The term Social Influence is used to describe what happens when an individual’s opinions, behaviours of emotions are affected or changed due to the influences of another person or persons. This might be Normative Social Influence or Informational Social Influence. Normative often results in compliance as people often put their own opinions to one side and go along with the majority whereas informational could well be minority led, as it is based on an informed point of view, or taking the opinion of somebody whom is deemed as an expert.
Two of the most interesting and debatable areas of social influence from a psychologists point of view are Conformity and Obedience. Conformity, in simple terms, can be defined as “Yielding to group pressures” (Crutchfield, 1955). This is also known as Majority Influence. People usually conform in order to be liked or to fit in, or maybe just to avoid looking stupid in front of others. Obedience is different as it is a behavioural response to a direct order or command from another person that is usually a figure of authority such as a Sergeant in the army or a teacher or parent. A person is likely to be obedient in order to avoid punishment or other unpleasant consequences.
Kelman (1958) suggested that there are three types of conformity; Compliance, Internalisation and Identification. Compliance is to go along with the crowd and to agree with them publicly yet deep down, they still hold their own opinions. Compliance reverts back to Normative Social Influence. Internalisation is when an individual takes on the views and opinions of others both publicly and privately such as becoming a member of a cult or religion. The individual is often looking for guidance in times of uncertainty. This would come under Informational Social Influence. Identification occurs when a person behaves in a way that society expects of them. A good example of this would be the Zimbardo prison experiment. As with compliance, identification can still occur even when the individual keeps their own private opinions. The behavioural change is a public one, as a result of taking on a role that society expects them to play.
Many psychological studies have taken place in order to try and explain why people conform. In 1951, Solomon Asch, an American Psychologist, conducted “The Lines” study. The aim of the study was to see how social pressure from a majority influence could affect a person to conform. 123 male students from Swathmore College in America were asked to participate in a lab experiment under the assumption that it was a study on visual perception. The procedure involved putting one participant in a room with four to six stooges. The participant was led to believe that the stooges were indeed fellow participants. Prior to the experiment, the stooges had already agreed on what their answers would be. The real participant and the stooges were seated around a table and asked to observe some lines displayed on a screen. Two rectangle boxes were shown. The first box contained a line, referred to as the target line and the second box contained three lines, known as comparison lines A, B and C. Each person sat around the table had to state out loud which of the comparison lines was