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Types of social influence.

Social influence - how our behaviour is modified by others. This can be a by a larger group or an individual group.

Majority influence - also known as conformity. It is when our behaiour or attitudes are changed to fit in with a larger group.

Minority influence - when an individual or small group of people influence the majority, This often leads to social change.

Informational social influence - this is when we conform because we want to be correct, usually seen in ambiguous situations.

Normative social influence - this is when we conform due to our desire to be seen as normal, this is seen especially when the majority group is large.

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Conformity - a form of social influence. It is the process of yielding to group pressures. The tendency to change our beliefs, attitudes or behaviour in response to group pressures.

Compliance - publily but not privately going along with majority influence to gain approval.

Internalisation - public and private acceptance of majority influence, due to adoption of the majority's belief system.

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Sherif - informational social influence.

Procedure and findings:

  • Used laboratory experiment to study conformity.
  • Used auto kinetic effect .
  • Participants were first tested one at a time, then in groups of three they had to say how much the light had moved and in which direction.
  • Found that the participants personal norm changed when they were put into groups if three.
  • Suggesting that when we are put into ambiguous situations we are more likely to conform.


  • Criticised for using ambiguous situation by Asch.
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Asch - normative social influence.

Procedure and findings:

  • Used laboratory experiment to study 123 male students.
  • Using line judgement task Asch put 1 naive particpant with 6 confederates.
  • Naive particpant was not aware that the other participants were confederates.
  • Each participant was asked to say out loud which line was most like the comparison line, the right answer was clear.
  • The naive participant sat at the end and gave his answer last.
  • There were 12 critical trials in which the confederates gave the wrong answer.
  • About 30% went along with the wrong answer, 75% conformed at least once and 25% never conformed during the critical trials.


  • Ethical issues.
  • Androcentric.
  • Low ecological validity.
  • Child of its time.
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Perrin and Spencer - conformity.

Procedure and findings:

  • Used Asch's paradigm on British engineering, mathematics and chemistry students
  • Only 1 out of the 396 trials did a participant conform to the majority answer.
  • Shows Asch's study has poor reliability.
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Why do we resist pressures to conform?

Size of the group - conformity increases as group size increases. Asch found when there was 1 confederate conforminity was 3%, with 2 it was 13% and with three or more it was 32%.

Lack of group agreement - when 1 confederate went against the majority answer conformity dropped by 80%.

Status of majority group - the higher the status of the majority the higher the conformity was.

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Reasons that we obey.

Legitimate authority - if we see the person that is giving us an order has high social power we are more likely to obey, for example in Milgram's experiment participants obeyed scientist in white lab coat but when experiement was in a run down office obedience levels dropped vastly.

Gradual commitment - when we obey in small stages, because we feel that the next command is only slightly worse or better. For example, in the Milgram experiment the participants gave shocks 15 volts at a time and 65% ended up giving the highest amount.

Agentic state - when we feel that we are not responsible for our actions, when we move from an autonomus state to an agentic state it is called an agentic shift. For example in Milgram's experiment when the scientist gave the participant verbal prods by saying if anything happened to the learner it would be the fault of the scientist.

Authoritatrian personality - this is a predispositonal factor. Someone who has deep respect for authority, and will obey without questioning the concequences of the order.

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Milgram - obedience.

Procedure and findings:

  • 40 males aged between 20 and 40, participant first met the "learner".
  • The learner was strapped onto electrodes, the teacher was in the other room and had to give electric shocks if the learner was wrong.
  • The learner gave mainly wrong answers to the teacher, so that a shock would have to be adminstered.
  • When the teacher refused to adminster a shock and looked at the experimenter for guidance, the experienter gave verbal prods.
  • 65% of participants continued to the 450 volts, all participants got to 300 volts.
  • This experiment shows that we are likely to follow orders given by an authority people, even to the exent of killing an innocent human being.


  • Ethics - deception.
  • Methodology - internal and external validity.
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Bickman - legitimate authority study.

Procedure and findings:

  • Used a field experiment to test if people would obey.
  • Participants were ordered by a man dressed as a milkman, civilian or guard.
  • Participants were asked pick up a piece of litter, stand at the other side of the bus stop etc.
  • Bickman found that participants were more likely to obey the guard due to his legitimate authority.
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Hofling - nurses study.

Procedure and findings:

  • Nurse received an order over the phone by a Dr Smith who told them to administer 20mg of a drug called Astroten. 
  • The order breached three rules; they did not know Dr Smith, they did not receive written authority and 20mg was twice the maximum dose suggested on the bottle.
  • Hofling found that 21 out of 22 nurses were prepared to administer the drug.
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Why do we resist pressures to obey?

Status of location - when Milgram's study was replicated in a run down office, obedience levels dropped. Suggesting prestige increases obedience. 

Personal responsibility - when there is less personal responsibility obedience increases. When participant could ask assistant to press the button, obedience increased to 95%, this relates to agentic state. 

Legitimacy of authority figure - people tend to obey if they see the authority figure as morally right or legally. Legitimacy of authority is learned at work, home, school etc. 

Peer support - if a person has the social support of others they are less likely to obey. Also, the presence of a disobedient model reduces the level of obedience. 

Reactance - this is if we feel that out rights are being taken away from us.

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Independent behaviour.

Independent behaviour - behaviour that is not altered despite the pressures from a group.

Anti-conformity - consistently going against the group.

Conformity - going along with the group.

Dissent - disagreeing with the majority.

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Locus of control.

Locus of control - an individual's beliefs about the causes of successes and failures in their life. 

Internal locus of control - believe that they can affect the outcomes of situations. People with an internal locus of control are less likely to obey and conform.

External locus of control - believe things turn our a certain way regardless of their actions.

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Social change.

Social change - the process in which society changes its beliefs, values and behaviours. Which results in the change of social norms, it is a gradual process that occurs often because of the influence of minority groups.

Snowball effect - when something that starts off small builds upon itself getting larger and larger.

Social crypto-amnesia - the majority forget where the idea came from and are more likely to adopt it.

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Moscovici et al - minority influence.

Procedure and findings:

  • Found 8% of participants in groups containing a minority of confederates who consistently called blue slides green agreed with the wrong answer.
  • Only 1% in groups containing confederates who inconsistently did so indicating consistency to be the important variable.
  • Suggesting that consistent minorities have even greater influence on the attitudes of others, which is more likely to lead to social change.
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