social influence

social influence in psychology

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Why do we conform?

Normative- is our desire to be liked and accepted

Informational- desire to be right

How do we conform?

Compliance: Public (agree out loud, disagree inside) leads to a short term change in behaviour that occurs only in the presence of the majority e.g. Your friends tell you a joke – you don’t understand it but you laugh anyway. (This is motivated by Normative Social Influence - the desire to be liked/accepted)

Identification: Private change of behaviour or attitudes to identify with a social group or role you are placed in. E.g. As a student, your behaviours may change slightly from how you behave at home with your parents. (Social Identity Theory - desire to belong to a social group, feeling of belonging)

Internalisation: Private compliance, the deepest level of conformity. Agree out loud AND in private. This leads to a long term change present even without the majority. E.g. You are at a pub quiz and you’re asked ‘when did man first land on the moon?’ you don’t know the answer but everyone on your team seems pretty sure it was 1969 – Now every time anyone asks you that question you always say 1969. (Informational influence - desire to be right)

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Majority influence

Asch- did a vision test, 123 all male american participants, all participants where confederates apart from one real participant. They were all shown various lines and told to select the two lines of the same length. All confederates were told to give the wrong answer. 37% conformed to the majority everytime and 74% at least once. 

Variations of the study-

  • Make the task harder (line sizes closer together) - conformity grew
  • A small majority of two reduced conformity, but a majority of three jumped conformity up to 30%



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Evaluation of Aschs study

  • 'Child of its time'- conducted in the 1950s during the cold war where to be different was shamed, perhaps people were too scared to be different
  • All participants male- low population validity
  • Culture Smith+Bond found that countries which did the Ash's study such as Britain and USA were labelled as individualists, where as places such as Fiji and Japan were labelled collectivist. Countries labelled individualist were less likely to conform
  • Individualists (UK and US) focus on the success of the individual
  • Collectivists (Africa and Asia) focus on group success.
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Minority influence

Moscovici- 32 groups of 6 women, 2 confederates in each group. Shown 36 slides of various colours of blue, confederates answered green to each colour. 8.4% conformed to the minority, this dropped to 1.25 when the minority wasn't consistent.

Wood et al- meta analysis of 97 studies of minortiy conform ity. Majority groups will not conform to the minority as they do not want to be seen as devient themselves. Minorities who are the most consistent are seen as the most influental.  

Why do we not conform?

  • Allies- Ash showed that having an allie in the group who went against the majority decreased conformity.
  • Difficulty of task- When the lines were furthur apart in Ash's study conformity dropped
  • Morals- Research shows people are less likely to conform when faced with a moral dilemma e.g cheating.
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Milgrim's study

40 all male participant, Two confederates one learner one experimenter (authority figure). Participants were told to increase shocks after each wrong answer the learner gave to improve their memory. All participants went to 300 volts, 65% continued to 450 even though the learner was crying in pain. 

  • Run down office block -48%
  • when in the same room as learner- 40%
  • When another allie refused to give shocks- 10%    
  • Unrealistic task and environment therefore lacks realism – has low external validity. (However was similar to ww2)All male participants, low population validity.
  • All male participants- low population validity
  • Demand characteristics – P’s may work out the aim of the study or not believe they are giving real shocks
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  • To investigate obedience in a natural setting.


Nurses were called on the phone by a man claiming to be a doctor, instructing them to give medication to a patient. Following the order would mean that the nurses would break three hospital rules-

  • Nurses should not accept instructions over the phone
  • The dose instructed to administer was twice the maximum stated on the box
  • The medicine was not on the ward stock list
    • 21 out of 22 (95%) nurses obeyed the orders
    • The nurses said they obeyed because that’s what doctors expect nurses to do
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Why do people obey?

Gradual commitment- Once done smaller shocks it becomes harder to resist orders that have already been followed.We see this in Milgram’s study with the gradual increase of voltage.

Agentic shift- Participants see themselves as carrying out someone else's wishes and not response for their actions. We have seen this in Milgram’s study, when the experimenter offers to take the blame for whatever happens to the learner.

Roles of buffers- Not being able to see the damage being done e.g learner in another room (Milgrim dropped from 65% to 40%)

Justification- People believe their actions are helping the greater good. Milgrim's- good for science           

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Why do people resist the pressure to obey

  • Morals
  • Social heroes- Resist the pressure to obey for the greater good e.g Nelson Mandela 
  • Allies
  • No authority figure

Locus of control

High internal local of control- Believe behaviour is caused by their own decisions and efforts. More likely to resist the pressures of obeying

High external locus of control- Believe behaviour is in control of fate or luck. Less likely to resist pressures to obey

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Social Change

When we talk about social change, we are talking about societal expectations and behaviours that change over time. Sometimes this change can happen slowly or very quickly. Examples of social change include the development of women’s rights, recycling and the no smoking ban.

Social change comes when the minority stay persistant, allies makes change easier as you feel more confident and stay Consistent. Moscovici can be used for this.  

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