social influence


types and explanations

internalisation - when a person genuinely believes and has a private and public value to the opinions and behaviours. more likely to be permanent          

identification - when a group is valued so agreed with in public but privately dont agree with all aspects of what the group stands for        

compliance - 'going along with others' in public but privately keeping your own opinions, the change will cease when the pressure to conform does. 

informational social influence - the need to be right

  • cognitive process 
  • more likely in ambigious situations, where the correct answer isnt immediately clear

normative social influence - the need to be liked 

  • emotional process as it is about your feelings 
  • more likely to happen in a new situation, with people you know as you want their approval
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types and explanations

evaluation points 

  • support for ISI - maths problems were used and they found that there was more conformity when the questions were harder espeically in those that said they were poor at maths 
  • individual differences - found that a group of engeneiring students were less likley to conform than other people, due to their confidence about precision, therefore cant apply to everyone
  • support for NSI - asch asked why people agreed with wrong answer and many said scared of disaproval, when answeres were written down conformity lowered, meaning they only conformed for the need to be liked 
  • individual differences - some people crave social relationships more than others, meaning NSI will effect them more, one general theory cannot cover an entire nation of people 
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asch's research

asch (1961) - the line study 

  • 123 male undergraduates in a test where they had to match one line with one of another three in a room with 7 other confederates. the confederates would answer incorectly 12 out of the 18 times. 
  • 75% of particpants conformed at least once, yet 25% never gave a wrong answer, showing there was individual differences. people did not want to go against the group for fear of being rejected so just complied with the group 

variables affecting conformity 

group size - with only two confederates, comformity was much lower however adding more didnt make much difference to the original study 

unanimity - another confederate that wasnt correct but didnt conform, more likely to go with their own opinion if someone else was also doing so 

task difficulty - conformity increased when the lines were more similar in size as more ambigious situations were used 

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asch's research

evaluation points 

  • 'child of the time' - asch's study was in 1951, a time in which america was more conformist whereas in a repeated version in 1980 only few people conformedm, meaning its not happening for the whole of humanity 
  • artifical task - may have just responded to demand characteristics as they knew they were in a study, these tasks dont reflect how it feels to conform in a real life situation therefore you cannot generalise them 
  • only apply to certain groups - not only was it only on males, but also undergraduates, which is a very specific group. also all from the usa, which adds to it as more collectivist cultures may have found different results. 
  • ethical issues - the particpants in this study were decieved, although there is many benefits to the study have to take into consideration how the particpants may have felt 
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zimbardo's research

the stanford prison experiment, zimbardo (1973) - prisioners vs guards 

  • 24 emotionally stable men were randomly assigned roles of guard or prisioner after the study was advertised
  • prisioners were arrested at their homes, body searched, de-loused and given numbers rather than names 
  • guards were given sun glasses (so you couldnt see their eyes), handcuffs and told they had complete power but they werent meant to be agressive or use force 
  • prisioners rebelled against their treatmeant but the guards took this oppourtunity to be extra harsh by punishing any slight misbehaviour 
  • guards quickly identified in their roles and became increasingly agressive 
  • the prioners then became subdued and anxious, three were released early as they showed signs of psychological damage, one went on hunger strike and was force fed 
  • study was stopped two days early 

the study showed the power of how being in a situation can make a person conform so easily to a social role

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zimbardo's research

evaluation points 

  • control over variables - only emotionally stable people, and the roles were given by chance,  so they didnt have any past agressive behaviour and didnt know before so can be aruged that all actions were a result of the situation and has internal validity 
  • lack of realism - one particpant said he based his character of of a film, so they could have been play acting and going along with the role because thats how they felt they had to act, however conversations were about prision life, suggesting they did feel it was real 
  • dispositional influences - only 1/3 of the guards were brutal, so suggests zimbardo ignored other results to argue his point and exaggerate his findings so cannot be as valuable 
  • ethical issues - many partipcants suffered psychological damage as they were treated brutually, and zimbardo persuaded people to leave which isnt the right to withdraw. 
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milgram's study

milgram (1963) - the shock study 

  • 40 male partcipants that came from an advertisement that said it was a memory study, particpants were from different incomes and ages. 
  • a confederate (mr wallace) was assigned the role of learner each time whilst the particpant was teacher, meaning they had to shock the learner whenever they got an answer wrong, increasing the shock each time
  • went from a scale of 15v to 450v, which was labeled severe shock. the learner would react in pain then stopped after 300v. 
  • experimenter used prods to make the person continue, e.g 'the experiment requires that you continue' and 'you have no choice but to go on'  even though they were told they had the right to withdraw 
  • no particpant stopped below 300v and 65% continued to 450v
  • they also showed signs of distress in biting nails, sweating, even some had seizures 

these results were not expected as it was thought basic human morals would come into play, however it shows the effect obedience can have to a persons morals 

