Social Psychology


Social Influence - the “process of inducing change in people”

                (direct orders or obedience, compliance, conformity to norms)



Conformity - a "change in a person's behavior or opinions as a result of real or imagined pressure from a person or a group of people" (p.19, Aronson). Conforming is acting at odds with one's beliefs or perceptions because others are acting that way. (really compliance or identification)

Anti-conformity is not the same thing as non-conformity. It is acting contrary to the desires and expectations of others (norms) as a reaction to the others (e.g. parents).


What causes people to conform?

Asch (1952) perceptual judgment of line lengths. Which of 3 lines is closest in length to this line

In this type of experiment the consequences of non-conformity are unclear - there are no stated sanctions against non-conformity.


Variables that increase/decrease conformity:

          unanimity of the group (regardless of its size)

group cohesiveness - when group members are attracted to each other

commitment to the initial judgment where there is no prior commitment , 24.7% conformed with the erroneous majority but when Ss publicly committed themselves to a judgment prior to hearing the erroneous judgment of the group only 5.7% conformed. (Deutsch and Morton)                       

 type of person (personality characteristics and gender)   low self esteem (task specific self esteem); females on male oriented tasks or in face-to-face situations; cultural differences (Norwegians and USA vs. French and Japanese); authoritarians; lower statusindividuals.

        Self-aware people (private vs. public) when people are privately self-aware they are less likely to conform; social standards are more influential if the person is publicly self-aware

        Self-presentation if one is trying to present himself as intelligent, he will be perceived as more intelligent if he does not conform (when the influence attempts are obvious to the audience)                             

        need for individuation the desire to maintain one’s uniqueness

        Desire for personal control - the theory of psychological reactance - people will react against attempts to control their behavioral freedom Burger (1987) desire for personal control (high and low) and cartoon rating / High DPC Ss were less influenced by the confederate’s ratings (although they were influenced compared to the control condition of ratings made alone

        makeup of group exerting the pressure  experts; members are important to the individual; members are comparable to the individual; feelings of insecurity in the relationship

                rewards and punishments  (normative pressure) wish to avoid punishment (rejection, ridicule, embarrassment); wish to gain acceptance or love

        information (behavioral modeling) sometimes the behavior of others serves as a guide to how we should behave. Aronson study - soaping up in the shower. With one model, 49% conformed; with two models, 67% conformed.


Sherif - the autokinetic effect - how far did the light move? First, S made judgments alone; Second, they made judgments after hearing the judgments of others. Findings: judgments were influenced by the other "judges". With ambiguous stimuli, we conform to the behaviors and opinions of others.


Three types of responses to social influence: compliance, identification, internalization:


Compliance motivated by rewards and the avoidance of punishment. Lasts as long as the rewards last or as long as the threat lasts. Going along with the group behaviorally without being persuaded that the group is correct. Power is the major component. (Brainwashing)People are more likely to comply when they are in a good mood (prosocial or helping actions); ingratiation behaviors or “buttering up” someone relies on this; reciprocity norm - I’ll do this, if you will do this for me.

Identification - desire to be like the influencer. We adopt an opinion or a behavior because it puts us into a satisfying relationship with the influencer. The major component of this type of conformity is the attractiveness of the influencer.

Internalization - most permanent, most deeply rooted response to social influence. The desire to be right is the motive. Once accepted the behavior or the opinion becomes a part of our belief system separate from the source. Credibility of the influencer is important (expert and trustworthy).


Obedience - is an act of compliance to someone or a group or institution with power over us. Although acts of compliance may be impermanent this does not mean they are trivial. This is dramatically demonstrated in Jim Jones Mass Suicide and in Milgram's research.


      Milgram's study - defined obedience as behaving according to the demands of the authority figure.

                 approx.       % administered shocks to the end of the console. Only legitimate authority commanded high obedience. Physical absence of the authority figure reduces obedience. The farther the S is from the victim, the more willing they were to obey: see the learner -   %; hear only -  %; had to put the learner's arm on the shock plate -   % (implications for war? - desert storm fighter pilots?). In the Milgram experiment, the experimenter persuaded the teacher that he had a moral obligation to continue.

The Ss said that they thought that they were really shocking the "learner". They said that they felt conflict between their inner motivation and the outer pressure. 

