Social influence


Types of conformity

Conformity - when your attitudes, beliefs or behaviour are changed due to the presence of a majority group.

Compliance - an individual follows everyone else to avoid being disapproved of by the group.

Identification - an individual chooses to follow the group because they want to be associated with that particular group.

Internalisation - an individual will follow a group to get recognition and acceptance for their views.

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Explanations for conformity

Normative social influence - desire to be liked, therefore we conform because we think that others will approve and accept us.

Informational social influence - desire to be right, therefore we look to others whom we believe to be correct, to give us information about how to behave, particularly in novel or ambiguous situations.

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Evaluation of conformity

- Overlapping - sometimes the types of conformity can overlap so they are not distinct.

- Not measurable - so it is not scientifically explained.

+ Change - we can see changes in people daily.

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Variables affecting conformity

Group size - the more people, the more someone will conform.

Unanimity of the majority - when the real participant was given the support of either another real participant or a confederate who had been instructed to give right answers; conformity levels dropped significantly of wrong answers from 33% to 5.5%.

Task difficulty - level of conformity increased when the task was harder. 

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Asch (1956)

Procedure: say what line matches the target line; 123 male US university students; 7 participants (1 real).


  • Average conformity rate was 33%.
  • Incorrect answer given 1/3 trials.
  • 1/4 of the participants never conformed on any of the critical trials.
  • 1 in 20 participants conformed on all 12 critical trials.

Conclusions: those who conformed, privately thought it was wrong but publicly agreed to avoid disapproval.

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Evaluation of variables affecting conformity

+ Controlled - lab experiment so it was controlled.

+ Quantitative data - easy to process, evaluate and discuss the hypothesis.

- Biased - participants were the same age, gender and had the same background.

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Zimbardo (1973)

Procedure: 24 participants either prisoner or guard; prisoners were arrested and given uniforms and numbers; guards had uniforms and batons.


  • Guards were abusive.
  • 5 prisoners had to leave early due to extreme reactions (anxiety).

Conclusion: conformed to their social roles.

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Evaluation of conformity to social roles

+ Roles - played their roles.

- Ethics - prisoners were distressed and the study had to finish early.

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Situational variables affecting obedience

Proximity - both the teacher and learner were seated in the same room. Obedience levels fell to 40% as the teacher was able to experience the anguish of the learner more directly.

Location - it took place at Yale university. Many participants remarked that the location gave them confidence in the integrity of the people involved.

Uniform - uniforms can have a powerful impact on obedience as they provide authority.

Obedience to authority - obedience refers to a type of social influence whereby somebody actsin response to a direct order from a figure with perceived authority.

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Milgram (1963)

Procedure: 40 men; advertised for participants; range of ages and backgrounds; Yale university; 1 at a time; lab coat worn by experimenter; Mr Wallace (confederate) had a hand on a shock plate; 15v to 450v (labelled ***); ask qustions and an incorrect answer meant a shock for him and voltage increased by 15 each time.


  • All give 300v shock.
  • 65% gave the 450v shock.
  • Reluctantly obeyed.
  • Distress was shown by participants.
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Evaluation of situational variables

+ Sample - various ages and backgrounds.

+ Demand characteristics - weren't aware of what the study's aim as so no demand characteristics.

- Ethics - lack of concern for the wellbeing of his participants.

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Agentic state & legitimacy of authority

Agentic state - a person sees themselves as an agent for carrying out another person's wishes.

Agentic shift - moves from an autonomous state to an agentic state.

Legitimacy of authority - a person who is perceived to be in a position of social control within a session.

Conditions needed:

  • 1st - perception of a legitimate authority.
  • 2nd - social situation.
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Evaluation of agentic state & legitimacy of author

+ Research - Lifton found that doctors had changed from ordering medical professionals in to men and women capable of carrying out potentially lethal experiments.

- Criticisms - Fennis & Aarts believe that agentic shift is a reduction in an individual's experience of personal control.

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The authoritarian personality

Authoritarian personality - a distinct personality pattern characterised by strict adherence to conventional values and a belief in absolute obedience or submission to authority.

Dispositional - behaviour caused by an individual's own personal charateristics rather than situational influences.

F scale - measure of authoritarian traits or tendencies.

Right-wing authoritarianism - a cluster of personality variables that are associated with a 'right-wing' attitude to life.

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Elms & Milgram (1966)

A follow up study using participants who had previously taken part in one of Milgram's experiments 2 months before. They selected 20 obedient and 20 disobedient participants. Each competed the MMPI scale and the California F scale to measure their levels of authoritarianism. They were asked open-ended questions.

There was no major difference between the 2 groups.

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Evaluation of the authoritarian personality

- Validity - people may tick 3 or 4 so they don't have to voice a strong opinion.

- Not flexible - only in some situations instead of all circumstances.

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Resistance to social influence

Externality - individuals who tend to believe that their behaviour and experience is caused by events outside their control.

Internality - individuals who tend to believe that they are responsible for their behaviour and experience rather than external factors.

Locus of control - people differ in their beliefs about whether the outcomes of their actions are dependent on what they do or on events outside their personal control.

Social support - the perception that an individual has assistance available from other people, and that they are part of a supportive network.

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Evaluation of resistance to social influence

Social support:

+ Effective - support may not have to be valid to be effective.

+ Response order - the importance of response order.

Locus of control:

- Not both - related to normative but not informational influence.

- Externality - people are more external than they used to be.

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Minority influence

Minority influence - a form of social influence where members of the majority group change their beliefs or behaviours as a result of their exposure to a persuasive minority.

Commitment - the degree to which members of a minority are dedicated to a particular cause or activity.

Consistency - it's effective provided there is stability in the expressed position over time and agreement among different members of the minority.

Flexibility - a willingness to be flexible and to compromise when expressing a position.

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Moscovici (1969)

Procedure: each group had 4 participants and a minority of 2 confederates; shown slides of blue screens that varied in intensity; judge the colour.


  • Minority influenced them to say green on over 8% of the trials.
  • Consistent condition - 2 confederates said green.
  • Inconsistent condition - confederates said green 2/3 of the time. 

Conclusions: when there were no confederates, all participants said blue throughout.

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Evaluation of minority influence

- Laboratory experiment - results can't be linked to real life.

- Generalise - only female participants so it would be wrong to generalise results to all people.

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Evaluation of minority influence

- Laboratory experiment - results can' be linked to real life.

- Generalise - only female participants so it would be wrong to generalise results to all people.

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Social influence processes in social change

Social change - occurs when a society adopts a new belief or way of behaving which then becomes widely accepted as the norm.

1. Drawing attention to an issue - minorities can bring about social change by drawing the majority's attention to an issue.

2. Cognitive conflict - the minority creates a conflict between what majority group members currently believe and the position advocated by the minority.

3. Consistency of position - research on minority influence has established that minorities tend to be more influential in bringing about social change when they express their arguments consistently.

4. The augmentation principle - if a minority appears willing to suffer for their views, they are seen as more committed and so taken more seriously by others.

5. The snowball effect - minority influence initially has a relatively small effect, but this thenspreads more widely as more and more people consider the issues being promoted, until it reaches a 'tipping point', at which point it leads to wide-scale social change.

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