(GS PAPER-4) Social Influence

Social Influence

  • Social influence occurs when one’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales and marketing.

Three broad varieties of social influence:

  1. Compliance is when people appear to agree with others, but actually keep their dissenting opinions private.
  2. Identification is when people are influenced by someone who is liked and respected, such as a famous celebrity.
  3. Internalization is when people accept a belief or behavior and agree both publicly and privately.

1. Compliance

  • Compliance is the act of responding favorably to an explicit or implicit request offered by others. Technically, compliance is a change in behavior but not necessarily attitude- one can comply due to mere obedience, or by otherwise opting to withhold one’s private thoughts due to social pressures.
  • The satisfaction derived from compliance is due to the social effect of the accepting influence (i.e. people comply for an expected reward or punishment-aversion)
  • Compliance refers to a response — specifically, a submission — made in reaction to a request. The request may be explicit or implicit.

2. Identification:

  • Identification is a psychological process whereby the subject assimilates an aspect, property, or attribute of the other and is transformed, wholly or partially, by the model the other provides.
  • Identification is the changing of attitudes or behaviors due to the influence of someone that is liked. Advertisements that rely upon celebrities to market their products are taking advantage of this phenomenon. The desired relationship that the identifier relates with the behavior or attitude change is the “reward”.

3. Internalization:

  • Internalization is the process of acceptance of a set of norms established by people or groups which are influential to the individual. The individual accepts the influence because the content of the influence accepted is intrinsically rewarding. It is congruent with the individual’s value system, and the “reward” of internalization is “the content of the new behavior”.


  • Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in behavior, belief or thinking to align with those of others or to align with normative standards. It is the most common and pervasive form of social influence.
  • Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms. Norms are implicit, unsaid rules, shared by a group of individuals, that guide their interactions with others. This tendency to conform occurs in small groups and/or society as a whole, and may result from subtle unconscious influences, or direct and overt social pressure.
  • Conformity can occur in the presence of others, or when an individual is alone. For example, people tend to follow social norms when eating or watching television, even when alone.
  • Conformity is sometimes in appearance only – publicly appearing to conform (compliance) or it may be a complete conformity that impacts an individual both publicly and privately (conversion).
  • What appears to be conformity may in fact be congruence. Congruence occurs when an individual’s behavior, belief or thinking is already aligned with that of the others and there is no change.
  • Another type of social response, which does not involve conformity with the majority of the group, is called convergence. In this type of social response the group member agreed with the groups’ decision from the outset and thus does not need to shift their opinion on the matter at hand.
  • As conformity is a group phenomenon, factors such as group size, unanimity, cohesion, status, prior commitment and public opinion help determine the level of conformity an individual displays.

Why Conformity occurs?

  • In the case of peer pressure, a person is convinced to do something (such as smoking) which they might not want to do, but which they perceive as “necessary” to keep a positive relationship with other people, such as their friends. Conformity from peer pressure generally results from identification within the group members, or from compliance of some members to appease others.
  • People often conform from a desire for security within a group—typically a group of a similar age, culture, religion, or educational status. This is often referred to as groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics, which ignores realistic appraisal of other courses of action. Unwillingness to conform carries the risk of social rejection. (Social rejection occurs when an individual is deliberately excluded from a social relationship or social interaction for social rather than practical reasons.)


  • In situations where conformity (including compliance, conversion and congruence) is absent, there are non-conformity processes such as independence and anti-conformity.
  • Nonconformity can fall into one of two response categories. First, an individual who does not conform to the majority can display independence. Independence, or dissent, can be defined as the unwillingness to bend to group pressures. Thus, this individual stays true to his or her personal standards instead of the swaying toward group standards.
  • Also, a nonconformist could be displaying anticonformity or counterconformity which involves the taking of opinions that are opposite to what the group believes. This type of nonconformity can be motivated by a need to rebel against the status quo instead of the need to be accurate in one’s opinion.
  • Hence, social responses to conformity can be seen to vary along a continuum from conversion to anticonformity.

Predictors of Conformity:

(a) Culture:

  • Culture appears to play a role in willingness to conform to a group. It is found that conformity was higher in Norway than in France. This has been attributed to Norway’s long standing tradition of social responsibility, as compared to France’s cultural focus on individualism. Japan likewise has a collectivist culture and thus a higher propensity to conform.

