Social Influence

Social influence occurs when an individual’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions, beliefs, and/or behavior are affected by the pressure of others. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, compliance, persuasion, etc.


To conform is to change behaviour, opinion, perception or attitude, due to pressure to fit in. There are two main types of conformity humans experience: informational and normative. Informational Conformity occurs in situations that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable to us. In these instances, it’s more likely that we will change our behaviours to match others that seem more confident in that setting. The actions of others influences us the most in these situations and teach us how to behave correctly. Normative Conformity, unlike informational, is caused by social status. Normative Conformity is the need to be liked by a group. While in these situations we agree with the groups opinions even if they go against our own. We are concerned with making a good impression in front of the group and we have the tendency to adopt the group-stance to seem like a team player. This all occurs because we feel a pressure to fit in.

Every day, whether we know it or not, we make decisions to conform. People experience conformity for a variety of reasons, there are five main motivational reasons to conform: the desire to be correct, the desire to be socially accepted and to avoid rejection and conflict, the need to accomplish group goals, the necessity of establishing and maintaining a self-concept/social identity, and finally, the alignment of oneself with similar individuals.

Several factors are associated with conformity. A few of these include:

Group size - individuals are more likely to conform in larger groups, although research suggests that conformity pressures peak once the majority reaches about four or five

Unanimity - individuals are more likely to conform when the rest of the group's response is unanimous

Cohesion -groups high in cohesion produce more conformity than non-cohesive groups

Status -individuals are more likely to conform with high status groups

Culture -collectivist cultures exhibit a higher degree of conformity than individualistic cultures

Gender -societal norms establish gender differences which affect the ways in which men and women conform to social influence; women are more likely to conform than men in situations involving surveillance, but less likely when there is no surveillance

Age -younger individuals are more likely to conform, perhaps due to lack of experience and status

Importance of stimuli -in a study where participants were told that their responses would be used in the design of aircraft safety signals, conformity decreased, suggesting that individuals may conform less frequently when the task is considered important

Minority Influence -smaller groups inside of larger groups can influence the group as a whole;

Source: Boundless. “Conformity.” Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 01 Jun. 2015. Retrieved 03 Jun. 2015 from

To resist the powers of group conformity:

  • Know what you stand for (values, morals, ethics, beliefs, etc.)

  • Determine how really important it is that these other people like you, especially when they are strangers

  • Recognize that there are other groups who would be delighted to have you as a member

  • Take a future perspective to imagine what you will think of your current conforming action at some time in the future

Asch Experiment

In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted an experiment to determine if the social pressure form a majority group could affect a person to conform. Groups of 8 male college students participated in a “perceptual” task. 7 of the participants were actors and the last participant (the subject) was unaware of the circumstances. The purpose of this experiment was to see if the subject would react to the others’ behavior. Each student viewed a card with a line on it, followed by another with three lines labeled “A”,”B”, and “C”. One of these lines matched the line shown on the previous card, and the other two lines varied in length. Each participant was asked to answer which line matched the 1st card. Participants completed 18 trials. On the 1st two trials, both the subject and the actors gave the correct answer. On the 3rd trial, the actors gave the wrong answer. They answered wrong again 11/15 times during the trial. During the trials, 63.2% of the subject’s answered the correct answer while 36.8% conformed to the group and responded with the wrong answer.

Compliance is when one’s behavior changes due to the direction or request of another and that person goes along with what is happening even though they might be opposed to doing so.
From a psychology perspective, compliance has two parts: a request and an acquiescence.

Request: an act of asking for something

Acquiescence: the acceptance of something without protest

The tendency to comply becomes greater when these factors are present: having something in common with the one who is making the request, social pressure from certain groups that are important to that person, if there are more people around than less, and being in the current company of a group. Social influence is the driving force behind compliance.

Compliance Gaining vs Persuasion

Compliance gaining and persuasion are related but are not the same. Persuasion changes the attitudes and beliefs of the individual while compliance gaining changes the behavior of the individual.

