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Social Influence

3) Explanations of why people conform

There are three main reasons as to why people conform, normative social influence, informational social influnece and social impact theory.

Normative social influence

This type of social influence is associated most commonly with compliance (going along with the majority even if you don’t accept their beliefs because you want to be accepted). Normative social influence is when a majority are able to control other groups by exerting pressure on them to conform. Because the majority normally have the greatest power they can do this very easily. For example, the majority could make the minority feel uncomfortable about disagreeing, as we see in Asch’s study. Or the majority could even force them too with fear and power, as the Nazis did to so many Germans; they used scaremongering to enforce conformity.

This is type of conformity is driven by the basic need to feel accepted and to have companionship with other people, the majority.

Informational Social Influence

This is where someone conforms to a view because they believe it to be correct. This is associated with Internalisation (conforming because you have accepted a group’s views and they now fit with your own beliefs). This type of conformity can occur with majority or minority influence, but it is most likely to happen when:

  • The right course of action is clear, there isn’t one obvious right answer
  • The situation is a crisis, you need to make a fast decision (both of these are evident when following a crowd who claim to be fleeing from a disaster, for example)
  • We believe the others to be experts; if we think the people we are conforming to “know what they are talking about” we are more likely to conform to their beliefs.

Social Impact Theory

This is a theory developed by Latané to explain why people conform in some situations but not others. The key principles of this explanation are:

  • Number – A higher number of people present that support the conforming view, the greater the levels of conformity.
  • Strength – The more important the people are to the individual, the higher the levels of conformity. For example Perrin and Spencer found that probation officers had very high levels of influence of those under probation.
  • Immediacy – An individual will have greater influence if group he is trying to influence is smaller. So someone will influence a group of 5 people easier than a group of 50.

Supportive evidence of the theory

Sedikides and Jackson (1990) found high strength and high immediacy (two of Latané’s key principles) increased conformity.    



About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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