Four Types of Social Influence
Social psychology is the scientific study of the influence others have on a person’s behavior (including thoughts and feelings). Within social psychology, it is accepted that people differ from one another, but also that they tend to overestimate their own individuality and uniqueness. Sometimes, individuality shrinks away and people behave as is expected from a social point of view. Research has identified several types of social influence on a person’s behavior, of which four are discussed here:
- Deindividuation, and
Conformism means that one attunes his or her behavior to that of the group one belongs to, without there being a direct ‘order’ to do so. An important experiment here is the Asch-experiment, where a person is shown a line of a certain length and subsequently has to choose a line of the same length from a group of three lines that are shown. This happens in a group, which has been informed about the experiment and which will indicate the wrong line. The test person will almost always follow the (wrong!) indication of the group. Conformism seems to happen for two reasons:
- Accuracy: people don’t want to be wrong, and trust the judgment of the group over their own because there are more people in the group, thus less chance of being wrong.
- Acceptance: people want to be accepted by the group.
Obedience is the reaction to an order and the most direct form of social influence. The most famous experiment concerning obedience is the one performed by Milgram. This involved a test subject who could give an electrical shock to another person when that person gave the wrong answer to a question. It turned out that the test subjects submitted the other person to increasingly high electrical voltages when prompted by the test leader. (Of course this was all fake, and no real shocks were administered, but the test subjects were not aware of this.)
This can be explained by a so-called ‘agentic shift’, where the test subjects relinquished the responsibility for their own actions and became ‘agents’ of the test leader.
Deindividuation occurs when individuals lose their own personal identity because they are part of a crowd. This means that the personal norms and values are abandoned and those of the group are adopted, which can have both beneficial and detrimental effects. When the group gets violent, so do the members, but vice versa, when the group rushes to someone’s aid, so do the individual members. There seem to be three requirements for deindividuation:
- Increased excitement,
- Anonymity, and
- Decreased individual responsibility.
The social influence on helping behavior can be best explained through the bystander-effect, which states that the more people that witness an emergency, the less likely it becomes that an individual person will help. Simply put, a group suppresses the tendency of people to help others. (A famous example of this is the murder of Kitty Genovese, who was brutally stabbed and murdered while several witnesses were present.) In general, three conditions have to be met before people will help someone else:
- One has to notice the incident,
- One has to interpret the incident as an emergency, and
- One has to feel oneself responsible to offer help.
Each of these conditions decreases as the amount of people increases.
- Fiske, S.T. (2009). Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology. John Wiley & Sons.
- Vaughan, G. & Hogg, M.A. (2005). Introduction to Social Psychology. Pearson Education Australia.