Social Influence


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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 26-05-12 16:40


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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Aim: Wanted to see if people would conform to the majority even when an answer was clearly incorrect

  • This was a lab experiment
  • And showed compliance conformity
  • Unambigious task 

Method: - 123 American male students took part in ‘vision test’ except all but 1 were confederates and real purpose was to see how the naive participant would conform. Asked to look at 3 lines of  different lengths and identify which was original line. Order of answering always same (naive participant 2nd to last) and confed’s instructed to give same wrong answer 12/18 times.

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Findings74% of participants conformed at least once

What EVs could affect the study?

Demand characteristics -> change of answer may be due to the awareness of experiment rather than conformity.

How natural was the environment?

Artificial environment and task, therefore cannot generalise findings to everyday life (low external validity)

Was the sample representative?

All American – cultural bias, All males – gender bias. Therefore hard to generalise


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Generally, if there is a larger number of confederates, the level of conformity will go up. The rate of conformity is at its highest at the amount of 7 confederates, but decreases when the amount of confederates goes up to 15.

Other studies have also been carried out by Larsen in America, who found lower levels of conformity (in comparison to Asch’s findings). In addition to this, Smith and Bond found higher rates of conformity in Africa and Asia compared to the UK and  US.

What do you think this tells us about conformity?

  • Individualists  (UK and US) focus on the success of the individual
  • Collectivists (Africa and Asia) focus on group success.
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How do you think modern technology could affect conformity?

  • Can make you anonymous and less likely to conform
  • But can make you more likely to conform to not risk cyber bullying
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Aim: Jenness wanted to investigate whether participants would conform to majority influence in an ambiguous situation

Method: participants initially estimated how many beans they thought were in the jar. Secondly, the participants were put into a group, where they had a discussion about the number of beans they all thought were in the jar. 

Finally, the participants were asked to make another estimate. Jenness did this to see whether their initial estimates altered based on the influence of the majority.

Findings: The participant’s estimates did change after being exposed to estimations given by others in their group.

It seems that in ambiguous situations people draw on information around them and conform to the opinions of the majority.

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What type of conformity does this study show? Why?

Internalisation (because agreeing publicly and privately)

Was the environment controlled?

  • Yes, the environment, task and the number of beans remain the same.
  • Standardised – high internal validity.

What extraneous variables could affect the study?

  • Demand characteristics -> you may think that the experimenter wants you to change your answer. 

How natural was the experiment?

Setting and task are unnatural. Lowers external validity, cannot apply to real life

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Aim: Zimbardo aimed to investigate if the brutality in American prisons was a result of the sadistic nature of the guard’s personality or the environment in which they were placed. He wanted to see if people easily adopt roles given to them


  • advertised for volunteers to take part in his study about the psychological effects of prison life.  
  • All of the volunteers underwent psychological tests so that Zimbardo could select those he considered to be most psychologically and physically healthy, without a criminal record.
  •  Zimbardo finally chose 24 male College students from America and Canada.
  • The participants were randomly allocated to the role of a prisoner or a guard by the flip of a coin. The experiment took place in the basement of Stanford University in America, which was set up to look like a real prison as much as possible.
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  • The participants who were allocated as prisoners were given a surprise arrest at their homes by real police officers
  • They were then held in a real police station before being transported to the mock prison.
  •  At the mock prison all of the prisoners were stripped, deloused and given a uniform with their ID number on. They were no longer referred to by their name, but by their number. 
  • They were also made to wear a heavy chain which was bolted around their ankles and a stocking to cover their heads. Their privacy was taken away and they had very little food.
  • The guards were also given uniforms, a whistle, a billy club and mirrored sunglasses. 
  • The guards were not given any training on how to behave as guards. They were allowed to make their own decisions about suitable punishments for the prisoners. 
  • Their rules were to maintain law and order and to command the respect of the prisoners, but to not use physical violence.
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Findings: The guards quickly adopted forms of punishment, such as push-ups. In response the prisoners rebelled on the second day. This greatly angered the guards and they called for the three guards who were on call to assist. They broke into the prison cells, stripped the prisoners and put those who they believed to be the ringleaders into solitary confinement. They then set up a ‘privilege cell’ in which special prisoners were given back their beds, clothes and were able to brush their teeth.

After 36 hours one prisoner was released as he was suffering from extreme emotional distress. Another prisoner was released after 3 days and then the experiment was ended after 6 days, even though it had originally been intended to last for two weeks.

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Conclusions: Zimbardo concluded that people do easily adopt roles given to them.

Was the environment controlled?

  • Yes, eliminated predisposition for violence and psychological issues
  • Guards uniforms were all the same, prisoners uniforms the same
  • Setting was artificial, therefore they had control over the cells and how it was laid out. Guards worked the same shifts and had the same instructions.

What extraneous variables could affect the study?

