Social influence occurs when a person'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. In 1958,
Herbert Kelman identified three broad varieties
of social influence.
Compliance is when people appear to agree with others but actually
keep their dissenting opinions private.
Identification is when people are influenced by someone who is liked
and respected, such as a famous celebrity.
Internalization is when people accept a belief or behavior and agree
both publicly and privately.
Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard described two psychological needs
that lead humans to conform to the expectations of others. These
include our need to be right (informational social influence) and our
need to be liked (normative social influence). Informational
influence (or social proof) is an influence to accept information from
another as evidence about reality. Informational influence comes into
play when people are uncertain, either because stimuli are
intrinsically ambiguous or because there is social disagreement.
Normative influence is an influence to conform to the positive
expectations of others. In terms of Kelman's typology, normative
influence leads to public compliance, whereas informational influence
leads to private acceptance.
1.1 Kelman's varieties
1.3 Minority influence
1.4 Self-fulfilling prophecy
1.8 Psychological manipulation
1.9 Abusive power and control
1.11 Hard power
2.1 Social impact theory
2.2 Cialdini's "weapons of influence"
3 Social structure
3.1 Social networks
4 See also
Social Influence is a broad term that relates to many different
phenomena. Listed below are some major types of social influence that
are being researched in the field of social psychology. For more
information, follow the main article links provided.
There are three processes of attitude change as defined by Harvard
Herbert Kelman in a 1958 paper published in the Journal
of Conflict Resolution. The purpose of defining these processes was
to help determine the effects of social influence: for example, to
separate public conformity (behavior) from private acceptance
Main article: Compliance (psychology)
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 in attitude; one can comply due
to mere obedience or by otherwise opting to withhold private thoughts
due to social pressures. According to Kelman's 1958 paper, the
satisfaction derived from compliance is due to the social effect of
the accepting influence (i.e., people comply for an expected reward or
Main article: Identification (psychology)
Identification is the changing of attitudes or behaviors due to the
influence of someone who is admired.
Advertisements that rely upon
celebrity endorsements to market their products are taking advantage
of this phenomenon. According to Kelman, the desired relationship that
the identifier relates to the behavior or attitude change.
Main article: Internalization
Internalization is the process of acceptance of a set of norms
established by people or groups that 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 according to Kelman the
"reward" of internalization is "the content of the new behavior".
Main article: Conformity
Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in
behavior, belief, or thinking to align with those of others or with
normative standards. It is the most common and pervasive form of
Social psychology research in conformity tends to
distinguish between two varieties: informational conformity (also
called social proof, or "internalization" in Kelman's terms ) and
normative conformity ("compliance" in Kelman's terms).
In the case of peer pressure, a person is convinced to do something
that they might not want to do (such as taking illegal drugs) 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 with the group members
or from compliance of some members to appease others.
Conformity can be in appearance, or may be more complete in nature;
impacting an individual both publicly and privately.
Compliance (also referred to as acquiescence) demonstrates a public
conformity to a group majority or norm, while the individual continues
to privately disagree or dissent, holding on to their original beliefs
or to an alternative set of beliefs differing from the majority.
Compliance appears as conformity, but there is a division between the
public and the private self.
Conversion includes the private acceptance that is absent in
compliance. The individual's original behaviour, beliefs, or thinking
changes to align with that of others (the influencers), both publicly
and privately. The individual has accepted the behavior, belief, or
thinking, and has internalized it, making it his own. Conversion may
also refer to individual members of a group changing from their
initial (and varied) opinions to adopt the opinions of others, which
may differ from their original opinions. The resulting group position
may be a hybrid of various aspects of individual initial opinions, or
it may be an alternative independent of the initial positions reached
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 no change occurs.
In situations where conformity (including compliance, conversion, and
congruence) is absent, there are non-conformity processes such as
independence and anti-conformity. Independence, also referred to as
dissent, involves an individual (either through their actions or lack
of action, or through the public expression of their beliefs or
thinking) being aligned with their personal standards but inconsistent
with those of other members of the group (either all of the group or a
majority). Anti-conformity, also referred to as counter-conformity,
may appear as independence, but it lacks alignment with personal
standards and is for the purpose of challenging the group. Actions as
well as stated opinions and beliefs are often diametrically opposed to
that of the group norm or majority. The underlying reasons for this
type of behavior may be rebelliousness/obstinacy or it may be to
ensure that all alternatives and view points are given due
Main article: Minority influence
Minority influence takes place when a majority is influenced to accept
the beliefs or behaviors of a minority.
Minority influence can be
affected by the sizes of majority and minority groups, the level of
consistency of the minority group, and situational factors (such as
the affluence or social importance of the minority). Minority
influence most often operates through informational social influence
(as opposed to normative social influence) because the majority may be
indifferent to the liking of the minority.
Main article: Self-fulfilling prophecy
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly
causes itself to become true due to positive feedback between belief
and behavior. A prophecy declared as truth (when it is actually false)
may sufficiently influence people, either through fear or logical
confusion, so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false
prophecy. This term is credited to sociologist
Robert K. Merton
Robert K. Merton from
an article he published in 1948.
Main article: Reactance (psychology)
Reactance is the adoption of a view contrary to the view that a person
is being pressured to accept, perhaps due to a perceived threat to
behavioral freedoms. This phenomenon has also been called
anticonformity. While the results are the opposite of what the
influencer intended, the reactive behavior is a result of social
pressure. It is notable that anticonformity does not necessarily
mean independence. In many studies, reactance manifests itself in a
deliberate rejection of an influence, even if the influence is clearly
Main article: Obedience (human behavior)
Obedience is a form of social influence that derives from an authority
figure. The Milgram experiment, Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment,
Hofling hospital experiment are three particularly well-known
experiments on obedience, and they all conclude that humans are
surprisingly obedient in the presence of perceived legitimate
Main article: Persuasion
Persuasion is the process of guiding oneself or another toward the
adoption of an attitude by rational or symbolic means. Robert Cialdini
defined six "weapons of influence": reciprocity, commitment, social
proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. These "weapons of influence"
attempt to bring about conformity by directed means.
occur through appeals to reason or appeals to emotion.