People explain the level of obedience as a result of the prestige of the Yale Lab so  Milgram conducted the same study in Downtown New Haven and obtained nearly the same level of compliance.

Notice that the switches on the shock console went from 15 -450 millevolts gradually . Milgram wanted to measure obedience quantitatively. This arrangement allows the "teacher" to get used to the shocking procedure. He becomes desensitized to it as well as to the suffering of the "learner" and he sees that no punishment occurs when he shocks the "learner"

Factors affecting the degree of obedience:

proximity - Milgram altered the visibility and the audibility of the "learner" . The more immediate the victim, the less the obedience (esp. visual) The amount of empathic cues contribute to this immediacy effect. He can imagine himself in the same state. Harder to use the defense mechanism of denial. When the victim is "in your face " it is hard to deny him

group pressure - when confederates were putting pressure on to conform, conformity increased


Milgram's conclusion - "the environment can legitimize and encourage behavior in normal individuals that we would otherwise expect only from clear abnormals"


Brutality  Zimbardo's Prison Simulation study

constructed a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford U. psychology building. Two roles: prisoner/guard randomly designated. Prisoners became passive/ guards frequently became brutal or allowed brutality. Guards are entitled to use force/ degradation - once a person has been degraded, it is easier to do anything you want to him/her (examples?)


lone dissenter - devil's advocate - when the Catholic Church determines whether someone is to be canonized a saint, it designated one of the advocates to be a devil's advocate. The job of the devil's advocate is to find reasons against canonization and to express these views to the other advocates.  The idea is that this dissenter allows others who may have questions to voice his objections. The dissenter gives other potential dissenters an ally. Asch showed in his studies that just one other person who disagrees with the group decreased conformity substantially. Milgram also found this to be true.


Minority influence - Moscovici - Ss made judgments of color in front of the group; minority confederates called a blue light "green". Question -what impact does the minority have on the majority?  The consistent minority affected the majority in two ways:

1) it caused some of majority to change their overt response (direct effect);

2) it affected a larger number of Ss by causing them to alter the way they looked at the blue-green distinction (to broaden their conception of green) (latent effect).  The minority can cause the majority to reconsider its views and look at the world in a different way (e.g. the suffragettes)

                Finding a minority challenging the accepted view calls attention to the issue leading the majority to notice things that it had not noticed before.

Maass and Clark (1983) Ss were exposed to arguments for and against gay rights. The arguments were presented as coming from either a majority or a minority. Dependent variable - how much Ss agreed with the arguments in public (compliance) or in private (internalization). Finding - the majority view produced more compliance/ the minority led to more internalization.  In a follow-up the authors looked at the number of counterarguments produced in response to the arguments from the majority/minority. Findings: more counterarguments were generated to majority opinions. The more counteraguments produced the lower the private acceptance. Majority exerts blunt pressure to conform (power) but stir up counteragruments that reduce their impact.


Social Impact Theory (Latane)

                the amount of influence a person has in a social situation depends on:

1) number  (as the number of people who agree increases so does social impact - although it is not purely additive - as people increase each person’s individual impact decreases)

2) strength ( status, expertise, power)

3) immediacy (proximity - closeness in time and space


Bystander Intervention  (Latane) and Altruism

Altruism - benefiting others with no concern for oneself. Psychoanalytic theory - man only works to reduce his inner tensions Behavioral theories - we work to gain rewards or to avoid punishment/ so there is no altruism

                Latane and Rodin "lady in distress"    alone - 70% came to her aid; in pairs - 20%. The presence of another bystander tends to inhibit action.


                Darley and Latane  epileptic seizure - when the SA thought he was the only one listening to another person go into seizure he was more likely to help than when he thought others were also listening.


                Diffusion of responsibility

                Defining an emergency? How do you do it? Look to others? This may lead to "pluralistic ignorance" a state in which a group misinterprets what each other believes and uses this misbelief as the truth.


                When do we help?

                                Are there group circumstances in which we help? Commonfate or mutually may be engendered  among people who have the same needs or interests, same environmental conditions, etc.  No escape from face-to-face situations;


                                Piliavin   NYC subway collapse victim/ people spontaneously rushed to his aid; if perceived him as ill -95% intervened; if perceived him as drunk - 50%


                                Prerequisites for helping:

                                                1) defining the situation as an emergency;          2) assuming personal responsibility for helping