Once the guards left at the end of their shift, things could happen at home that influence their behaviour in the prison.

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How natural was the environment?

  • Artificial environment – reduces external validity. 
  • However, they tried to set the lab up as a pirson, making it as realistic as possible, improving external validity.

Was the sample representative?

No, all males – gender bias. All American – culture bias. All white middle class.

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Resisting conformity

Non-conformist Personality:

  •  Any person who intentionally opposes the majority
  • An example – wearing your hair in different ways that everyone else
  • One criticism might be that the non-conformists personality is considered to be independent, yet if their actions are determined by the actions of the majority group this may not really be independent behaviour.


  • Having  another individual to support your attitude/behaviour in a given situation
  • An example is where you are in a group of friends who are encouraging you to smoke, but you don’t want to. Next to you is a friend who also does not wish to smoke, you are more likely to reject the cigarette with this ally
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  • Asch found that conformity rates dropped dramatically if just one confederate gave the right line-length answer
  • Also supported by Allen and Levine who found that conformity was reduced when an ally was present
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Aim: Milgram wanted to find out if ordinary Americans would obey orders from an authority figure who asked them to harm an innocent person 


  • 40 male volunteers were told that they were taking part in an experiment into the role of punishment in learning
  • A teacher had to shock a learner every time an incorrect answer was given
  • This process was overseen by an experimenter (the authority figure). 
  • Every time that the learner got an answer wrong, the teacher had to shock the learner.  The teacher had to increase the voltage by 15 volts with every shock. 
  • The shocks ranged from 15 to 450 volts
  • When the teacher refused to shock, the experimenter prompted him to continue
  • The shocks were not real
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  • It was fixed so that the naïve participant was always the teacher and the confederate was always the learner
  • The teacher saw the learner being strapped to a chair with electrodes, then, the teacher sat down on the other side of a screen in front of the electric shock generator.
  • When the teacher asked the question, the learner replied using a system of lights
  • The learner would often make mistakes, so that the teacher would have to shock him
  • The learner’s screams could be heard.
  •  After 300 volts, the learner made no further sounds or answers. The teacher was to treat no answer as an incorrect answer.
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  • All participants shocked to at least 300 volts. 65% were said to have obeyed as they shocked to the full 450 volts
  • Most of the participants found the procedure to be very stressful and some showed signs of extreme anxiety
  • Although most participants verbally expressed their desire to disobey, they continued to shock the learner.

Conclusion: Obedience appears to be a normal human behaviour as most people will obey unjust orders. 

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Was the environment controlled? If so, how?

  • Yes. Same experiment, confederate and environment. 
  • Same shock generator. 
  • Same responses from confederate and experimenter (tape recording)
  • it is a standardised experiment.

How natural was the environment and how realistic were the tasks given to participants?

  • Unrealistic task and environment therefore lacks realism – has low external validity. 
  • However, the situation does have similarities with WW2 therefore improving external validity.

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Can you think you think of any extraneous variables that may have arisen?

  • Demand characteristics – P’s may work out the aim of the study or not believe they are giving real shocks
  • Participant variables – level of knowledge may influence likelihood that you will obey.

To what extent was his sample representative? Why?

Cultural bias and gender bias – not representative. 

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  • Proximity: Teacher & learner placed in same room = obedience level dropped to 40%.
  •  Touch proximity: Teacher forced to place learners hand on plate =  dropped to 30%.
  •  Absent experimenter: Order given over phone = dropped to 21%.
  •  2 peers rebel: when 2 confederate teachers refused to go on = dropped to 10%.
  • Teachers discretion: Teacher decided shock level administered =  dropped to 2.5%. 
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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
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  • 21 out of 22 (95%) nurses obeyed the orders
  • The nurses said they obeyed because that’s what doctors expect nurses to do


An extremely high proportion of people are prepared to obey unjust orders.

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Was the environment controlled? If so, who?

Yes, the doctor , drug and patient remained the same.

Extraneous Variables

Other nurses can influence the nurse’s choice, different wards can have different nurses and therefore different reactions (situational variables)

How natural was the environment and how realistic were the tasks given to participants?

The task itself was realistic, as nurses are expected to administer drugs.  However, it’s unnatural for a nurse to have instructions over the phone.

To what extent was his sample representative?

Culture bias – America

Small amount of P’s

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Why people obey

Legitimate authority:

  • Obeying someone perceived to be a legitimate authority. That means we believe that the person has power and that we’re obliged to do what he/she says.
  • This could be due to uniform/setting.
  • We have seen this in Milgram’s and Hofling’s study.
  • Every day example – lab coats.