Main article: Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to
change the behavior or perception of others through abusive,
deceptive, or underhanded tactics. By advancing the interests of
the manipulator, often at another's expense, such methods could be
considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive.
Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can
try to persuade patients to change unhealthy habits. Social influence
is generally perceived to be harmless when it respects the right of
the influenced to accept or reject it, and is not unduly coercive.
Depending on the context and motivations, social influence may
constitute underhanded manipulation.
Abusive power and control
Main article: Abusive power and control
Controlling abusers use tactics to exert power and control over their
victims. The goal of the abuser is to control and intimidate the
victim or to influence them to feel that they do not have an equal
voice in the relationship.
Main article: Propaganda
Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily
to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting
facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception,
or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a
rational response to the information that is presented.
Main article: Hard power
Hard power is the use of military and economic means to influence the
behavior or interests of other political bodies. This form of
political power is often aggressive (coercion), and is most effective
when imposed by one political body upon another of lesser military
and/or economic power.
Hard power contrasts with soft power, which
comes from diplomacy, culture and history.
Many factors can affect the impact of social influence.
Social impact theory
Main article: Social impact theory
Social impact theory was developed by
Bibb Latané in 1981. This
theory asserts that there are three factors which increase a person's
likelihood to respond to social influence:
Strength: The importance of the influencing group to the individual
Immediacy: Physical (and temporal) proximity of the influencing group
to the individual at the time of the influence attempt
Number: The number of people in the group
Cialdini's "weapons of influence"
Robert Cialdini defines six "weapons of influence" that can contribute
to an individual's propensity to be influenced by a persuader:
Reciprocity: People tend to return a favor.
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.
Social proof: People will be more open to things that they see others
doing. For example, seeing others compost their organic waste after
finishing a meal may influence the subject to do so as well.
Authority: People will tend to obey authority figures.
Liking: People are more easily swayed by people they like.
Scarcity: A perceived limitation of resources will generate demand.
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. For example, in Milgram's
first set of obedience experiments, 65% of participants complied with
fake authority figures to administer "maximum shocks" to a
confederate. In iterations of the
Milgram experiment where three
people administered shocks (two of whom were confederates), once one
confederate disobeyed, only ten percent of subjects administered the
Main article: Appeal to authority
See also: Reputation
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. This phenomenon is
known as groupthink. Appeals to authority may especially affect
norms of obedience. The compliance of normal humans to authority in
Milgram experiment demonstrate the power of perceived
Those with access to the media may use this access in an attempt to
influence the public. For example, a politician may use speeches to
persuade the public to support issues that he or she does not have the
power to impose on the public. This is often referred to as using the
"bully pulpit." Likewise, celebrities don't usually possess any
political power, but they are familiar to many of the world's citizens
and, therefore, possess social status.
Power is one of the biggest reasons an individual feels the need to
follow through with the suggestions of another. A person who possesses
more authority (or is perceived as being more powerful) than others in
a group is an icon or is most "popular" within a group. This person
has the most influence over others. For example, in a child's school
life, people who seem to control the perceptions of the students at
school are most powerful in having a social influence over other
Culture appears to play a role in the willingness of an individual to
conform to the standards of a group.
Stanley Milgram found that
conformity was higher in
Norway than in France. This has been
attributed to Norway's longstanding tradition of social
responsibility, compared to France's cultural focus on individualism.
Japan likewise has a collectivist culture and thus a higher propensity
to conformity. However, a 1970 Asch-style study found that when
alienated, Japanese students were more susceptible to anticonformity
(giving answers that were incorrect even when the group had
collaborated on correct answers) one third of the time, significantly
higher than has been seen in Asch studies in the past.
While gender does not significantly affect a person's likelihood to
conform, under certain conditions gender roles do affect such a
likelihood. Studies from the 1950s and 1960s concluded that women were
more likely to conform than men. But a 1971 study found that
experimenter bias was involved; all of the researchers were male,
while all of the research participants were female. Studies thereafter
found that the likelihood to conform almost equal between the genders.
Furthermore, men conformed more often when faced with traditionally
feminine topics, and women conformed more often when presented with
masculine topics. In other words, ignorance about a subject can lead a
person to defer to "social proof".
Main article: Appeal to emotion
Emotion and disposition may affect an individual's likelihood of
conformity or anticonformity. In 2009, a study concluded that fear
increases the chance of agreeing with a group, while romance or lust
increases the chance of going against the group.
Social network analysis
A social network is a social structure made up of nodes (representing
individuals or organizations) which are connected (through ties, also
called edges, connections, or links) by one or more types of
interdependency (such as friendship, common interests or beliefs,
sexual relations, or kinship).
Social network analysis
Social network analysis uses the lens
of network theory to examine social relationships. Social network
analysis as a field has become more prominent since the mid-20th
century in determining the channels and effects of social influence.
For example, Christakis and Fowler found that social networks transmit
states and behaviors such as obesity, smoking,
drinking and happiness.
Identifying the extent of social influence, based on large-scale
observational data with a latent social network structure, is
pertinent to a variety of collective social phenomena including crime,
civil unrest, and voting behavior in elections. For example,
methodologies for disentangling social influence by peers from
external influences—with latent social network structures and
large-scale observational data—were applied to US presidential
elections, stock markets, and civil unrest.
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Normative social influence
Spiral of silence
Tyranny of the majority
Asch conformity experiments
Stanford prison experiment