Social Influence

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Social influence

Social influence-The process whereby people directly or indirectly influence the thoughts, feelings and actions of others.

Obedience- Complying with the demands of an authority figure.

  • Obedience occurs when you are told to do something, where as conformity occurs when we do something due to social pressure.
  • Obedience has a hierarchy of status, where the person giving the comand has a  higher status than the person recieving the command.

Milgram 1963

  • Conducted an experiment to see how far someone would go to obey an instruction which involved the harm of another person.
  • 40 male volunteers were each introduced to a confederate they believed to be another volunteer. This volunteer was named the 'learner' whilest the ps was named the 'teacher'. The learner was strapped to a chair in another room. He learnt a list of word pairs, the teachers job was to test them. Whenever the learner got a question wrong, the teacher had to administer an electric shock (which was actually fake). With every wrong answer the voltage is increased until it reaches 450V. 
  • 65% of ps continued to the highest level. ALL went up to at least 300V.
  • Thus showing ordinary people will follow orders given by an authority figure.
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Milgram variations

Standard procedure- 65%

Victim is silent-100%

Study in run down office block- 48%

Victim in the same room as teacher-40%

Teacher forces learners hand onto shock plate-30%

Experimenter not present but phones in-20.5%

Teacher paired with 2 confederates who refuse to obey-10%

Teacher only reads out words, a confederate gives the shock-92.5%

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Explanations of Obedience

Situational factors affecting obedience

  • Group size- The size of the group will affect obedience. The bigger the majority the more influential. 
  • Culture-Collectivist cultures are more likely to conform than those in individualist cultures.
  • Location- People conform more when they are in an environment were an authority has the most power. E.g. Milgram moved his experiment to a run down office block from Yale uni-> Experimenter was not seen to have as much authority.

Perception of Legitimate authority-  If the person issuing the instructions is percieved as a legitimate authority and is one which society rules us to obey, we obey them because we have been taught to.

Agency theory-We obey because we are in the agentic state. We are an agent of the person issuing the instructions. We are socialised to have two states, the autonomous state where we are our own agent and acting in accourdance with our own free will and the agentic state when we are following instructions from someone else.

Buffers- Anything which reduces the impact of the consequences of our actions. E.g. the wall between the teacher and learner in Milgram.

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Explanations of Obedience continued

Diffusion of responsibility- Occurs when people are in groups. The larger the group, the less responsible they feel for their actions.

Social and cultural norms- The agreed expectations and rules which a culture expects its members to follow.

Gradual commitment (foot in the door)- Ps are obedient to small, harmless tasks, but once they have completed a small task they find it harder to refuse a more serious task.

Dispositional factors

Authoritarian personality

  • Adorno et al 1950 proposed that a personality type he called the authoritarian personality was responsible for increased obedience in an individual. 
  • This personality type is rigid and not open to change and shows the trait for authoritarian submissiveness, which makes them blindly obedient.
  • Adorno developed the F-scale (F for Fascism) which was used to measure authoritarian personality.
  • It is believed they are developed from strict upbringing and little affection and punishing parents.
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Adorno evaluation

Evaluation of Authoritarian personality

  • Adorno only used a small sample, so it is hard to generalise his findings.
  • The questionnaire could produce set responses and response bias, as statements lead in one direction.
  • The F-scale predicts that those with an authoritarian personality are submissive to authority figures. Therefore should be more likely to give powerful shocks in the Milgram experiment. Milgram 1974 found that high scorers on the F-scale gave stronger shocks than low scorers.
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Defiance of Authority 

  • Social support- People support each other and share information. People are more likely to disobey with others than when facing the authority alone. Milgram variation where teacher given support of two confederates who refuse- 10%.
  • Role models- When someone models defiance in a group, the rest of the group gradually follows. Milgram's two confederate teachers acted as models of defiance.
  • Personal Experience and Education- People may refuse to obey due to personal experience or the experience of their predecessors. Milgram found one of this ps had experienced a concentration camp and felt personally responsible for the harm she was causing and so refused to obey after 210V.
  • Questioning Motives- People will disobey if they question the motives of the person in authority. Milgram's study was accepted to be of scientific value from the start, therefore no one questioned the experimenters authority.
  • Loss of freedom- We believe we have freedom of choice, if this is threatened we disobey to restore our sense of freedom. In the Gamson study, participants felt manipulated and controlled, therefore they disobeyed.
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Conformity-Is yielding to group pressure. This pressure could be real or imagined.

  • Conformity is more likely to occur in groups which are important to us, such as a membership group and reference group which we would like to belong to.

Types of conformity:

  • Compliance- Publicly going along with the groups opinion, but privately disagreeing and keeping their own beliefs.
  • Internalisation-Going alone with the group opinion publicly and privately and adopting the groups belief systems.
  • Identification-Publicly and privately going along with the group in order to get their acceptance.

Explanations of conformity

  • Normative influence- based on the need to be the same as others and be accepted. This links to compliance as we may go along with a group whilst still not privately agreeing with the group. Evidence Asch 1956 comparision of lines which were the same length. Conformity occured even though the ps could see others answers were wrong.
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Conformity continued

  • Informational social influence- When we conform because we don't know the answer or how we should react. We look to others for information. This type of conformity usually results in internalisation. Evidence Sherif 1935. Ps had to estimate how far a spot of light moved in a dark room (autokinetic effect). They found ps took on the group norm, because they did not know the answer themselves.

