Social Influence

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  • Created on: 17-04-19 14:31

Conformity: Types and Explanations

Types of Conformity

  • Internalisation - private and public acceptance of group norms
  • Identification - change behaviour to be part of a group we identify with
  • Compliance - go along with group publically but no private change

Explanations of Conformity

  • Informational Social Influence - conform to be right; assume others know better than us
  • Normative Social Influence - conform to be liked or accepted by group


  • Research support for ISI - more conformity to incorrect maths answers when they were difficult
  • Individual differences in NSI - affiliators want to be liked more
  • ISI and NSI work together - dissenter may reduce power of ISI and NSI
  • Research support for NSI
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Conformity: Asch's Research

Asch's Research

  • Confederates deliberately gave wrong answer to see if participant would conform
  • Naive participants conformed on 36.8% of trials
  • 25% never conformed
  • Variations
    • Conformity increased up to group size of four
    • Dissenter reduced conformity
    • Conformity increased when task was harder


  • Perrin + Spencer: found less conformity in 1980 than 1950s
  • Artificial situation/task - demand characteristics meant participants just played along with trivial task
  • Limited application - only conducted on American men
  • Findings only apply to certain situations
  • Ethical issues
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Conformity to Social Roles: Zimbardo's Research

Stanford Prison Experiment

  • Mock prison with students randomly assigned as guards or prisoners
  • Guards became increasingly brutal; prisoners increasingly withdrawn and depressed
  • Participants conformed to their roles as guards or prisoners


  • Control - random assignment to roles increased internal validity
  • Lack of realism - participants were play-acting their roles according to media-derived stereotypes
  • Dispositional influences - only 1/3 of guards were brutal so conclusions exaggerated
  • Lack of research support
  • Ethical issues
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Obedience: Milgram's Research

Milgram's Study

  • Participants gave fake electric shocks to a 'learner' in obedience to instructions from the 'experimenter'
  • 65% gave highest shock of 450v
  • 100% gave shocks up to 300v
  • Many showed signs of anxiety


  • Low internal validity - participants realised shocks were fake; but replication with real shocks gave similar results
  • Good internal validity - findings generalise to other situations, like hospital wards
  • Supporting replication - 'Le Jeu de le Mort' found 80% gave maximum shocks, plus similar behaviour to Milgram's study
  • Alternative explanation - social identity theory
  • Ethical issues
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Obedience: Situational Variables

Situational Variables

  • Proximity - decreased to 40% when teacher could hear learner; 30% in touch-proximity
  • Location - decreased to 47.5% when moved to run-down office block
  • Uniform - decreased to 20% when 'member of the public' was experimenter


  • Research support - Bickman's field study
  • Lack of internal validity - some procedures contrived, so not genuine obedience
  • Cross-cultural replications - support Milgram; but almost all studies in similar cultures to USA
  • Control of variables in variations
  • 'Obedience alibi'
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Obedience: Social-Psychological Factors

Agentic State

  • Agentic state - acting as agent of another
  • Autonomous state - free to act according to conscience; switching between the two (agentic shift)
  • Binding factors - allow individuals to ignore the damaging effects of their obedient behaviour


  • Blass + Schmitt: people do blame legitimate authority for participant's behaviour
  • Limited explanation - cannot explain why some disobeyed/lack of moral strain

Legitimacy of Authority

  • Legitimacy of authority - created by hierarchical nature of society
  • Destructive authority - problems arise, e.g. Hitler


  • Cultural differences - different cultures reflect different social hierarchies
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Obedience: Dispositional Explanations

Authoritarian Personality

  • Adorno et al used F-Scale to study unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups
  • People with authoritarian personalities identify with the 'strong' and have a fixed cognitive style
  • Extreme respect for authority and obedience to it
  • Harsh parenting creates hostility that cannot be expressed against parents so it is displaced


  • Elms + Milgram: some of Milgram's obedient participants had authoritarian personalities
  • Limited explanation - cannot explain increase in obedience across whole culture; better explanation is social identity theory
  • Political bias - equates authoritarian personality with extreme right-wing ideology, and ignores extreme left-wing authoritarianism
  • Methodological problems
  • Correlation, not causation
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Resistance to Social Influence

Social Support

  • Conformity - reduced by presence of dissenter from the group
  • Obedience - decreases in presence of disobedient peer who acts as a model to follow


  • Allen + Levine: conformitty decreases when one person dissents even if they are not credible
  • Gamson et al: obedience drops when disobedient role models are present

Locus of Control

  • Sense of what directs events in our lives
  • Continuum - high internal one end, high external one other end
  • People with high internal LOC are more able to resist pressures to conform/obey


  • People have become more external + more disobedient recently
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Minority Influence

Minority Influence

  • Consisitency - if the minority is consistent, this attracts the attention of the majority over time
  • Commitment - augmentation principle, personal sacrifices show commitment + attract attention
  • Flexibility - minority more convincing if they accept some counter-arguments
  • Process of change - deeper processing + snowball effect


  • Research support - Moscovici's 'blue-green slides' study
  • Minority views have longer effects because they are deeply processed
  • Artificial tasks - tasks often trivial so tell little about real-life influence
  • Research support for internalisation
  • Limited real-world application
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Social Influence and Social Change

Social Change

  • Minority influence is powerful force for innovation and social change
  • Minority: drawing attention, consistency, deeper processing, augmentation principle, snowball effect, social cryptoamnesia
  • Conformity - NSI can lead to social change by drawing attention to what majority is doing
  • Obedience - disobedient role models; gradual commitment is how obedience can lead to change


  • Nolan et al (energy consumption): NSI is valid explanation of social change
  • Indirectly effective - effects of minority influence are limited because they are indirect and appear later
  • Deeper processing - majority views are processed more deeply than minority views, challenging central feature of minority influence
  • Barriers to social change
  • Methodological issues
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