Social influence

Social influence

Social influence occurs when a person’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing. In 1958, Harvard psychologist Herbert Kelman identified three broad varieties of social influence.

Compliance is when people appear to agree with others but actually keep their dissenting opinions private.

 Identification is when people are influenced by someone who is liked and respected, such as a famous celebrity.

 Internalization is when people accept a belief or behavior and agree both publicly and privately.

Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard described two psychological needs that lead humans to conform to the expectations of others. These include our need to be right (informational social influence) and our need to be liked (normative social influence). Informational influence (or social proof) is an influence to accept information from another as evidence about reality. Informational influence comes into play when people are uncertain, either because stimuli are intrinsically ambiguous or because there is social disagreement. Normative influence is an influence to conform to the positive expectations of others. In terms of Kelman’s typology, normative influence leads to public compliance, whereas informational influence leads to private acceptance.


Social Influence is a broad term that relates to many different phenomena. Listed below are some major types of social influence that are being researched in the field of social psychology. For more information, follow the main article links provided.



Compliance is the act of responding favorably to an explicit or implicit request offered by others. Technically, compliance is a change in behavior but not necessarily in attitude; one can comply due to mere obedience or by otherwise opting to withhold private thoughts due to social pressures. According to Kelman’s 1958 paper, the satisfaction derived from compliance is due to the social effect of the accepting influence (i.e., people comply for an expected reward or punishment-aversion).


Identification is the changing of attitudes or behaviors due to the influence of someone who is admired. Advertisements that rely upon celebrity endorsements to market their products are taking advantage of this phenomenon. According to Kelman, the desired relationship that the identifier relates to the behavior or attitude change.


Internalization is the process of acceptance of a set of norms established by people or groups that are influential to the individual. The individual accepts the influence because the content of the influence accepted is intrinsically rewarding. It is congruent with the individual’s value system, and according to Kelman the “reward” of internalization is “the content of the new behavior”.


Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in behavior, belief, or thinking to align with those of others or with normative standards. It is the most common and pervasive form of social influence. Social psychology research in conformity tends to distinguish between two varieties: informational conformity (also called social proof, or “internalization” in Kelman’s terms ) and normative conformity (“compliance” in Kelman’s terms).  In the case of peer pressure, a person is convinced to do something that they might not want to do (such as taking illegal drugs) but which they perceive as “necessary” to keep a positive relationship with other people (such as their friends). Conformity from peer pressure generally results from identification with the group members or from compliance of some members to appease others.  Conformity can be in appearance, or may be more complete in nature; impacting an individual both publicly and privately.

Compliance (also referred to as acquiescence) demonstrates a public conformity to a group majority or norm, while the individual continues to privately disagree or dissent, holding on to their original beliefs or to an alternative set of beliefs differing from the majority. Compliance appears as conformity, but there is a division between the public and the private self.

Conversion includes the private acceptance that is absent in compliance. The individual’s original behaviour, beliefs, or thinking changes to align with that of others (the influencers), both publicly and privately. The individual has accepted the behavior, belief, or thinking, and has internalized it, making it his own. Conversion may also refer to individual members of a group changing from their initial (and varied) opinions to adopt the opinions of others, which may differ from their original opinions. The resulting group position may be a hybrid of various aspects of individual initial opinions, or it may be an alternative independent of the initial positions reached through consensus.  What appears to be conformity may in fact be congruence. Congruence occurs when an individual’s behavior, belief, or thinking is already aligned with that of the others, and no change occurs.


Reactance is the adoption of a view contrary to the view that a person is being pressured to accept, perhaps due to a perceived threat to behavioral freedoms. This phenomenon has also been called anticonformity. While the results are the opposite of what the influencer intended, the reactive behavior is a result of social pressure. It is notable that anticonformity does not necessarily mean independence. In many studies, reactance manifests itself in a deliberate rejection of an influence, even if the influence is clearly correct.



Obedience is a form of social influence that derives from an authority figure. The Milgram experiment, Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment, and the Hofling hospital experiment are three particularly well-known experiments on obedience, and they all conclude that humans are surprisingly obedient in the presence of perceived legitimate authority figures.


Persuasion is the process of guiding oneself or another toward the adoption of an attitude by rational or symbolic means. Robert Cialdini defined six “weapons of influence”: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. These “weapons of influence” attempt to bring about conformity by directed means. Persuasion can occur through appeals to reason or appeals to emotion.


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