Introduction to Social Psychology

social psychology intro

In this next series we are going to start exploring the world of social psychology, starting with this introduction where we discuss an induced compliance study by Festinger & Carlsmith (1959). Then  next week moving onto understanding more about social psychology in groups.

While psychology claims to be the scientific study of behaviour and the mind, social psychology focus’ on how behaviour and thoughts (the mind) are influenced by the real, imagined or implied presence of others (Allport,1954).

However, this does raise some significant issues around how to define and measure these influences and how to establish a link to our behaviour and thoughts.


While we can observe behaviour and to some degree measure it, the meaning of that behaviour can be difficult to define, and this is open to:

  • Theoretical speculation
  • Cultural variation
  • Even individual personal interpretation.
  1. Direct influence
  2. Indirect influence.
  • Many of us can be aware of how the real or implied presence of others may influence out attitudes and behaviours
  • Mostly these are explicit forces and we are consciously aware of them
  • Others can be more subtle and we are less consciously aware of these
  • A great deal of research has tried to change/alter attitudes and behaviours by ‘manipulating’ various social factors or situations.


  • Agree to get them to like you, then make your request


  • Studies show that people are more likely to try sample food if they are first touched (Smith, Pruitt & Carnevale, 1982)
  • Can backfire if the tactic is transparent and we think they will benefit.

Reciprocity norm

  • I scratch your back, you scratch mine
  • Regan (1971) found that people would had received a favour were more likely to comply
  • Also guilt.

Induced to act in ways that are inconsistent with our belief: Study by Festinger & Carlsmith (1959)

  • Students who volunteered for a psychology experiment were asked to perform very boring task (pegs) for an hour, in the thought they were contributing to measure on performance
  • Told: Now you can take part in the real experiment
  • The confederate didn’t turn up – all you need to do is tell the next person the task is really interesting. Aim to see the effect of preconception on performance.
  • Paid $1
  • Paid $20
  • Control – no request to tell people it was interesting and no payment
  • People who were paid $1 rated the task as enjoyable and agreed to help later
  • People who were paid $20, rated it as boring and did not agree to help


  • No dissonance in the 2nd group
  • Induced dissonance in 1st lead to change in attitude and and also more likely to comply (no counter-attitudinal response)
  • So less incentive is more likely to encourage compliance. Similarity an unpleased request is more attractive when the person asking is less-attractive!

Read more here our series on Memory.

You May Also Like

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *