Social Influence

The term social influence refers to the ways in which external factors alter behavior. Several types of social influence are discussed below.
  • Conformity is changing one's behavior because of perceived pressure. Solomon Asch conducted a famous study on conformity in which seven subjects were asked to judge line lengths. Six of the subjects were confederates of the experimenter and gave wrong responses, and on many occasions, the real subject conformed and also gave wrong responses.

  • In Stanley Milgram's well‐known study of obedience to authority, subjects were told that they were assisting in a learning experiment and were ordered to give other subjects (confederates of the experimenter) shocks when they made an incorrect response. Although shocks were not actually given, the real subjects were told that shock intensity increased as the experiment progressed. To the amazement of all, all the subjects (supposedly assisting the experimenter), even though they became agitated, continued to obey the experimenter and to administer shocks even at shock intensities they believed to be 300 volts. At that time, the supposed learner pounded the wall as though in pain, and 22% of the subjects refused to continue. Others, however, did continue and increased the intensity to 450 volts.

  • The subject of bystander intervention became of interest after a cocktail waitress was brutally murdered on a New York street. People heard her scream, but no one came to her aid. Research was conducted to determine factors that might lead to bystander intervention or to bystander apathy, as occurred in the New York case. Working on this topic, Bibb Latané and John Darley, concluded that people are more likely to receive help when they are alone rather than in a group and that the larger the group, the smaller the responsibility to intervene that bystanders feel. The cognitive model developed to explain bystander intervention (or a lack of it) includes the following concepts.

  • audience inhibition, a reluctance to act in front of others

  • pluralistic ignorance, an individual's interpretation that lack of action by others means that there is no emergency

  • diffusion of responsibility, allowing others to share and thus assume responsibility in the intervention process