Social Influence (Lecture 5)
Social Influence: The ways people are affected by the real or imagined pressures of others.
- Social influence can vary along a continuum
- Conformity (low pressure) Compliance (medium pressure) Obedience (high pressure)
- It is the tendency to change out perceptions, opinions, or behavior in ways that are
consistent with group norms. For example, you look around at the party and notice that
all of your friends are drinking; you ask for a beer too. (the pressure is low; no one is
asking you to drink).
- Copycats: automatic mimicry, for example, yawning, stretching, etc. We tend to like
people who mimic us.
- Two reasons we conform:
- 1) Informational Social Influence: the need to know what’s “right”.
o Particularly pronounced when we are uncertain ourselves.
o Muzafer Sherif Experiment (1936):
Phase 1: participants are alone
• In a dark room with a bright light
• How far does the light move? (some people said the light moved
very little and others said it moved more).
Phase 2: participants are in a group
• Give estimates out loud over trials. (the estimation converged in
presence of other people)
Results: Participants estimated how far the point of light appeared to
move, first when they were alone, and then when they were in the
presence of one another. Together, their estimates converged. People are
more likely to conform when they are uncertain. The light actually never
moved at all.
- 2) Normative social influence: the need to fit in and be accepted. o SolomonAsch Experiment (1956)
We rely on the opinions of others when we feel uncertain
Asch interested in situations in which one’s own judgment conflicts with
that of the group.
Predicted less conformity in this situation.
He wanted to look at situations where people had strong opinions unlike
the Sherif study where there was a vague light.
He brought 8 people in the lab and showed them many sets of three lines
and asked them which one of those lines were the same size as another
comparative line. Judgment had to be given out loud. 7 of the people were
pretending to be subjects and one of them was the real subject. The 7
people kept on giving wrong answers to very obvious and easy questions.
This study tried to see if the subject would give the same wrong answer as
the other people.
• ¾ of the participants conformed to the erroneous majority at least
once. (we are very social creatures and want to be liked even
though we don’t believe what people are saying)
• Overall, participants conformed on 1/3 of the trials.
o Hand Washing Study:
Do social norms about hand washing influence people’s behavior?
39 women using public restroom
• Condition 1: experimenter sitting in bathroom
• Condition 2: participant alone in bathroom
Does the presence of another person alter hand washing behavior?
• Only 15% people washed their hands when they were alone and
almost all of them washed their hands when the experimenter was
there. o MissAmerica: women are getting thinner and taller.
o GI Joe: body type of men has also changed. GI Joe is a boy doll which became
much more muscular overtime. Men are more pressured to be muscular. Shows
the power of normative social influence.
o What’s the difference?
Informational: actually accepting and internalizing other people’s
perceptions, even in private.
Normative: agreeing with a position in public, even if we continue to
believe something else in private.
o What Promotes Conformity?
Larger groups: relative to small groups, large groups have more of an
affect. When group size reaches 4 it levels off.
Group unanimity: agreement by all people in a given situation.
Expertise and status: these people tend to exert more social influence.
Experts are more likely to be right.
Being from an interdependent culture: interdependent people more
likely to conform.
o To conform or not to conform?
For individualistic cultures, conformity is not a good thing. However, we
want some norms in the society, for example, everyone should wash their
Conformity of norms can be helpful, for example, the vaccination or polio,
driving on the right side, etc. This provides order and structure.
So, it all depends. If it protects your health and safety then it is a good
thing. But it is not in the case of MissAmerica and GI Joe.
o Conformity Recap:
Conformity: changing perceptions, opinions or behavior to go along with
• Informative • Normative
It’s necessary, but how much is too much?
- It is changes in behavior that are elicited by direct requests. For example, a sales person
influences you to buy something; or you are not in the mood to go out drinking this
weekend, but you say yes to your best friend’s request to go out this Friday. (moderate
amount of pressure; there is a bit of pressure when someone asks you to do something)
- There are 5 reasons for compliance according to Robert Cialdini:
- 1) Reciprocity
o We should repay others for what they give us. When someone does us a favor we
feel an obligation to give back.
o For example, we are more likely to buy something in the store when we are given
a sample of food because we feel like we have to give back.
o Gift Giving Study:
Cialdini sent out letters asking people to make donations
• Group 1: No gift
• Group 2: Gift (address labels)
How many people donated money to the Disabled Veterans Organization?
Result: 17% who didn’t receive a gift donated, and 36% who got the gift
o Giving away money!
Professor Impett received a nickel in mail from leukemia society and felt
she had to donate because she could not take money from them.
o Why it works:
It creates a sense of obligation in the person who receives a favor
The person feels guilty if he or she does not reciprocate
Those who take without giving invite social disapproval. o Door in the Face:
The influencer starts with an extreme request that is sure to be rejected and
then retreats to a smaller request (the one wanted all along).
Juvenile Delinquent Study:
• College students approached on the street
• Group 1
o Asked the question: would you be willing to help the
county youth counseling pr