Techniques to Reach Compliance
“Door-In-The- Face”: This technique consists of making a large request that most people will decline or say no to then making a smaller more rational request; because they denied the first request most people feel compelled to comply with the second offer.
“Foot-In-The-Door”: This technique is quite the opposite of the one above. It is involved in first making a small request that the person will commit to then trying to make larger requests after that because as the person complying you are more likely to also comply with a second request.
“Reciprocity”: This is the act of doing something nice for the person to whom the request will be made to so that person feels they should do something good back to you and bends to the request.
“Lowball”: This is when somebody complies to a certain offer then more terms or stakes are added to the deal.
“That’s-Not-All”: This technique is when something is proposed then even more additional goods are offered to get more people to say yes.

(watch from 0:32-4:28)


Obedience is a form of social influence that occurs when a command is made by authority. An authority figure that has the most influence on behaviour is believed to be of high prestige. This obedience usually takes place in three major settings: fear of punishment or reprisal, possible self-gain, or deep respect for authority, group or institution. Obedience differs from conformity because instead of a behavioural request, it is a command.

Milgram Experiment

An example of obedience is the Stanley Milgram experiment that started in 1961 in the basement of Yale University. It had three participants: the experimenter (authority figure), a confederate (pretending to be a volunteer as to not make the experiment suspicious), and the subject of the experiment (a real volunteer). The confederate was told to go into a room and sit down on a chair and had electrodes attached to his arms, that would deliver a shock to him. The subject was brought in to the room to watch as the put the confederate in the chair. He was told to make sure to tell the volunteer he had a heart condition (which he actually did not). The confederate had to learn a list of paired associates and had to choose the correct response from 4 possible answers. He responded by pressing one of four switches and his response was displayed to the volunteer on a panel above the shock generator. When an incorrect response was given the volunteer had to administer a shock. Each time he got one wrong the amount of volts would go up, starting from 15 and going up to 450 volts. The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) to see how far the volunteer would go to injure the confederate. When the volunteer would begin to resist the experimenter would prod him on. Stanley Milgram was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities and if people tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right. Prior to the study, forty psychiatrists that Milgram consulted told him that fewer than 1 percent of subjects would administer what they thought were dangerous shocks to the learner. However, Milgram found that two-thirds of the teachers did administer even the highest level of shock, despite believing that the learner was suffering great pain and distress.

external image levels.gif - The Milgram Experiment (Full Video)

This is a chart that shows the percentage of people that went
along with delivering the shocks as they went up in volts.

Factors That Increased Obedience in Experiment

Milgram found that subjects were more likely to obey in some circumstances than others. Obedience was highest when:
  • Commands were given by an authority figure rather than another volunteer
  • The experiments were done at a prestigious institution
  • The authority figure was present in the room with the subject
  • The learner was in another room
  • The subject did not see other subjects disobeying commands

In extreme situations people obey even when they are required to violate their own values or commit crimes. Reasearchers and Psychologits believe these are factors in in obedience during extremes:
  • People justify their behavior by assigning responsibility to the authority rather than themselves.
  • People define the behavior that’s expected of them as routine.
  • People don’t want to be rude or offend the authority.
  • People obey easy commands first and then feel compelled to obey more and more difficult commands. This process is called entrapment, and it illustrates the foot-in-the-door phenomenon.


Power is typically thought of as having a certain quality (usually authority) which gives one person more influence over another; it is the ability to influence or control the behavior of other people.

Psychologists say that there are five main types of power:
1. Positional/ Legitimate Power:This type is having power granted because you hold some legal authority. For example, a police officer or Premier because they are given official power by the laws and government.

2. Knowledge or Expertise: This type of power comes from having experience or education. An important thing to keep in mind is that you have to be knowledgeable but still humble to wield the most power. For example, A physician will have more power in a medical emergency than a plumber and vice versa.

3. Character/ Referent Power: This type of power comes from admiration or respect. We look up to people because of their accomplishments, attitude, or other personal attributes and achievements. We tend to give them more power over us. For example, imagine being asked to do something by your "hero". You would most likely do it out of admiration or respect.

4. Rewards: This is having the power of giving out reward and having people do as you want because they know they will be given something positive in the end. This is the opposite of coercive power. For example, a teacher asks her students to perform a task and offers a reward of candy at the end. Her students will follow as she says because they are getting a treat out of it.