(b) Sex:

  • Women are more persuadable and more conforming than men in group pressure situations that involve surveillance. In situations not involving surveillance, women are less likely to conform. This sex difference may be due to different sex roles in society. Women are generally taught to be more agreeable whereas men are taught to be more independent.
  • It was found that men and women conformed more when there were participants of both sexes involved versus participants of the same sex.

(c) Age:

  • In the same way that gender has been viewed as corresponding to status, age has also been argued to have status implications. Age as a status role can be observed among college students. Younger students, such as those in their first year in college, are treated as lower-status individuals and older college students are treated as higher-status individuals. Therefore, given these status roles, it would be expected that younger individuals (low status) conform to the majority whereas older individuals (high status) would be expected not to conform.

(d) Size of the group:

  • Although conformity pressures generally increase as the size of the majority increases, a meta-analysis suggests that conformity pressures peak once the majority reaches about four or five in number.
  • Moreover, a study suggests that the effects of group size depend on the type of social influence operating. This means that in situations where the group is clearly wrong, conformity will be motivated by normative influence; the participants will conform in order to be accepted by the group. A participant may not feel much pressure to conform when the first person gives an incorrect response. However, conformity pressure will increase as each additional group member also gives the same incorrect response.

Informational Social Influence:

  • Informational social influence occurs when one turns to the members of one’s group to obtain and accept accurate information about reality. A person is most likely to use informational social influence in certain situations: when a situation is ambiguous, people become uncertain about what to do and they are more likely to depend on others for the answer; and during a crisis when immediate action is necessary.
  • Looking to other people can help ease fears, but unfortunately they are not always right. The more knowledgeable a person is, the more valuable they are as a resource. Thus people often turn to experts for help. But once again people must be careful, as experts can make mistakes too.

Normative social influence:

  • Normative social influence is a type of social influence leading to conformity. Normative social influence occurs when one conforms to be liked or accepted by the members of the group. When people do not conform with their group and therefore are deviants, they are less liked and even punished by the group. Normative influence usually results in public compliance, doing or saying something without believing in it.

What is Groupthink?

  • Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
  • Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “outgroup”).
  • Three antecedent conditions to groupthink.
    1. High group cohesiveness
      • deindividuation: group cohesiveness becomes more important than individual freedom of expression
    2. Structural faults:
      • insulation of the group
      • lack of impartial leadership
      • lack of norms requiring methodological procedures
      • homogeneity of members’ social backgrounds and ideology
    3. Situational context:
      • highly stressful external threats
      • recent failures
      • excessive difficulties on the decision-making task
      • moral dilemmas
  • Ways of preventing groupthink:
    1. Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
    2. Leaders should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
    3. Leaders should absent themselves from many of the group meetings to avoid excessively influencing the outcome.
    4. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
    5. All effective alternatives should be examined.
    6. Each member should discuss the group’s ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
    7. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
    8. At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil’s advocate. (someone who, given a certain argument, takes an alternative position from the accepted norm, for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further. )

Minority influence:

  • Minority influence, a form of social influence, takes place when a member of a minority group, like an individual, influences a majority to accept the minority’s beliefs or behaviour.
  • Majority influence (conformity) refers to the majority trying to produce conformity on the minority, while minority influence is converting the majority to adopt the thinking of the minority group. Unlike other forms of influence, minority influence usually involves a personal shift in private opinion.

How it works:

  • Minority influence is more likely to occur if the point of view of the minority is consistent, flexible, and appealing to the majority. Having a consistent and unwavering opinion will increase the appeal to the majority, leading to a higher chance of adaption to the minority view. However, any wavering opinions from the minority group could lead the majority to dismiss the minority’s claims and opinions.
  • Unlike majority influence, minority influence can rarely influence others through normative social influence because the majority is indifferent to the minority’s perspective of them. To influence the majority, the minority group would take the approach of informational social influence or social proof. By presenting information that the majority does not know or expect, this new or unexpected information catches the attention of the majority to carefully consider and examine the minority’s view. After consideration, when the majority finds more validity and merit in the minority’s view, the majority group has a higher chance of accepting part or all of the minority opinion.

Affecting factors:

(a) Size of minority

  • One view is that a minority of one is more influential than a minority of more than one, as one person is more likely to be consistent over long periods of time and will not divide the majority’s attention. A person may question themselves “How can they be so wrong and yet so sure of themselves?”, resulting in a tendency to reevaluate the entire situation, considering all possible alternatives, including the minority view.
  • Other view is that, two people are more likely to be more influential than one person as they are less likely to be seen as strange or eccentric.
  • More recent research has supported the second view due to the belief that a minority with two or more, if consistent, has more credibility and is therefore more likely to influence the majority.
  • Large and growing minorities are influential. If the size of the minority does not grow, there is a possibility of a lone dissenter to change position, affecting his or her consistency and credibility.

(b) Size of majority

  • As the size of the majority grows, the influence of the minority decreases, both in public and in private attitude change. The social impact is the multiplicative effect of strength (power, status, knowledge), the immediacy (physical proximity and recency), and the number of group members.

(c) Behavioural style

  • Minority influence is effective as long as there is consistency over time and agreement among the members of the minority. If this consistency were lost, then the minority would lose its credibility. This can be the case if a member of the minority deserts and joins the majority, as this damages the consistency and unity of the minority.

(d) Situational factors

  • A person’s position may affect the level of minority influence they exert. For example, someone positioned close to another is more likely to influence the opinion and/or behaviour of that person. Furthermore, those positioned at the head of a table will have more influence than another in a less important position.


  • Obedience, in human behavior, is a form of social influence in which a person yields to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure. Humans behave surprisingly obedient in the presence of perceived legitimate authority figures.
  • Obedience is generally distinguished from compliance, which is behavior influenced by peers, and from conformity, which is behavior intended to match that of the majority.
  • Obedience can be seen as immoral, amoral (Lacking any sense of moral principles) and moral. For example, in a situation when one orders a person to kill another innocent person and he or she does so willingly, it is generally considered to be immoral. However, when one orders a person to kill an enemy who will end many innocent lives and he or she does so willingly, it can be deemed moral.


  • Reactances can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended, and also increases resistance to persuasion.
  • Reactance is the adoption or a view contrary to the view that they are being pressured to accept, perhaps due to the perceived threat to behavioral freedoms. This behavior has also been called anticonformity. Reactive behavior is the result of social pressure.
  • Psychological reactance occurs in response to threats to perceived behavioral freedoms. An example of such behavior can be observed when an individual engages in a prohibited activity in order to deliberately taunt the authority who prohibits it, regardless of the utility or disutility that the activity confers.
  • An individual’s freedom to select when and how to conduct their behavior, and the level to which they are aware of the relevant freedom—and are able to determine behaviors necessary to satisfy that freedom—affect the generation of reactance. It is assumed that if a person’s behavioral freedom is threatened or reduced, they become motivationally aroused. The fear of loss of further freedoms can spark this arousal and motivate them to re-establish the threatened freedom. Because this motivational state is a result of the perceived reduction of one’s freedom of action, it is considered a counterforce, and thus is called “psychological reactance”.
  • The greater the magnitude of reactance, the more the individual will try to re-establish the freedom that has been lost or threatened by social pressure.
  • There are four important elements to reactance theory: perceived freedom, threat to freedom, reactance, and restoration of freedom.

Boomerang effect:

  • The boomerang effect refers to the unintended consequences of an attempt to persuade resulting in the adoption of an opposing position instead. It is sometimes also referred to “the theory of psychological reactance”, stating that attempts to restrict a person’s freedom often produce an “anticonformity boomerang effect”.
  • It is more likely under certain conditions:
    • When weak arguments are paired with a negative source.
    • When weak or unclear persuasion leads the recipient to believe the communicator is trying to convince them of a different position than what the communicator intends.
    • When the persuasion triggers aggression or unalleviated emotional arousal.
    • When non-conformity to their own group results in feelings of guilt or social punishment.
    • When the communicator’s position is too far from the recipient’s position and thus produces a “contrast” effect and thus enhances their original attitudes.

Cognitive dissonance theory analysis:

  • Dissonance theory can provide not only an explanation, but also a prediction of both the intended and the unintended influence of persuasion on attitudinal change.
  • Suppose that dissonance aroused in regard to some unspecified cognition. According to Cognitive Dissonance Theory, the dissonance could be reduced by a change in the cognition. Now suppose the resistance to change is great (for example, the person is strongly committed to the original cognition position), then the person will resort to other forms to reduce or eliminate the dissonance. In this latter form, one can solve the discrepancy problem through the boomerang effect. In other words, the dissonance can be reduced by becoming more extreme in the original position, thereby increasing the proportion of cognition supporting the initial stand and decreasing the proportion of dissonant cognition.

Psychological reactance theory analysis:

  • Explained above.

Factors affecting the the strength of social influence:

Social impact theory:

  • It states that there are three factors which will increase people’s likelihood to respond to social influence. Social impact is the result of social forces including the strength of the source of impact, the immediacy of the event, and the number of sources exerting the impact.
  1. Strength: The importance of the influencing group to the individual.
  2. Immediacy: Physical (and temporal) proximity of the influencing group to the individual at the time of the influence attempt.
  3. Number: The number of people in the group.

Dynamic Social Impact Theory:

  • This theory is considered an extension of the Social Impact Theory as it uses its basic principles, mainly that social influence is determined by the strength, immediacy, and number of sources present, to describe how majority and minority group members influence one another.
  • Groups that are spatially distributed and interact repeatedly organize and reorganize themselves in four basic patterns: consolidation, clustering, correlation, and continuing diversity.
  1. Consolidation – as individuals interact with each other, over time, their actions, attitudes, and opinions become uniform. In this manner, opinions held by the majority of the group spread to the minority, which then decreases in size.
  2. Clustering – individuals tend to interact with clusters of group members with similar opinions. Clusters are common when group members communicate more frequently with members in close proximity, and less frequently with members who are more distant. Minority group members are often shielded from majority influence due to clustering. Therefore, subgroups can emerge which may possess similar ideas to one another, but hold different beliefs than the majority population.
  3. Correlation – over time, individual group members` opinions on a variety of issues converge and correlate with each other; this is true even of issues that are not discussed by the group.
  4. Continuing Diversity – a degree of diversity can exist within a group if minority group members cluster together or minority members who communicate with majority members resist majority influence. However, if the majority is large or minority members are physically isolated from one another, this diversity drops.

Cialdini’s “Weapons of Influence”:

  • In his work, Robert Cialdini defines six “Weapons of Influence” that can contribute to an individual’s propensity to be influenced by a persuader:
  1. Reciprocity: People tend to return a favor.
  2. Commitment and Consistency: People do not like to be self-contradictory. Once they commit to an idea or behavior, they are averse to changing their minds without good reason.
  3. Social Proof: People will be more open to things they see others doing. For example, seeing others helping poor may influence them to do so as well.
  4. Authority: People will tend to obey authority figures.
  5. Liking: People are more easily swayed by people they like.
  6. Scarcity: A perceived limitation of resources will generate demand. Opportunities seem more valuable when they are less available. Hard-to-get things are perceived as better than easy-to-get things. You can use the Scarcity Principle to influence others. The possibility of losing something is a more powerful motivator than of gaining something. Let others (a customer, your boss, a lover) know what they will be losing if they don’t say ‘yes’ to your offer.


  • Social Influence is strongest when the group perpetrating it is consistent and committed. Even a single instance of dissent can greatly wane the strength of an influence.


  • Those perceived as experts may exert social influence as a result of their perceived expertise. This involves credibility, a tool of social influence from which one draws upon the notion of trust. People believe an individual to be credible for a variety of reasons, such as perceived experience, attractiveness, knowledge, etc.
  • Additionally, pressure to maintain one’s reputation and not be viewed as fringe may increase the tendency to agree with the group, known as groupthink.


  • Culture appears to play a role in willingness to conform to a group. As we have seen earlier, it was found that conformity was higher in Norway than in France. This has been attributed to Norway’s longstanding tradition of social responsibility, as compared to France’s cultural focus on individualism. Japan likewise has a collectivist culture and thus a higher propensity to conform.

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