What Is Social Influence?
- There are three types of social influence. Conformity involves a change in a person’s attitudes or behavior in response to (often implicit) pressure from others. Obedience involves giving in to the commands of an authority. Compliance involves going along with explicit requests made by others.
- There are three sources of conformity. Sometimes conformity is mindless and automatic, elicited by mere perception of someone else’s behavior. Other times, people conform because of informational social influence—-that is, they view the actions of others as informative about what is best to do. Still other times, people conform because of normative social influence—-that is, out of concern for the social consequences of their actions.
- Several characteristics of a group affect conformity pressure. The larger the group size, the greater its influence—-but only up to about four people. Unanimous groups exert far more social influence than those with even a single dissenter. Moreover, the greater the expertise and status of group members, the greater their influence.
- Culture and gender affect conformity. People from more interdependent cultures are more likely to conform than people from independent cultures are. Women are somewhat more likely to conform than men, but both men and women conform more in domains in which they have less knowledge.
- Several task factors affect conformity pressure. The more difficult and ambiguous the task, as in the autokinetic experiment, the greater the conformity. When people’s responses are anonymous, they are less affected by others’ responses. Finally, when people have satisfying explanations of others’ judgments, they are less affected by others’ responses.
- The direction of influence is not always from the majority to the minority. Sometimes minority influence can be substantial, especially when the minority expresses consistent views.
Obedience to Authority
- The study of obedience has been dominated by the experiments of Stanley Milgram, who documented the surprising willingness of most people to go along with seemingly harmful commands of an authority.
- Participants in obedience experiments are caught in a conflict between two opposing forces: normative social influence and moral imperatives. The balance between these forces shifts toward the former when participants tune out the learner and tune in the experimenter.
- Although Milgram’s results strike nearly everyone as wildly counterintuitive, they can be rendered less surprising by considering the stepwise nature of his commands, the (mostly ineffective) attempts to terminate the experiment made by most participants, and the ability of participants to place the burden of responsibility on the experimenter, not themselves.
- Compliance with the requests of others may be elicited through reason-based, emotion-based, and norm-based techniques.
- Powerful reason-based approaches include invoking the norm of reciprocity by, for example, doing a favor for someone or making a concession (the door-in-the-face technique) or using the foot-in-the-door technique by first getting someone to agree to a small request before making the more substantial request that is really wanted.
- Powerful emotion-based approaches include getting the targeted person in a good mood, which is likely to increase compliance because of mood maintenance and because of the influence of the good mood on how the request is interpreted.
- Compliance may also result from a desire for negative state relief because an act of compliance may reduce guilt or sadness.
- Norm-based appeals take advantage of people’s inclinations to look to others for guidance about how to act. Usually, people are reluctant to stray too far from the mainstream, so information about what others are doing can have considerable impact. Most people are also motivated to "do the right thing," so information about prescriptive norms can also have great impact. Information about descriptive and prescriptive norms should not be presented as conflicting.