5. Punishment: This type of power means to be able to give punishment therefore having others do as you say in fear of negative feedback to saying no. For example, a parent and a child, the parent holds coercive power.

Positions of Control and Power

Punisher: Often yells and says threats like "If you don't do it I'll..."

Guilter: Preaches and shouts and says things like "You should have known better."

Buddy: Makes excuses for them, says things like "Do it for me."

Monitor: Counts and measures and says things like "What's the rule?"

Manager: Asks questions and asks "What do we/you believe?"

Most people in power can fall into one of these five categories. Each type of position of power has a reaction from the person you have power over.

Four out of five positions have a negative reaction from the person in the long run.

Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE):

The Stanford Prison Experiment was an experiment done in 1970’s. Though unethical, the experiment is an exemplary model of power in psychology. SPE took a group of young college students and divided them into prisoners or guards. Before the experiment, it’s important to remember that the men were all the same healthy, intelligent, middle-class volunteers.

The experiment started with the prisoners being arrested, handcuffed and blindfolded. The participants were then put into a prison like setting and told to portray their assigned position. Each participant was to take their role seriously. The prisoners were searched and stripped naked by the guards, put in uniform and chained at the feet. The guards were given no training, were given freedom to do whatever and were told to command the prisoners respect. The nine guards took turns on eight-hour shifts and then were allowed to return back to their everyday life. While the prisoners were in the cell twenty-four hours a day.

On the first day of the SPE went without incident. The guards were even told to conduct drills with the prisoner to exercise their power and to feel out their roles since the prisoners weren’t taking their position as serious. On the second day the prisoners rebelled, a result of the days before punishments which included push-ups, “counts” and other abusive behaviours. That morning the guards woke up to the prisoners removed their stocking caps, ripped off their numbers, and barricaded themselves inside the cells by putting their beds against the door. The guards called in reinforcement and got a fire extinguisher which shot a stream of skin-chilling carbon dioxide at the prisoners. The guards broke into each cell, stripped the prisoners naked, took the beds out, forced the ringleaders of the prisoner rebellion into solitary confinement, and generally began to harass and intimidate the prisoners. This is just the beginning of the kind of abusive power the guards took part in. Only after 36 hours the prisoners begun to suffer from emotional disturbance.

Originally slated to last 14 days, the experiment had to be stopped after just six due to what was happening to the student participants. By the time the experiment was getting out of hand the guards had fallen into their role easily. There were three types of guards. First, there were tough but fair guards who followed prison rules. Second, there were "good guys" who did little favors for the prisoners and never punished them. And finally, about a third of the guards were hostile, arbitrary, and inventive in their forms of prisoner humiliation. These guards appeared to thoroughly enjoy the power they wielded, yet none of our preliminary personality tests were able to predict this behavior.

By the end of the study, the prisoners were disintegrated, both as a group and as individuals. There was no longer any group unity; just a bunch of isolated individuals hanging on, much like prisoners of war or hospitalized mental patients. The guards had won total control of the prison, and they commanded the blind obedience of each prisoner.

In the following link is an article that describes power throughout businesses and universities and how to achieve a high standard of power.
Power and Psychology

Following is a list of facts that researchers have gathered about the issues of compliance, conformity, and obedience. These research facts confirm and illustrate some of the above reasons for compliance, conformity, and obedience.
  • Generally speaking, people are more likely to comply with requests from friends or from people they like. -Compliance
  • People show a greater willingness to comply with someone who they perceive to be a legitimate authority. -Compliance
  • When people are uncertain of how to behave in a situation, they tend to seek the opinions and copy the example of others. -Conformity
  • People are more likely to conform to the position of a group if they perceive its members as being more competent than they themselves are. Conformity
  • People who confidently believe that a group holds them in high esteem are more willing to respond independently. -Conformity
  • People are more inclined to make decisions that are inconsistent with the group when the behavior is private. -Conformity
  • In case of physical harm, the closer the victim, and the more distant the authority, the lower the level of obedience. - Obedience
  • Disobedience is increased by the presence of others who disobey - Obedience

Additional Information: