Social Influence

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This is the process of yielding to group pressure, leading to a change in attitudes or behaviour.

There can be majority social influence (influence of a majority to change the attitudes or behaviours of an individual or small group) and minority social influence (influence of a minority to change the attitudes or behaviours of a larger group.

If we only change our behaviour this is called public conformity. This is compliance; when you go along with the majority in order to gain their approval or avoid disapproval. 

If we change our attitudes and behaviours this is called public and private conformity. This is internalisation; when you go along with the majority or minority after accepting their opinions as your own. It is the deepest and most permanent type of conformity.

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He aimed to investigate the effect of majority social influence in an ambiguous situation. Participants were first asked into a dark room individually. They had to look at a light in the corner of the room and estimate it's direction and how far the light was moving. It wasnt actually moving. This was done several times. Then several days later participants repeated that but in groups of three. 

They found that individual judgements were replaced by one much closer to the group's. By the third trial a group norm had been created, leading them to conclude that we internally conform in ambiguous situations where the answer isn't clear. 

weaknesses of this study;

  • lacks ecological validity
  • deception (lied about the light moving)

strengths of this study;

  • well controlled lab experiment (extraneous variables can be controlled)
  • debriefing (sherif fully debriefed participants in to over come the issue of deception)
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Normative and Informational Social Influence


  • This is compliance
  • When the majorirt may make it hard for people to deviate from their ideas.
  • Asch's study showed that going against the majority isnt easy. 
  • Humans have a fundamental need for social companionships and a fear of rejection. 
  • Garandeau and Lillessen have shown how skillful bullies can victimise a child to provide a common goal, putting pressure on all members of the group to comply.


  • this is internalistion
  • happens when the situation is ambiguous or we think the other people are experts
  • Fein et al showed that participants changed their attitudes on presidential candidates based on what other people thought

Both criticised for suggesting the two explanations are separate. Often not possible to determine which one is the case. Normative can't explain why we sometimes conform to minorities.

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Social Impact Theory

Latané developed a theory to show why we comply sometimes but not others

  • the number of people present (conformity didnt 
  • the strength/importance of the majority
  • immediacy (the amount of influence an individual has)

Sedikes and Jackson found that high-strength and high-immediacy sources exerted more impact than low strength and low immediacy

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He investigated conformity in an unambiguous situation by using 123 american male students in a study that claimed to test visual perception. There was only one participant each time, the rest were confederates. They were asked to match up lines, with the answer very clear. But the confederates all gave the wrong answer. 

This lead to 37% conformity, which then dropped to 5% conformity when the participant had a confederate giving the same answer as them. Participants said they conformed because of distortion of perception (came to see the same way as the majority), distortion of judgement (doubted their judgement so yielded to majority) and distortion of action (trusted own judgement but changed behaviour to conform to majority). They concluded that in a group situation there is a tendancy to conform to the behaviours of others, even when the behaviour is clearly wrong.

strengths of this study; can be replicated easily

weaknesses of this study; lacks ecological validity, gender bias, deception

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  • This refers to a type of social influence where someone acts in response to a direct order from a figure percieved to be in authority
  • occurs within a heirarchy 
  • power is very important in this
  • there may be fear of punishment
  • people often ambrace obedience as an explanation for their behaviour
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Milgram experiment

This Investigated the extent to which the public would obey an unjust order from an authority figure. It took place at Yale, using 40 men who believed they were taking part in a study on punishment on learning.

They were told they had equal chance of being a teacher or learner, when in reality everyone was chosen to be a teacher. The learners were always confederates, who reported that they suffered from a fake heart condition. The participants were in separate rooms from the confederates and the teacher was instructed to give the confederate a shock everytime they got a question wrong.

The shocks started at 15 volts but moved up to 450 volts, enough to kill a man. If the participants wanted to quit they were given prods.

It found that all participants went up to 300v, 65% went up to 450v. The participants showed obvious signs of stress and some even suffered seizures. Migram managed to conclude that people go to extreme lengths to obey authority.

The study may have demand characteristics and lacks ecological validity. It was a lab experiment so it can be replicated, but it was very unethical. 

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This was a field experiment in the streets of new york, using male confederates dressed as police men, milkmen and casual attire. They had to order pedestrians to pick a bag up, give someone change or stand on the other side of a pole. The behaviour of the participants was recorded.

Participants were more likely to obey the orders of the police man rather than the other two, concluding that levels of obedience are related to levels of percieved authority. 


