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Social Influence

5) Resisting Social Influence

Of course, people aren’t always completely influence by social influence, so what makes someone able to resist social influence? 

Resisting Pressures to Conform

There are many factors that might make a person resist social influence. For example:

The role of allies – One of the key things Asch’s study has shown us is how important having an ally is when resisting social influence. This could be because it gives you more confidence in your own opinion if they give the same answer as you. However, even an ally who gives a wrong answer, but one that is different to the majority, increases the level of resistance to conformity. This means there must be other reasons other than the correct answer that an ally helps. It could be that you don’t feel so singled out as going against the majority, or the way the ally is treated when they give a answer different to the majority could convince you that you wont suffer as a result of not conforming.

Moral considerations – Most of the research conducted in this area (Asch, Moscovici etc.) ask you to do fairly trivial tasks, so conforming to this doesn’t necerssarily mean you are being morally wrong by conforming, making conforming easier. However, research shows that if you are being asked to conform to something you consider to be morally wrong, then conforming levels drop drastically. For example Hornsey found low levels of conformity when the majority were obviously cheating.

The non-conformist personality – Some people have a personality that means they are less likely to conform. Often a person who resists majority influence is just less concerned with with social norms, so they feel less pressure to “fit in”. However, some people are completely against majority influence, whatever it is. These people will go against the social influence at all times, they are showing antconformity.

 Resisting Pressures to Obey

Status of environment and authority figure – When Milgram’s experiment was moved from the prestigious Yale University to a downtown office obedience dropped massively. This is probably because the participants felt that the experiment wasn’t so important, so withdrawing wouldn’t be so terrible.

Removing the factors which make people obey – As discussed in the previous page, there are many factors that cause people to obey, for example buffers, agentic shift, gradual commitment etc. If you remove these it instantly becomes easier to disobey. For example when Milgram moved the “learner” to a position where the participant could see him (removing the buffer), obedience sharply decreased. This is probably because the participant is more aware of the consequences of his action now that there is no buffer.

Moral considerations – Similarly to the reasons moral consideration lowers conformity, if people think that the actions they are being asked to obey are morally unjust then obedience drops.

Social Heroism – Zimbardo says that some people have a ‘heroic imagination’ which means they are more likely to act in a heroic way. This means that when faced with orders to obey, they are more likely to resist, especially if the order is morally unjust. Zimbardo points towards Nelson Mandela and Michael Bernhardt as cases of social heroism, resisting pressures to obey.



About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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