PYB202 Textbook Reading – Chapter 7
Social influence – the process in which the attitudes and behaviour of a person may be influenced by the real or
implied presence of others.
Norms – attitudinal and behavioural uniformities that define group membership and differentiate between groups.
We are all familiar with the difference between yielding to a direct or indirect pressure from a group or
individual and being genuinely persuaded by them.
For example, we have all been in situations when we have gone along with another person’s direction
without accepting their views. We have also experienced actual deep-rooted changes in our beliefs and
opinions as a result of another person.
Social psychologists have noticed this difference, and find it useful to distinguish between coercive
compliance and genuine persuasive influence.
Compliance is the superficial, public and transitory change of a person’s behaviour and attitudes in response
to the requests, coercion or pressure of another person (or group). Because it does not reflect deep-rooted
changes in a person, it is usually only upheld whilst under surveillance.
An important requirement of compliance is that the source of social influence is perceived as having
influence or power over the individual – power is the basis for compliance.
Milgram (1974, 1992) conducted an experiment which is widely regarded today as the most influential in
studying the effects of authority on obedience.
In his study, Milgram examined the effects of authority on obedience by measuring just how far an ordinary
man would go in obeying authoritative orders and in doing so physically harm a man with electric shocks
under the pretence of scientific gain.
The findings of this study were shockingly higher than anticipated, posing serious questions about the nature
of humanity and raising implications concerning the actions of people whilst operating under ‘orders’.
Milgram was also interested in the obedience evident in Nazi Germany, in which mild-mannered, polite and
otherwise seemingly normal men carried out mass slaughter and did so under the command of a higher
authority without question.
This frame of mind is called an agentic state, in which people exhibit unquestioning obedience to a higher
authority and transfers the responsibilities of their actions to this authority.
Factors which could affect obedience can include:
o Gender differences – for example in a feminine-based study, males may be more likely to conform
with the females’ answers and vice versa. There have been no found differences in males or females
in neutral-based settings.
o Commitment to course of action – similar to Milgram’s study, many participants may have felt that
since they had already begun the experiment they had a duty to finish it.
o Immediacy – if the victim was more immediately located or visible to the participant in Milgram’s
study, that may have lowered obedience. Similarly, the near presence of the authoritative figure
throughout the study may have caused the participant to obey more.
o Group pressure – this often contributes to a person’s obedience if they feel pressured by the group
to do so and do not want to risk social exclusion etc.
o Legitimacy of authority figure – in Milgram’s study the authority figure was dressed in a white lab
coat, was a member of Yale University and was a scientist. This added to the legitimacy of the
situation and may have positively influenced the obedience of the participant.
Conformity is the result of social influence producing internalised acceptance of behaviour. It means that the
subject truly believes that the beliefs and actions of a social norm are correct, and thus will act according to
this behaviour even without surveillance. Asch’s (1951, 1952, 1956) autokinetic experiment examined the convergence effect on the participants and
found that when participant’s used others as a frame of reference for their answers, their answers to a test
were dramatically closer to one another when interviewed as a group.
This was reflected later in individual interviews when participants were asked the same question alone –
even though the group was no longer present to influence, the participants had appeared to internalise or
conform to the standard group answer, which was often different from their initial individual answer.
Interestingly, in further experiments conducted it was found that even when participants were sure the
group’s responses were wrong, a high percentage continued to conform to the answer held by the majority.
Possible reasons for this include fear of group exclusion, insecurity in own judgements and genuine belief in
the group’s collective response.
Factors which influence conformity could include:
o Privacy/anonymity of responses – studies found that in situations where the individual’s answer
was anonymous they were more likely to answer independently from the group.
o Personality traits – while this could influence conformity it has been largely found that it
situationally dependent and even the most stubborn people could potentially still conform in the
o Cultural differences – unsurprisingly it was found that often collectivist cultures are more likely to
conform than individualist cultures.
o Group size – interestingly, groups of 3 – 5 individuals in size were found to be most influential in
conformity, whilst groups larger than this exhibited no difference or greater capacity to influence.
o Unanimity of responses – studies found that conformity is greatly reduced in situations where just
one other supporter of the correct answer is present.
Reference Groups and Membership Groups
Kelley (1952) has made a valuable distinction between reference groups and membership groups.
Reference groups are those which are psychologically significant to a person. This can be either positive in
the sense that person seeks to behave in accordance with their norms, or negative in the sense that a person
seeks to behaving in a way that opposes the group’s norms.
o An example of a reference group could be a young girl looking to her mother and her mother’s friends for
direction on how to behave as a proper ‘lady’.
Membership groups are those to which we belong according to some subjective criterion or social
o An example of a membership group could simply be a young girl belonging to the group ‘females’ because of
While a positive reference group which is also our membership group is a source of conformity and is
socially validated, a negative reference group which is also a membership group will have enormous
coercive power to produce compliance.
o For example, a student who despises every aspect of student life and would much rather be a lecturer because
they identify with lecturer norms would belong to the membership group of ‘student’ and this would be a
negative reference group. The membership group of ‘lecturer’ would be a more suited and positive reference
group however it is not the student’s membership group. Therefore, the student would comply with student
norms but would conform to lecturer norms.
The Dual Process Model
This is a general model of social influence in which two separate processes operate – dependency on others
for social approval (compliance) and to obtain information about reality (conformity).
Power and Influence
As mentioned earlier, compliance tends to be associated with perceptions of power, whereas conformity is
not influenced by power.
Compliance is influenced not only by the persuasive tactics employed by others but also by the amount of
power a person is perceived by the target as having.
Power can be described as the capacity for a person to influence others whilst resisting any attempts by
others to influence them. In this sense, it can be argued that power equals influence.
There are many different types of power, with six bases of social power identified:
o Reward power – the ability to give or promise rewards for compliance.
E.g. A child promised a new toy provided they behave accordingly. o Coercive power – the ability to give or thre