reductions in the first group -strength as it shows conformity can lead to social change
  • Minority Influence is Only Indirectly Effective
  • Nemeth (1986) argues that the effects of minority influence are likely to be mostly indirect and delayed - indirect because majority is influenced on matters only related to the issue at hand, not the central issue itself - delayed because effects may not be seen for some time
  • Limitation as it could show that minority influence's effects are fragile and its role in social change is limited
  • Role of Deeper Processing
  • Moscovici's conversion explanation of MI argues that minority and majority influences use different cognitive processes
  • Mackie (1987) disagrees and presents evidence that majority influence may cfreate deper processing - we like to believe that others share our views, when a majority believes something different you are forced to think why
  • A central part of minority influence is challenged by this and casts doubt on the validity of Moscovici's theory
25 of 25


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Social Influence resources »