Social Influence: Part Two

social influence

In part two of this article on the topic of social Influence we will explore in much more detail minority and majority influence, and convergent-divergent theory.

If you haven’t already read Social Influence Part One, this article introduces social influence with normative and informational influence, then explaining an experiment by Garfinkel (1967) on the transgression of social norms.


There are numerous examples from history where either numerical or powerful minorities have changed the attitudes of the majority.

Moscovici (1976) criticised the overemphasising of the majority influence approach in social psychology.

Conformity bias is the tendency to treat group influences as a one-way process. They claimed that Asch was not studying majority influence but the minority influence because:

  1. The difference in lines were not unambiguous
  2. The participant was actually a member of the majority (those outside the experiment who would correctly judge the lines) pitted against the minority (the confederates and the incorrect judgement)
  • It is the person who remained independent who is the conformist!
  • Returns attention to the outside world (of the experiment) and the individuals social world and prior experiences.

In order to maximize its influence, the minority must:

  • Be highly committed to its point of view
  • Remain independent in the face of majority pressure
  • Appear to keep an open mind
  • Maintain a consistent position over time
  • Not appear unreasonable, deviant, or negative.

social influence

  • Dynamics of social conflict generate social change
  • Assumes that people dislike conflict:
    • Will either avoid or resolve it
    • Usual response is to discredit, dismiss or pathologise the minority
  • But this is not so easy if they ‘stand up’ to the majority
  • This forces the majority to reconsider their beliefs and consider the minority as a viable alterative

The genetic model explains how the minority’s behavioural style influence the majority, but does not explain the cognitive processes of how the majority process the minority message.

Majority influence
  • Direct public compliance
  • Involves comparison process as they pay attention to what others say to fit in
  • Accepted passively
  • Little or no private attitude change.
Minority influence
  • Indirect, latent, private changes
  • Cognitive conflict and restructuring
  • Validation process: Examine and think about the validity of our beliefs
  • Little/no overt public agreement (fear of being seen as minority)
  • Some private change that may surface later.
  • Direction-of-attention hypothesis
    • Majority influence
      • Focus on relationship to majority (Interpersonal)
    • Minority influence
      • Focus on the message itself
  • Content-of-thinking hypothesis
    • Majority – superficial examination of arguments
    • Minority – detailed evaluation
  • Differential-influence hypothesis
    • Majority – more public/direct influence, easier to see
    • Minority – longer to manifest
  • Publically expressed attitudes conformed to the majority (pro-gay)
  • Privately expressed shifted toward the minority Maass & Clark (1983)

social influence

  • We expect to share attitudes with the majority
  • Majority influence:
    • We become aware that our attitudes do not match
    • Leads to stress
    • To protect self we narrow our focus
  • Convergent thinking: alterative view inhibited
  • Do not expect to share attitudes with minority
  • Minority influence: produced no stress and no narrowing of focus
  • Divergent thinking:
    • Alterative views considered
    • Even those not raised by the minority

Supported by cognitive research that shows the minority influence can lead people to explore different problem solving strategies, and the majority influence leads to people restricting themselves to the majority endorsed strategy. Nemeth (1986,1995).

  • Separating majority and minority influences may have revived the division of informational and normative influences.
    • Also even if these processes take place, neither may account or determine real life behaviours
  • Social identity and other group dynamics may account for how and why we define ourselves as members of the majority or minority groups
    • Also in real life people tend to resist alignment with minority positions, and also cognitively avoid it
  • May explain processes involved in experimental settings but what about real life
  • Raises the troublesome issues of ecological validity
  • Vested interest
  • Social impact
  • The source
    • Emotional and psychological identification
  • Group
    • General group influences on people that may impact thinking
    • Identity
      • More likely to engage with message from those ‘like us’
      • The impact of any change on other attitudes, beliefs and values
  • Identification

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