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milgram's study

evaluation points 

  • lacked internal validty - suggests that many of them guessed the shocks were fake and just done the study because they thought it would help the psychologist, however many aruge that they did think they were real as per supporting research 
  • good external validty - the experimenter/teacher relationship reflects many real life relationships such as workers and bosses or the nurse study in which 21/22 nurses obeyed, meaning results can be generalised 
  • replication support - french tv show did a repeat of the study and showed very similar results in which majoirty went all the way to the severe shocks, shows they werent just one off results 
  • ethical issues - the particpants were not only decieved but showed many signs of damage meaning the ethical outlines were noy obeyed and question the original study 
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situational variables of milligrams study


  • variation one - when the teacher and learner were in the same room the obedience dropped to 40% 
  • variation two - when the teacher had to force the particpants hand onto a shock plate it fell lower to 30% 
  • variation three - when the teacher was given instructions by the experimenter over the phone the rate dropped to 20% and they often gave lower shocks than instructed 


  • the location was changed to a run down building rather than the prestigious yale uni, obedience fell to 47% which suggests that they have less authority in different places 


  • in original, experimentor wore a lab coat, varation where a member of the public 'took over', they had 20% obedience which was the lowest of all, suggesting they have big impact 
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situational variables of milgrams study

evaluation points 

  • reasearch support - bikeman similarily looked at the effect where asked passers by to do something, more likely to obey a person in security guard than a man in a jacket and tie so supports the idea of uniform obedience 
  • lack internal validty - people more likely to see it was artfifical due to the amount of manipulation, especially the member of the public variation as this is very unlikley to happen. 
  • replicated - other research has found it applies to other cultures, however mostly western. may find very different reuslts about proximity, uniform and location if you did it elsewhere.
  • 'obedience alibi' - can be socially sensetive as they give an excuse for people who have commited crimes whilst agreeing to authority e.g holocaust survivors may find it offensive 
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social psychological factors

explanation one - agentic state

  • proposed by milgram, the agentic state suggests that we work on behalf of another person so we are able to feel no personal responsiblity for their actions 
  • the opposite is the autonomous state, in which the person is free and takes responsibility 
  • the agentic shift occours when the person perceives someone as of higher authority so they go from autonomous to an agent 
  • binding factors are used to reduce the moral strain - such as saying the authority figure takes all responsibility for their actions or denying damage 

explanation two - legitimacy of authority 

  • those at the top of the heirachy are obeyed because of their status e.g teachers, parents
  • authority has to be legitimate for people to obey, such as a teacher is seen ultimately as the boss of the classroom, they must earn their legitimacy. this is also applicable to people in uniform as you can physically see their authority 
  • we learn they have the power to punish, which means you give up some level of independence. this can sometimes end descrtucively e.g hitler 
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social psychological factors

evaluation points

  • research support for agentic state - a study showed students the video of milgrams study in which they said it was the experimenters fault because he was of higher authority and this was the cause of obedience 
  • doesnt explain research findings - agentic state doesnt explain why some people didnt obey and the differences that this does find 
  • real life obedience - legitmacy of authority can explain why many war soliders dont feel guilt for their killings as they see it as an act that is legal because people with an authority told them to do so 
  • cross-cultural support - repetitions of milgrams study showed that 16% of australians went to the top but 85% of germans did, which strengthens the validity of legitimacy of authority as it shows how different cultures can differ in their perception of authority. 
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dispositional factors

the authoritarian personality 

proposed by adorno, this is a person who is especially obedient to authority. some characteristics are: submissiveness to those above you, conventional attitudes towards gender and race, thinking those of a lower social class are inferiror to you.

it is usually formed during childhood if parents are particulary strict, have high standards of their children and offer only conditional love. this means their children will resent them but cannot take it out on their parents so they take it out on other children and later in life, lower class.