Factors affecting conformity:

  • Size of the majority- Asch found that conformity increased with an increase in confederates. 1 confederate to 1 ps produced 0% conformity. 1ps to 2 confeds produced 14% conformity & 1ps to 3 confeds produced 32% conformity. After 3 confederates conformity levels stayed the same.
  • Task difficulty- Conformity increases when the task at hand becomes more difficult. Asch found that conformity increased when the lines became more similar, so the participant had less of an idea of what the right answer was.
  • Unanimity- If one confederate gave the right answer conformity decreased to 5.5%.
  • Answering privately- When participants were able to privately answer conformity dropped ti 12.5%. Suggesting we feel less pressure to conform when others do not know our answers.
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Baron, Vandello and Brunsman 1996

Aim- To investigate if conformity would increase when being right is imporant.

Method-Students from Iowa Uni were split into groups of 3(1ps, 2stooges). They were shown a slide with a stimulus person, then shown another slide showing four people. One group was told that their results were important, whilst the other group was told their results were unimportant. 

  • The task was made more difficult by only giving groups one second to view the line up.
  • The follow up study had different ps, but were given 5secs to view the line up

Results- In the difficult task, for those told their results were important there was a 51% error rate and 35% for those who believed it was unimportant.

In the easier follow up the error rate was 16% for those who thought it was important and 33% when believed it was unimportant.

Conclusion-When we are unsure of the correct answer and being right matters, we look to others for guidance, therefore the difficult study shows informational influence. When the task was easy, but results weren't important it was better to be wrong than risk disapproval. Demonstrating normative social influence.

Evaluation- All variables operationalised

  • Ps were deceived.
  • All participants students
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Social facilitation

Social facilitation- People perform better in certain tasks when they are in the presence of other people. This is true for simple tasks and tasks people are skilled at or have already learnt, but not for difficult tasks. Social facilitation was proposed by Normal Triplett in 1898. He noticed that people in bicycle races went faster when they were competing against each other directly than when racing individually.

Social inhibition-Occurs when the task at hand is complex and not well learned. The speed and accuracy of te task decreases significantly with the presence of others or co actors. Social inhibition specially occurs when the task is new, complex or not well practiced.

Dominent response-Is the response most likely to be given as it is the most usual and best practiced response.

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Social facilitation theories

Arousal theory-The presence of people causes a person to be alert or aroused. According to Zajonc, arousal acts as a drive that brings out the dominant response. In an easy well practiced task, dominant responses tend to be correct so social facilitation occurs, but in a task which is difficult or not well learnt the dominant responses tend to be incorrect so social inhibition occurs.

Evidence-Michaels. Observed pool players from a far and gave them scores as either average or below average. Experimenter then made it obvious they were observing. They found that the players accuracy increased if they were good players, but decreased if they were bad. This shows that the presence of the audience causes social facilitation if the task is well known, however their lack of awareness raises ethical issues.

Zajonc- Conducted a study using cockroaches. Cockroaches will run from the light to dark areas. Zajonc set up two mazes, one simple and one complex. In both mazes a light was shone on the cockroach at one end of the maze, which had to get to the darkened box at the end of the maze. The two mazes were both tested with two separate conditions. In one the roach was in the maze alone without observers, in the other there were roaches observing. In the simple condition, roaches found the box faster when being observed, but in the complex maze the roaches completed the task slower when being observed.


  • If this theory was true, why would a competent person become inhibited with the presence of an audience.
  • The theory doesn't explain cognitive processes (how we interpret others).
  • The theories evidence is mainly made up of studies on animals. (Zajonc- cockroaches).
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Social facilitation theories continued

Evaluation Apprehension theory-Conttrell 1968 argued that it is not the presence of others that causes arousal but the apprehension of being evaluated by others. Increased arousal in the presence of others is not an innate response but a learnt one. People associate the presence of others with the evaluations of their performance on a task. Therefore the mere presence of others is not enough to raise arousal and the dominant responses which follow.

Evidence-Henchy and Glass 1968. Ps performed in tasks on typing alone, in the presence of 2 experts, 2 non-experts and alone, but filmed. They found facilitation of well learnt responses. This suggests that being judged brings out social facilitation. How we respond to others is just as important as their presence.However in this study the ps were subject to stress.


  • Facilitation in animals. Surely animals do not feel like judged like humans. Therefore could just be presence of others.
  • Research where audience was blindfolded shows audience had less/no affect, supporting the theory rather than arousal theory.
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Social facilitation theories last

Distraction conflict theory- Baron 1986 suggested that the presence of others is distracting because attention is divided between the task and the audience or co-actors. Two distinct effects occur:

  • Distraction leads to a negative effect on task performance regardless of whether it is simple or complex because one is less able to concentrate on the task.
  • The conflict increases arousal making a dominant response more likely.

Together these processes impair the performance of complex tasks, but improve the performance of simple tasks.

Evidence- Sanders et al 1975. Ps were given a simple digit copy task, which they did either alone or with the presence of another person who distracted them, or did a different task and didn't distract them. Ps in the distraction condition made more mistakes than those in the easy task, but those in the distraction task copied more digits. This shows performance on simple tasks was facilitated by distracting others,but inhibited by distracting others on more complex tasks. However it isn't subjective as we do not know was is classed as distracting or simple.


  • Can explain animal studies as distraction can happen in animals to.
  • Evidence based in laboratory, therefore lacks ecological validity due to artificial environments.
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