Social Influence


Conformity: Types and Explanations

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 publicly but no private change.

Explanation of Conformity

  • Informational social influence (ISI) - Conform to be right. Assume others know better than us.
  • Normative social influence (NSI) - Conform to be liked or accepted by a group.


Research support for ISI - More conformity to incoreect maths answers when they were difficult, as predicted by ISI.

Individual differences in NSI - nAffilators want to be liked more.

ISI and NSI work together - Dessenter may reduce power of ISI and NSI.

Evaluation extra

  • Individual differences in NSI.
  • Research support for NSI.
1 of 12

Conformity: Asch's Research

Procedure - Confederates deliberately gave wrong answers to see if partispant would conform.

Findings - Naive participant conformed 36.8% of trials. 25% never conformed.

Variations - Conformity increased up to group size of 4. Dissenter reduced conformity. Conformity increased when task was harder.


A child of its time - Perrin and Spencer found less conformity in 1980s than in 1950s.

Artifical situation and task - Demand characteristics meant participants just played along with trivival task.

Limited applications of findings - Asch's research only conducted on American men.

Evaluation extra

  • Findings only apply to certain situations.
  • Ethical issuses.
2 of 12

Conformity to social roles: Zimbardo's Research

Procedure - Mock prison with students randomly assigned as guards or prisoners.

Findings - Guards became increasingly brutal, prisoners increasingly withdraw and depressed.

Conclusion - 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 sterotypes.

Dispositional influences - Only one thrid of the guards were brutal so conclusions exaggerated.

Evaluation extra

  • Lack of research support.
  • Ethical issuaes.
3 of 12

Obedience: Milgram's Research

Procedure - Participants gave fake electric shocks to a 'learner' in obedience to instructions from the 'experimenter'.

Findings - 65% gave highest shock of 450v. 100% gave shock up to 300v. Many showed signs of anxiety.


Low internal validity - Particpants realised shock were fake. But replication with real shocks got similar results.

Good external validity - Findings generalise to other situations such as hospital qards.

Supporting replication - Game of Death found 80% gave maximum shock, plus similar behaviour to Milgram's participants.

Evaluation extra

  • An alternative explanation - social identity theory.
  • Ethical issues.
4 of 12

Obedience: Situational Variables

Proximity - Obedience decreased to 40% when teacher could hear learner, and to 30% in touch proximity condition.

Location - Obedience decreased to 47.5% when study moved to run-down office block.

Uniform - Obedience decreased to 20% when 'member of the public' was the experimenter.


Research support - Bickman showed power of uniform in field experiment.

Lack of internal validity - Some of Milgram's procedures contrived, so not genuine obedience (Orne and Holland).

Cross-cultural replications - Cross-cultural findings support Milgram. Buyt almost all studies in similar cultures to USA so not very generalisable.

Evaluation extra

  • Control of variables in Milgram's variations.
  • The 'obedience alibi'.
5 of 12

Obedience: Social-Psychological Factors - Agentic

Agentic state - Acting as agent of another.

Autonomous state - Free to act according to conscience. Switching between the two - agentic shift.

Binding factors - Allow individual to ignore the damaging effects of their obedient behaviour.


Reseach support

  • Blass and Schmitt found that people do blame the legitmate authority for the participant's behaviour.

A limited explanation

  • Cannot explain why some of Milgram's participants disobeyed or the lack of moral strain in Hofling et al.'s nurses.
6 of 12

Obedience: Social-Psychological Factors - Legitima

Legitimacy of authority 

  • Created by hierachical nature of society.

Destructive authority

  • Problems arise, e.g. Hitler.


Cultural differences

  • Explains obedience in different cultures because reflects different social hierachies.

Evaluation extra

  • The 'obedience alibi' revisited.
  • Real-life crimes of obedience.
7 of 12

Obedience: Dispostional Explanation - The Authorit

Procedure - Adorno et al. used F-scale unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups.

Finding - People with authoritarian personalities identify with the 'strong' and have fixed cognitive styles.

Authoritarian Characteristics - Extreme respect for authority and obedience to it.

Origin of the authoritarian personality -  Harsh parenting creates hostility that cannot be expressed against parents so is displaced.


Research support - Some of Milgram 's obedient participants had authoritarian personalities (Elms).

Limited explanation - Can't explain increase in obedience across a whole culture. Better explanation is social identify theory.

Political bias - Equates authoritarian personality with rightwing ideology and ignores extreme left-wing authoritarianism.

Evaluation extra

  • Methodological problems.
  • Correlation, not causation.
8 of 12

Resistance to Social Influence - Social Support


  • Reduced by pressence of dissenter from the group.


  • Decreases in pressence of disobedient peer who acts as a model to follow.


Research support

  • Conformity decreses when one person dissents even if they are not credible (Allen and Levine).
  • Obedience drops when disobedient role models are present (Gamson et al.).
9 of 12

Resistance to Social Influence - Locus of Conrol

Locus of control - Sense of what directs events in our lives (Rotter).

Continuum - High internal at one end and high external at the other. 

Resistance to social influence - People with high internal LOC are more able to resist pressures to conform or obey.


Research support

  • Internals less likely to fully obey in Milgram-type procedure (Holland).


  • People have become more external and more disobedient recently (Twenge et al.).
  • Hard for LOC to explain.

Evaluation extra

  • Limited role of locus of control.
10 of 12

Minority Influence

Consistency - If the minority is consistent this attracts the attention of the majority over time.

Commitment - Augmentation principle - personal sacrifices show commitment and attract attention.

Flexiblity - Minority more convincing if they accept some counter-arguments.

The process of change - Above factors make majority think more deeply about issuses. Snowball effect - minority view gathers momentum until it become majority influence.


Research support for consistency - Moscovici's blue-green slides and Wood et al.'s meta-analysis.

Research support for depth of thought - Minority views have longer effect because they are deeply processed (Martin et al.).

Artifical tasks - Tasks often trivial so tell us little about real-life influence.

Evaluation extra

  • Research support for internalisation.
  • Limited real-life applications.
11 of 12

Social Influence and Social Change

The special role of minority influence - Minority influence is a powerful force for innovation and social change. Example, civil rights movement in the USA.

Lessons from conformity research - Normative social influence can lead to social change by drawing attention to what majority is doing.

Lessons from obedience research - Disobedient role models. Gradual commitment is how o bedience can be lead to change.


Research support - NSI valid explanation of socail change, e.g. reducing energy consumption (Nolan et al.).

Only indirectly effective - Effects of minority influence are limited because they are indirect and appear later (Nemeth).

Role of deeper processing - It is majority views that are processed more deeply than minority views, challenging central feature of minority influence.

Evaluation extra

  • Barriers to social change.
  • Methodological issuses.
12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Conformity resources »