Social Influence

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  • Created on: 11-12-18 15:49

Types of Conformity

Conformity: yielding to group pressure. Individuals behaviours and beliefs influenced by larger group of people.


Weakest form, adjust behaviour and opinion to those of group to be accepted or avoid disapproval. Agree with group in public, privately disagree. temporary. – only shown in presences of group.


Adjust behaviour to those of group because membership of that group is desirable. Public and private, temporary not maintained when leaves the group. E.g. in army may adopt behaviours of fellow soldiers, will change when leaves army, adopt new behaviours and opinions.


Deepest form of conformity. Genuinely adjust behaviour an opinions – exposed to viewpoint of others and having to decide what they truly believe in. Public and private, permanent – not dependent on groups presence. E.g. converting to a religion.

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Explanations of Conformity

An explanation of conformity is information social influence.


Individuals unsure how to behave in certain situation – look to the opinion and behaviours of others to see how to act.

Helps shape their own thoughts and behaviours.

Generally occurs in unfamiliar situations – like not knowing which cutlery to use in restaurant.

Tend to believe the opinions they adopted – become converted to that viewpoint. (internalisation)

For example Jenness 1932.

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Normative Social Influence

An explanation of conformity is normative social influence


Main motivation is to be accepted, liked and respected by group and avoid disapproval. Best way of gaining acceptance of others is to agree with them. Privately may disagree. (compliance)

For example Asch's experiment 1955

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Variables affecting Conformity


Research indicates conformity rates increase as size of majority influence increases. Comes a point where further increases in majority doesn’t lead to increases in conformity. Asch 1956: One participant and one confederate – conformity low. Two confederates – 13% Three – 32% Adding more confederates had no further effect on overall conformity rate.


Conformity rates found to decline when majority influence no unanimous. Important factor is reduction of majority agreement not individual getting support. Asch 1956:If one confederate went against others, conformity dropped for 32% to 5.5%. If confederate went against majority and real participant still dropped to 9%.


Greater conformity rates seen when task difficulty increases – right answer less obvious. Look to others for more guidance – ISI dominant force. Asch 1956:Increased difficulty by making comparison lines similar to each other. Participants more likely to conform to wrong answer.

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Conformity to Social Roles

Conformity to Social Roles Each social situation has own social norms – expected way for individuals to behave – vary from situation to situation. Learn by looking at social roles others play and conforming to them. Involved identification, public and private.

For example Zimbardo's experiment 1973

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Obedience: a form of social influence in which an individual follows a direct order. the person issuing the order is usually a figure of authority, who has the powerto punish when they do not obey orders.

For example Milgram's experiment 1963

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The Agentic State

Idea proposed by Milgram. Socialised from early age to learn the obedience to rules is necessary to keep stability within society. In order to achieve this an individual has to give up some of their free will. Autonomous state – individual does have control and acts according to their own wishes, personally responsible for actions. Agentic state – individual obeys authority figure and give up some free will, see themselves as an agent of the authority figure giving the order. Authority figure seen as responsible. Person becomes de-individuated – losing sense of identity and so may obey orders that go against their moral code, don’t see themselves as responsible. Individuals will act as agents for and obey those of a perceived higher ranking than themselves. Milgram 1963: Many participants in study were under moral strain, during debriefing many admitted they knew what they were doing was wrong. Continued to obey – suggests in agentic state, felt they had to obey orders of authority figure.

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Legitimacy of Authority

Obedient individuals accept the power and status of authority figures to give orders, seen as being in charge. Individuals socialised to recognise value of obedience to authority figures as helping keeping stability in society. From early age experience examples of social roles relating to master and servant relationship – parent-child, teacher-student, higher figures should be obeyed. Milgram 1963: Some participants in his study ignored learners apparent distress showing little sign of harm themselves – focused on following procedure. Seem to be doing their duty – recognising legitimacy of researcher.

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Situational Variables - Location

LOCATION Location of environment can be relevant to amount of perceived legitimate authority a person giving orders is thought to have. In locations that add to perceived legitimacy of authority – obedience rates will be higher. Highest at institutionalised setting – obedience to authority figures is installed into members. Milgram 1974: Variation of study in office block in run down part of town. Obedience was 47.5%. Compared to 62.5% at Yale University. Reduced perceived legitimacy of authority figure giving orders – significant drop in obedience rate.

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Situational Variables - Proximity


How aware individuals are of the consequences of they actions in obeying the authority figure. When physical distance between learner and teacher in Milgram was made closer, participants less able to divorce themselves from consequences of their actions – obedience rates were lower. Milgram 1974: When teacher and learner in same room as each other so teacher could see their distress, obedience went from 62.5% to 40%.

