Social influence theory: its psychological contributions

Human beings live in society. This implies that we are in constant contact with other people who have their own thoughts, behaviors, intentions, attitudes, motivations and beliefs. These elements are transmitted through different communication processes, causing different behavioral changes according to social influence theory and even the perception of others.

Within the theory of social influence, which explores the reason for these changes, a large number of theories proposed by different authors can be found in order to explain different processes of influence. Throughout this article we will see some of the most relevant contributions in this regard.

    Social influence theory: basic definition

    Social influence theory is based on changes in behavior or thinking that occur in a subject due to a series of mental processes arising from communication with other beings or means.

    this influence it may be directed towards an end or simply because of group pressure, Deriving from what the subject himself considers to be requested or from what is directly communicated to him. In addition, it should be remembered that whatever the outcome, any process of influence is two-way. In other words, one person can change the way another acts, but whether or not the second change affects the first. The same is true at the group level and even at the societal level.

    Some factors that affect the level of influence are group cohesion, which can generate pressure for conformity, the type of social norms, the size of groups or the positions and roles of the various elements that will influence each other. others, behavioral expectations. others or the value placed on one’s own opinion and that of others.

    Types of influence

    The influence exerted on one person by another or a group can be mainly two types, informative and normative.

    informative influence

    This type of influence occurs whenever the change in the judgments, thoughts or behaviors of the affected individual is due to the trust and belief that the other person’s position is more correct than that initially held. . A conversion process takes place there, Have an internalized or private conformity with what is stated by others.

    normative influence

    This second type of influence occurs in cases where the individual has not been really convinced and still believes that his position, action or opinion is better than that of the outside, but due to other circumstances. such as now the desire for acceptance or the role played. within a group, the individual ends up giving in and acting against their own beliefs. We can say that the subject submits to the will of one or the other, only conforming to it publicly.

    Phenomena of social influence

    There are several phenomena and processes in which the theory of social influence can attract their attention due to the role that the relationship between different people can modify the characteristics and actions of one of them.

    These changes in behavior can occur as a result of persuasion, conformity or obedience, the change being different depending on whether only a particular behavior is changed or also the beliefs and attitudes that underlie it.

    Majority compliance

    We can call conformity to the change in thoughts, judgments, beliefs or actions that a person would or would normally have caused due to the exposure of an outside point of view that ends up being assumed by them. In general compliance it is a relation of influence between the subject and the majority, Vary your own behavior because of what the collective suggests believing that the group was more right than the individual. Conformity usually has with respect to group decisions or with regard to shared attitudes, although it is not necessarily due to an attempt to actively influence the subject’s behavior.

    This part of the theory of social influence they would be explored by many authors such as Ash the Sheriff, Show by known experiences that the judgment of individuals could vary according to what the majority thought.

    This conformity will largely depend on self-confidence and competence in oneself, the degree of confidence in the capacity of others and that of the level of autonomy and independence displayed by the individual in question.


      Another form of influence observed by social influence theory is persuasion. While in the case of conformity it is usually referred to a process of influence coming from a group that does not have to be directed against something in particular, in the case of persuasion a relationship is established between two or more individuals. in order that one or more of them change their mind in relation to a specific subject or whether or not they are pressured to perform a behavior. It is an active process in which the issuer (s) seek this change.


      Another form of social influence observed by social influence theory is obedience to authority. Explored among other authors by Milgram, obedience is understood as following the instructions of an individual considered above or has power or higher social status, Regardless of his own attitude, judgment or belief.

      Through this aspect, an attempt has been made to explain why some people carry out certain actions which would be generally regarded as negative by their own subjects, as some occurred during warlike conflicts. The control to which the subject is subjectThe identity and degree of expertise or authority associated with the person who directs the conduct and internal factors such as an individual’s personality and responsiveness are aspects that greatly influence individual performance.

        Group decision making

        Another aspect of great importance studied by the theory of social influence is group decision making. The roles of each of the components of the group, the power relations between them and the success they have had in solving problems or situations largely determine the influence between the individual and the rest of the group. Several studies have shown that in general, the decisions made by the group are generally more extreme than those that a single subject would make.

        This is due in part to the influence exerted by coincident viewpoints, as well as the desire to continue to belong to the group (which can cause us not to want to be out of tune) or valuing the group as a group that has enabled or will allow success. too much there may be excitement on the part of the group that everyone thinks the same and that their perspective is the only correct one, which can lead to the persecution of dissent (as in the process called group thinking).

        Belonging to a group means that the responsibility for the end result is shared among the whole group, so that positions that a single individual would not dare to take can lead in practice.

        The influence on attitude change

        In social influence theory, our attitude towards something, understood as the predisposition to act or think in a certain way when faced with a specific situation or stimulus, is one of the main factors to modify in the process of varying the behavior of an individual. Exposure to points of view other than our own can change our perception of something as well as our attitude towards it.

        According to the theory of reasoned actionOur final behavior is usually preceded by our intention to act, the main influence of which is the individual’s attitude towards the behavior to be performed, the control we think we have over the possibility of issuing the behavior or manage it and the evaluation of what the environment deemed desirable or not and whether this consideration is relevant to us.

        The same attitude towards the problem in question it comes from previous experience, self-perception and self-appreciation, Which is largely influenced by the opinion of the environment. They are also socially influenced by what we believe to be socially acceptable driving influences. In this way, the processes of social influence are of great importance and, although not entirely decisive, they somehow model the action of individuals.

        The role that social influence theory gives to influencing processes in attitudinal change is mainly played by a large number of variables. One of the main ones is the fact that what is offered to us go for or against our attitude, To be able to provoke in the second of the cases a great dissonance which we would try to reduce by frivolizing the behavior in question or by varying our beliefs. Other factors such as who tries to influence you, how we perceive you, and how persuasive you are will also vary in the degree of influence we are subjected to.

        When few influence a lot: the influence of the minority

        When influencing processes between groups and individuals occur, one usually thinks of how the collective influences the subject or how the large group can bring about changes in small subgroups. However, social influence theory also takes this into account many times. one person can change a group’s perspective or that minorities may end up changing the opinion of society as a whole.

        The fight for women’s rights is one example., Those of people belonging to different ethnic minorities or those of the LGBT community, all examples of movements initially censored and criticized which, over time, have succeeded in changing the mentality of society in general.

        For this change to occur, the minority or person must have a consistent position over time and clearly and firmly state the change, information, attitude or behavior that is meant to be conveyed. It is also necessary that in addition to being consistent, the defended position is flexible and understandableThe image created by the minority position in the majority is also important. This influence will be accentuated if those initially belonging to the majority position come together and change their perspective in favor of the minority, causing a snowball effect that will encourage others to follow their example.

        bibliographical references

        • Cialdini, R. (1983, 1984). Affecting. The psychology of persuasion. Revised edition. HarperCollins.
        • Morales, JF and Huici, C. (2000). Social psychology. Ed. McGraw-Hill. Madrid.
        • Rivas, M. and López, M. (2012). Social and organizational psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 11. CEDE. Madrid.

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