  • ecological validity
  • ease of replication


  • extraneous variables
  • deception
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explanations of obedience


  • Graduated commitment to the situation-This is thegradualprocess where an individual moves from obeyingsimple acceptableorders togreater, less acceptable ones.Milgram's study started with15v, rising to450v
  • Legitimate authority figure-Society teaches us that if a figure has legitimate authority then they have theright to give orderswhich should be obeyedwithout question. Bickmansuggested that people would obey the orders of a police man rather than a milk man because ofpercieved authority
  • Buffers-These are any aspect of a situation that stops someone seeing theconsequencesof their actions. Variations of the Milgram's study showed that when the learner wasvisibleobedience went down to40% from 65%.


  • Entering an agentic state-where the person surrenders all sense of responsibility to an authotiry figure. This is shown in Milgram's study, where the experimenter stated that they were fully responsible for what was happening.
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criticisms of the explanations

  • mono-casual emphasis (only focus on obedience as an explanation for actions)
  • ignore motivational factors (cardwell argued that these explanations tell us nothing about why people would want to act a certain way)
  • offer an excuse to people who have commited horrible crimes
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Explanations of independent behaviour


  • when the level of percieved authority is low-shown in Bickman's study when milkman listened to less than police man. Also in Milgram's study when an absent experimenter reduced conformity to 21%.
  • high visibility of the consequences of actions-Milgram's study showed that conformity dropped to 40% when the learner was in the same room.
  • support from another-Asch showed that conformity went down to 5% when there was a supporting confederate. The Milgram study also showed 10% conformity with a supporting confederate


  • locus of control
  • high moral development-Kohlberg found that those with higher stages of moral reasoning were less likely to conform
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Internal locus of control

A locus of control is an individual's perception of the amount of control they have over their life. An internal locus scores low on the questionnaire.

They are most likely to show independent behaviour, they will seek information that will help them and are less likely to rely on other's opinions. They are also achievement focused. People from individualistic cultures are more likely to have an internal locus. Men are more likely to have an internal locus of control.

Elms and Milgram found that ILC were less likely to obey orders to continue shocking to 450v.

Crutchfield found that people with an internal locus of control have higher self esteem and leadership qualities.

Anderson found that american students took personal credit for their success.

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External locus of control

External locus' of control will score high on the questionnaire. People with external locus' of control are more likely to obey and conform.

They will believe in outside factors influencing their lives. Typically they have low self esteems. People from a collectivist culture are more likely to have an external locus of control. Women are more likely to have an external locus of control

Elms and Milgram found that people with an external locus of control were more likely to continue shocking.

Crown and Marlow found that people with an external LOC were more likely to have a low self esteem.

Anderson found that chinese students took less credit for personal success.

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Criticisms of the locus of control theories

  • Williams and Warchal gave 30 uni students a range of conformity tests and a locus of control assessment. They found no significant correlation with the locus of control and the extent to which they conformed.
  • Milgram found no correlation between locus of control and gender.
  • Not everyone with an external locus of control will conform and not everyone with an internal locus will resist conforming.
  • Locus of control explains independent behaviour using just one explanation.
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minority social influence

This is the power of a minority to have an effect on the behaviours of a larger group. 

Social change is the process where an entire society changes their attitudes/behaviour, which will eventually become accepted as the norm.

Implications for social change; if we can understand how a minority can change society we can begin to understand past social changes. In the future individuals can use this knowledge to create their own social change.

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Moscovici et al

This was a lab experiment where participants were told the study was about colour perception. Each group had 4 participants and 2 confederates. The groups had to state the colour of slides outloud. All slides were blue, but confederates were instructed to say the wrong colour. There was different coniditions;

  • consistent condition where the confederates called all the slides green. This had 8% conformity.
  • in-consistent condition where only 1% conformed
  • control condition where the no. of participants who said green was minor.

From this they concluded that a minority can influence a majority if they are consistent.


  • high test-retest reliability (highly controlled lab with a standardised procedure)


  • lacks mundane realism (wouldnt happen in real life)
  • deception (told that the study was about colour perception)
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How does a minority cause social change

Because minorities are outnumbered, their ideas go against the norm, creating conflict. In order to resolve this conflict people within the majority will pay attention, which exposes them to the attitudes and behaviours of the minority, increasing the chance of conformity. Moscovici called this process conversion (similar to internalisation).

Behaviour needed to be shown;

  • flexible (willing to listen to other pov)
  • acting on principle not personal gain 
  • commitment (may have to make sacrifices)
  • persuasion
  • confidence (sends the message that your opinion is serious and you wont go away)

A *********** effect is when minorities begin to persuade people, until eventually more and more people conform, until it becomes the majority. Once this has happened, people often dont remember where the opinion came from. This is known as crypto amnesia.

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