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Situational Variables - Uniform


Wearing uniform can give perception added legitimacy to authority figure. Milgram – researcher wore white lab coat to give sense of authority. Bickman 1974: When ordering people on new York street to pick-up rubbish, give coin to stranger or move away from bus stop- 19% obey to civilian clothes, 14% to milkman  and 38% to security guard.

People would still obey of guard walked away after giving order – suggesting obeyed mot because they felt forced to but because believed he had legitimate authority.

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Situational Variables - Authoritarian Personality


Certain personality characteristics are associated with higher levels of obedience.

Personality type characterised by belief in absolute authority, submission to authority and domination of minorities. Adorno – people with this type have insecurities that led them to be hostile to non-conventional people and having  belief in need for power and toughness – highly obedient to authority figures. Shaped in early childhood by hierarchical, authoritarian personality. To measure degree of authoritarian personality – F-scale questionnaire – assessing personality dimensions. Strict obedience to authority seen as helping to prevent disruptive social change. Milgram 1966: Participant s in Milgram's study who were highly obedient – significantly more authoritarian on f-scale. Supporting link between authoritarian personality type and obedience.          

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Evaluation of the Authoritarian Personality

Evaluation: Authoritarian individuals do not always score highly on all dimensions like theory would predict. F-scale – response bias, worded in confirming direction – if agree rated as authoritarian. Politically based theory – individuals with authoritarian personality seen as only existing on conservative right wing of political view points.

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Social Support

An explaination of resistance to Social Influence is Social Support:

When others in social situations defy attempts to make them conform and obey – easier for individual to resist social influence. With conformity – presence of others who dissent has proven to be strong source of defiance. – Asch when confederate went against rest of group, conformity dropped sharply. – presents from of social support. Major way of resisting conformity is to break agreement of majority – if do not, impact greatly reduced. Early social support more influential – speak out as soon as possible – greater chance of rallying others. Asch 1956: if rebel answers correctly from start drops from 32% to 5.5%, if later in study only drops to 8.5%. Social support received earlier more effective. 

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Locus of Control

An explaination of resilience to social influence is Locus of Control: Personality dimension – extent to which individuals perceive themselves as being in  control of their own lives. Internal – believe they can affect outcomes of situations. External – believe things turn out a certain way regardless of their actions. Internal – things happen as a result of an individuals choices and decisions. External – things happen as result of luck, fate or other uncontrollable external forces. Rotter – internal – more resistant to social pressure, se themselves in control  more likely to perceive themselves as having free choice to conform or obey. Resisting conformity – Shute: 1975: exposed undergraduates to peers or expressed conservative or liberal views on drug taking. Internal LOC conformed less to expressing pro-drug attitudes – supports Rotter. Resisting obedience – Blass 1991: internal were more able to resist obedience than external, especially if internal thought researcher was trying to force or manipulate them to obey. – feel they have choice over behaviour.

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Minority Influence

MINORITY INFLUENCE Individuals reject established majority group norms. Process of conversion – majority gradually won over by minority viewpoint. Involves new beliefs/behaviour being accepted publicly and privately – type of internalisation. Conversion through minority influence – ISI. Minority provide new information and ideas to majority. Takes longer to achieve – time taken for individuals to re-examine their beliefs. Gradual process by which minority opinions become majority ones – social crypto amnesia (snowball effect).


Minority influence persuasive if minority is consistent with opinions/behaviour. – shows confidence in beliefs and appears unbiased. Consistency most important feature – shows minority commented, especially if they have to resist social pressures and abuse against viewpoints. Creates enough doubt about establishment norms – gets individuals to re-examine own beliefs.

For example Moscovici et al. 1969

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Role of social influence processes and social chan

Way in which society develops – big shifts in peoples beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.      •Occurs continually but gradually – minority being main driving force – minority viewpoints slowly winning over majority and become new social norms.                                                                  •Can be positive – rights for women.                                                                                     •Negative – adopting by society of eugenic beliefs – different races inferior – Nazis.            •Majority influences main role is to maintain social order – keep things the way they are. •Minority changes attitudes and behaviours over time.                                                                           •During process comes time of critical mass – minority viewpoint becomes mainstream and majority begin to conform through compliance. May be only public – privately may still hold original beliefs (sexist or racist) – not publicly demonstrating them.                                                           •For more permanent – need to conform through identification involving change in belief systems. •As social change slow and gradual – change occurs without being too disruptive to social order. Rapid change would cause conflict within society and could be harmful short-term.                  •After social change – conformity serves to consolidate and maintain new beliefs and behaviours – new social order.                                                                                                                  •Obedience serves to oversee and uphold social order.                                                          •Always possibility of that people will show resistances.

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