Agentic Shift:

  • Shift in responsibility. If there is a lack of personal responsibility, people are more likely to obey. The individual moves from an autonomous state (personal responsibility) to an agentic state (responsibility attributed to person in authority).
  • E.g. We are more likely to do something we know is wrong if someone else agrees to take the blame for it.
  • We have seen this in Milgram’s study, when the experimenter offers to take the blame for whatever happens to the learner.
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Graduated commitment:

  • Obey small/minor orders a bit at a time until eventually obeying a larger, more demanding order. Foot in the door technique.
  • e.g. used by sales people the World over and usually referred to as foot in the door. Get people to make a small commitment, i.e. buy a small item and then build up to bigger, expensive items.
  • We see this in Milgram’s study with the gradual increase of voltage. 
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Explanation for Resisting Obedience

Disobedient Models/Allies:

Where someone else resists obedience, and that encourages you to do the same. This is seen in a variationof  Milgram's study where  2 peers rebel: when 2 confederate teachers refused to go on and obedience levels dropped to 10%


Feeling empathetic and responsible for causing pain and distress can prevent you from following orders.

Gretchen Brandt felt empathetic during a variation of the Milgram experiment after it brought back personal memories so she refused to go higher than 210v.

Reported from Blass 2000: ‘I wouldn’t want it done to myself’

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Locus of control - Rotter 1966

External locus of control: An individual believes that they are not really in control of their lives and that things happen to them because they are unlucky or are down to fate.

Internal locus of control: Where an individual believes that they are in full control of their lives, behaviour and what happens to them. They feel that they can make a difference and therefore are more likely to stick to their own opinions. They feel that they can make decisions for themselves so they don’t look to the majority.

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  • How sure are you in your skills, ability and knowledge.

Perrin and Spencer replicated Asch’s study in the UK and they found only one conforming response out of 369 trials.

Their participants were all from engineering, maths and science courses.

The knowledge and skills from these courses may have enabled them to feel more confident in determining the length of the lines.

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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. 

The suffragettes were a small group of women who, in the early twentieth Century demanded for their right to vote. At that time in society, women were expected to conform to their traditional gender role and not have as many rights as men. The suffragettes however defied this pressure and eventually women were given the right to vote

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Non Conformist personality:

The suffragettes show non conformist behaviour as they opposed the popular doctrine that women should stay in the home.

High internal locus of control:

They show this because they believed that they had the control to make a change.


The women stuck together and had many allies to increase the chance of rebelling against the majority.


Exact same argument over and over, determined. Not going to break down.

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AIMS: To determine whether a minority can influence a majority of naive participants, and thus reverse the usual direction of social influence. Moscovici et al aimed to determine the conditions necessary for this to occur, in particular, the necessity for the minority to be consistent in their opinions.

PROCEDURE (METHOD): The participants were pre-tested to check for colour blindness. A laboratory experiment was carried out, in which participants were randomly allocated to either a consistent, inconsistent, or control condition. Each condition consisted of six participants; four naive participants (the majority), and two confederates (the minority). Participants were asked to describe the colour of 36 slides, all of which were blue, but which varied in brightness due to different filters. In the consistent condition, the two confederates described all 36 slides as green. In the inconsistent condition, the two confederates described 24 of the 36 slides as green and the remaining 12 slides as blue. In the control condition, there were no confederates. Minority influence was measured by the percentage of naive participants who yielded to the confederates by calling the blue slides green.

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  • In the consistent condition, 8.42% of the participants answered “green” and 32% conformed at least once
  • In the inconsistent condition, 1.25% of the participants answered “green”. 
  • In the control condition, only 0.25% of the participants answered “green”. 
  • Thus, the consistent condition showed the greatest yielding to minority influence

CONCLUSIONS: A minority can have influence over the majority, and this influence is more effective when the minority is consistent. The fact that minorities are more persuasive when they are consistent has implications for people in leadership positions who are hoping to influence the majority.

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How do you think awareness of ‘graduated commitment’ can help us to encourage pro-social behaviour?

  • Introduce social change a little bit at a time e.g. recycling and smoking
  • Milgram – slowly raising the amount of volts

How did Milgram’s study help to bring about social change?

  • Make people aware of consequences of their actions -> that they are responsible (to avoid agentic shift)
  • Put authority figures in uniform
  • Used to educate school children in PSHE lessons about the effects of peer pressure

How did Hofling’s study help to bring about social change?

  • Training for doctors and nurses includes Psychology courses and more rigorous ‘sign off’ procedure for drugs
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How did Orlando’s study help to bring about social change?

  • The experience of being placed in a mock psychiatric ward for only three days was sufficient for staff at the Elgin State Hospital in Illinois to change their attitudes towards their patients and to implement training programmes to enhance staff-patient relationships.

How can minority influence help to bring about social change?

  • If there were only a majority view, there would be no change
  • The minority need to oppose the majority, eventually a snowball effect will occur – whereby more and more people agree with the minority view.
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Thank you so much!

Ps where did you get the information from?

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