Resistance to Social Influence
Social support: People may resist pressures to conform or obey if they have support from a dissenter (someone who disagrees with the majority or refuses to obey). This frees the individual from the pressure to conform or obey, allowing them to act independently. This was demonstrated in the Asch study investigating the unanimity of the majority, and in Milgram’s variation where a disobedient confederate refused to obey at a certain point (obedience from the real participant fell to 10%).
Locus of control: Proposed by Rotter, this is the concept of how much a person believes they control what happens in their lives, and can be measured on a scale from high internal to high external. ‘Internals’ believe they have a great deal of control over their lives, and attribute their successes and failures to themselves personally (for example, ‘I failed the exam because I didn’t work hard enough’). Internals are more likely to resist influence and demonstrate independent behaviour, as they are less likely to follow the crowd or blindly follow an order they think is wrong. ‘Externals’ feel that many things which happen are outside of their control, and attribute successes and failures to luck, fate, or other outside circumstances (for example, ‘I failed the exam because there were unfair questions on the paper’). Externals are less likely to resist influence, as they are less likely to take personal responsibility for their behaviour and have more need for social approval.
- Allen and Levine (1971) found that introducing a dissenter in an Asch-style study greatly reduced conformity levels, even if the dissenter wore thick glasses and claimed they had poor eyesight, supporting that having social support increases resistance to social influence.
- Holland (1967) found that 37% of ‘internals’ refused to obey to the maximum shock level in a Milgram-type study, compared to 23% of ‘externals’, showing a link between locus of control and resistance to obedience.
- Twenge et al (2004) found that over time, Americans have become more resistant to obedience, but have also become more external in their locus of control. This weakens the suggestion that having an internal locus of control leads to resistance to social influence.
Minority influence is when a small group (or individual) influences the behaviour and beliefs of a larger group of people. This usually has a smaller effect than conformity to a majority, but an effect is possible. To be successful, minorities need to be:
- Consistent (say the same message over and over) - this is more likely to draw the majority’s attention to the issue/problem/belief
- Committed (be prepared to make sacrifices or undertake ‘extreme’ activities) - this shows the majority how important the minority thin their view is, and may make the majority process the issue more deeply (the augmentation principle)
- Flexible (being reasonable and non-dogmatic) - this means the majority are more likely to take the group seriously, and not dismiss them
If these factors are used by the minority group, more and more people will have their minds changed, and will persuade more and more of their friends and family to do the same. This is known as the snowball effect, and results in the minority view becoming the majority view.
- Moscovici (1969) conducted a study where participants judged colours of slides. They were in groups of six, and two were confederates. In one condition, the confederates consistently said the slides were green (in reality, they were various hues of blue) on two-thirds of trials. The real participants agreed with the minority 8.42% of the time (32% of participants agreed at least once). When the minority inconsistently gave the wrong answer, the participants agreed with them only 1.25% of the time. This supports that consistency is an important factor in minority influence.
- Much of the research in this area involves unrealistic tasks in artificial scenarios (such as Moscovici), therefore they do not tell us about real-life minority influence- they lack external validity. As the supporting research is weakened, so is the explanation.
- In a variation of Moscovici where participants could write their answers down, there was more agreement with the minority. This supports the idea that minority influence causes deeper processing in private, before people openly change their mind.
Social Influence & Social Change
Social change is when whole societies adopt new attitudes/beliefs/behaviours, for example changing attitudes on issues such as women’s suffrage, views on homosexuality and ethnicity, or beliefs about the importance of recycling or environmental issues.
Role of minority influence: Social change can happen if a minority is consistent, committed and flexible (for example- the actions of the suffragettes). By doing this, the minority draws attention to the issue, causes deeper processing of their arguments amongst the majority, and persuades people to change their views, a process which is accelerated by the snowball effect. The concept of ‘social cryptoamnesia’ is the idea that the population does not remember how/why the change has happened- because it has become accepted as ‘the norm’.
Conformity research: This shows the importance of a dissenter, who encourages other people to not conform and therefore lead to social change. The role of normative influence can also be used to affect social change, for example by suggesting that others are behaving in a certain way.
Obedience research: This shows the power of a disobedient individual, for example in Milgram’s variation. A real-life example would be Rosa Parks, who was used as a disobedient role model. She encouraged many other people to refuse to give up their seat in white-only areas of buses during the era of segregation in the USA, eventually leading to the civil rights movement.
- Nolan et al (2008) found that displaying messages encouraging less energy use were more effective when they suggested that other people were doing the same thing. This supports that normative influence can be a factor in effecting social change.
- Research such as Moscovici, Asch and Milgram’s variations support the potential role of consistency of a minority and the importance of dissenters in changing people’s behaviour.
- In reality social change rarely happens, and if it does, it happens very slowly (often over decades). This suggests that the explanations of social change are limited, as if they were true, social change should happen much more frequently.
- Who studied conformity by getting participants to judge line lengths?
- Is this conformity or obedience: someone performs an action because they have been instructed to do so.
- Which explanation of conformity usually results in internalisation?
- Your answer should include: Informational / Social / Influence
- What percentage of Milgram’s participants went to the end of the study?
- Your answer should include: 65% / 65
- What are three examples of a situational factor in obedience?
- Your answer should include: Proximity / Location / Uniform
- Who developed the concept of the authoritarian personality?
- Are people with an external locus of control more or less likely to conform?
- How many participants were in Milgram’s original study?
- Where did Zimbardo’s prison study take place?
- Which of these is not a type of conformity: compliance, normative, internalisation?