adorno (1950) - the f scale 

  • 2000 middle class white americans take the f-scale test which was sets of statements and how far you agree with them, for example 'obedience and respect for authority are the most important things a child must learn' 
  • those who scored high on the f-scale were said to have an authoriarian personality, which means often these people identified with the 'strong' and shunned the 'weak' 
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dispositional factors

evaluation points 

  • supporting evidence - when those who scored highly on the f scale were interviewed they were more obedient - however you can argue that this is corellation not causation and they cannot be 100% sure of their theory. 
  • limited explanation - many people 'went along' with nazi germany but not every single person has an authoritarian personality, meaning they cannot generalise their vauge findings to every situation 
  • flawed methodology - the questions are all worded in similar ways, meaning it tests the particpants tendency to agree rather than their personality types - decreasing the internal validity of the study. 
  • politically biased - some suggest it measures right wing extremism rather than obedience, but other left-wing extremist parties also use obedience therefore the theory needs to be altered to apply to the other end of the spectrum 
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resistance to social influence

explanation one: social support

conformity is reduced if there is someone else who disagrees, they dont even have to agree but just disagree with the general group/opinion, the dissenter acts as a model to copy, however if they start to conform again so will the particpant 

obedience can also be reduced, e.g in a version of milgrams when there was a disobedient partner was involved the obedeince fell from 90% to 35% 

explanation two: locus of control

julian rotter explained internal vs external locus of control, which was a continuum from high external to high internal 

  • internal = things that happen to them are controlled by yourself and your own actions e.g if you do well in an exam it is because you revised. these people are more likley to resist as they take responsibility for their own actions. they have less need for social approval
  • external = things happen outside your control and if you fail an exam it's down to luck
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resistance to social influence

evaluation points

  • research evidence for dissenting peers in conformity - in a replica of asch's study even if they dissenter wore thick glasses and commented on their poor vision their opinion would still be benefical in freeing the group pressure
  • research evidence for dissenting peers in obedience - another study, gamson et al, showed that when in groups, resistance was a lot lower so the impact of other people. 88% of them rebelled. 
  • research evidence for locus of control - in a repeat of milgrams test, 37% of participants that were interals did not shock the highest but only 23% of externals did not. this means internal  people were more likely to resist. 
  • role of loc may be exaggerated - the results of the repeat weren't that high, it also only usually has an effect on new situations, which means it only explains quite a narrow range of topics 
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minority influence

the processes of minority influence 

  • internalisation - this is when the opinions have genuniley changed and they believe in it 
  • consistency - the view stays the same for such a long time that people rethink their own veiws as they may have a point even though they are the minority. synchronic = when everyone is saying the same thing, dychronic = they have been saying it for a long time 
  • commitment - helps gain attention perhaps sometimes through extereme activities. augmentation principle = when a person seems to really beleive and have a passion in what they're saying so people reconsider their own thoughts
  • flexibility - a balance of consistency and flexibility are the best ways because they then don't appear rigid and are able to compromise with the majority view, which appeals
  • snowball effect - overtime, the minority becomes the majority

mosovici et al (1969) - blue green slides 

  • group of 6 people asked if there were blue or green slides, in one group confederate always said they were green and another switched between saying blue or green 
  • 32% gave the wrong answer because of consistent, inconsistent = 1.25% 
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minority influence

evaluation points 

  • importance of consistency - a meta analysis was conducted and found that people were more effected by consistency than anything else 
  • artifical tasks - e.g mosovichis study was very trivial and doesnt reflect real life situations in which big decisons need to be made which could be a matter of life or death. this means external validity is lacking. 
  • invlovement of internalisation - when in mosovichis test they had to write it down, they had greater agreement, meaning many times internalisation occoured but it just wasn't shown publically 
  • limited applicatons - in real life it is likely that the majority has status and power and in extereme situations can be threatening, so cannot really apply how easily people can change to how hard it is in real life
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social influence and social change

lessons from minority influence research

  • consistency occoured in the civil rights movement - they had one goal, equality 
  • the attention meant that people had to process it deeply and think about the cause
  • augmentation principle may have happened when the likes of rosa parks 
  • snowball effect means activists like martin luther king got attention of the gov to change laws
  • social crypomneisa - having a memory of a change but not when it happened 

lessons from conformity research

  • dissenters make social change more likely, as the power of the majority is broken. they also relate to normative social influence, as people feel as though they should be doing it also.

lessons from obedience research 

  • milgrams research shows how models who disobey make it easier for others to 
  • zimbrado's research shows how once you disobey it's easier to do so again 
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social influence and social change

evaluation points

  • support for role of NSI - in a study they placed signs that said people were trying to reduce energy usage, but the group that didnt mention others doing it had a less change in their actual usage, suggesting there is an influnce of NSI 
  • indirectly effective - it takes decades for the role of minority to effect in certain places therefore other factors must be more applicable 
  • nature of deeper processing - minority influences are cognitive process, however some disagree and say that majority influence is also deeply processed if you do not share the views
  • methological issues - they usually rely on studies that sometimes cannot be applied to real life situations as they are more artifical than irl times 
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