Social influence weaves its way into our lives with a captivating pull, tempting us to follow along and find the information that satisfies our every need and desire. Sometimes, it beckons us subtly to carry out an action, while at other times, its insistence for us to comply can be downright forceful. So, when do you choose to follow social influence? How can you harness its power to benefit your own goals? Furthermore, what types of social influence exist? Join us as we delve into these intriguing questions, exploring the fascinating world of social influence that plays such a vital role in shaping our everyday experiences.
How People Harness The Power Of Social Influence.
Social influence is a powerful force that can shape our thoughts, behaviors, and actions in various ways. Social influencers leverage their connections, establish credibility, and build trust within their social network to create an influential presence. By doing so, they can sway the opinions and behaviors of others in a way that supports their goals or those of their organization. To explain the power of social influence, let’s first start with a definition of the term social influence. Then we will review the types of powers that people can harness through social influence.
What is Social Influence?
“Social influence can simply be defined as any change in the thoughts, attitudes, feelings or behaviors as a result of an interaction with an individual or a group. When there is a shift in a part of you because of your interaction with someone, then it could be referred to as social influence.”Communicationtheory.org
The 5 Types Of Power That People Can Apply Using Social Influence.
If you have social influence, you also have power that can be leveraged for your own purposes. So it is prudent for both the influencer and the person being influenced to understand these unique powers of social influence. To detail, see below for a description of the five types of social influence power.
- Reward Power. This type of power is based on the ability to provide rewards or incentives to others, such as money, promotions, or other benefits.
- Referent Power. This type of power is based on the admiration and respect that others have for a person, often due to their charisma, personality, or other positive qualities.
- Expert Power. This type of power is based on a person’s knowledge, skills, and expertise in a particular area or field.
- Legitimate Power. This type of power is based on a person’s position or title within an organization or social structure, such as a boss or elected official.
- Coercive Power. This type of power is based on the ability to punish or impose negative consequences on others who do not comply with one’s wishes or demands.
For more on the basics of social influence and its powers, see CommunicationTheory.org’s Understanding Social Influence And Social Power. Also, See my articles, 8 Types of Authority You Encounter In Everyday Life and Power of Advertising – 9 Ways They Entice You To Buy for more on power and authority.
Tips When Best To Go It Alone Vs Being Socially Influenced.
It’s important to know when to rely on your own instincts and when to be influenced by others. When making decisions that require deep expertise or a specialized skill set, it may be best to go it alone or seek expert advice. Also, sometimes, being independent and making decisions based on our own values and beliefs can lead to better outcomes. On the other hand, when faced with choices that involve public opinion or are affected by cultural norms, being socially influenced can lead to more acceptable and effective outcomes. Ultimately, striking a balance between trusting your own judgment and considering the input of others can result in better decision-making overall.
3 Categories of Social Influence: Conform, Comply, Obey.
So far in this article I have covered the basics of social influence to include its definition, its powers, and tips on your options when you encounter social influence. Now let’s go into more details on the specific categories of social influence. They can be divided into three important categories. Namely, conformity, compliance, and obedience. I like the following example from ChangingMinds on how these three different social influence categories are applied.
- Conform – “I notice that people are using salt and passing it to the person on their left without comment. I conform by doing likewise.”
- Comply – “You ask me to pass the salt. I comply by giving it to you.”
- Obey – “You tell me to pass the salt. I obey by giving it to you.”
Indeed, having a deeper understanding of these social influence categories will benefit both the social influencer and the person being influenced. Namely, the social influencer will have a better understanding of what is the best approach for them to take in applying their particular social influence. Whereas if you are the person who is being influenced, you will have a better understanding of a particular type of social influence and what to do about it. To explain, see discussion below on Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience when it comes to social influence.
1. Conform: Social Influence That Entices.
Social psychologists have conducted extensive research on conformity as an aspect of social influence. Conformity is defined as follows:
“Conformity refers to the change in attitude or behavior to match the norms of the group with that they identify themselves. They choose to alter their opinions to fit in well with the people surrounding them.”
Conform Example – “I notice that people are using salt and passing it to the person on their left without comment. I conform by doing likewise.”
Now, there are two primary reasons that people conform. Specifically, Deutsch and Gerard identified two determinants on why people conform: informational influence and normative influence. The definitons for these types of conformity are as follows:
“Informational influence happens when people change their behavior in order to be correct.”
“Normative influence stems from a desire to avoid punishments or gain rewards“
Now that we have clarified the definitions, let’s explore some examples and delve deeper into the concepts of informative and normative influence that lead to conformity.
a. Normative Social Influence That Entices Us To Conform.
There are numerous examples of normative social influence enticing people to conform in everyday life. These include:
- Fashion Trends. As popular styles emerge, individuals often feel compelled to adopt them in order to fit in with their peers.
- Workplace. Employees may feel pressured to adopt the attitudes, communication styles, or work habits of their colleagues to maintain group cohesion.
- Social Media. This plays a significant role in reinforcing conformity as people strive for acceptance through likes, comments, and shares on their posts.
- Peer Acceptance. Teenagers may feel compelled to dress a certain way or listen to certain types of music in order to fit in with their peers.
- Culture / Politics. Individuals may feel pressure to conform to certain political beliefs or religious practices in order to gain acceptance from their community.
For more on normative social influence, see my articles, What Is Culture – The 11 Most Common Traits And How To Compare and The Truth About Social Media Pros And Cons.
b. Informational Social Influence That Entices Us To Conform.
Now, normative social influence is focused on reward or punishment. Whereas, informative social influence is focused on being correct. So there are certain situations where you have a need to take action, to conform, but you need information. In these cases, one option is to follow other people’s action or direction. Additionally many times when you decide to follow informational social influence, the situation is confusing and even chaotic. For examples, see below for instances where informational social influence is used to conform.
1) Lacking Good Information, Follow The Crowd.
Some situations are confusing and you are unsure what to do. For example, you are on a car trip and you are hungry. How do you decide what restaurant to eat at? Well, you either look up reviews online or just go to a restaurant that is busy. That is informational social influence.
2) Split-Second Decision Needed, Follow The Crowd.
Here you are in a chaotic situation and you need to make a split-second decision. For example, you are at a concert and there is a large explosion. What do you do? Well, you see people running away from the stage and you follow.
3) Lack Good Information, Follow The Expert Or A Person Of Authority.
Another term for this is called self-categorization where you look to an expert or a person of authority to help you make a decision. For example, let’s take the example above where an explosion occurs at a concert. Instead of just following the crowd, you take direction from a firefighter or from someone on stage and follow their instructions on what to do. The key thing here is that this is a two-step process. First, you are determining who is more of an expert or person of authority than you are. Second, you then follow that person’s advice versus the crowd or with making a decision on your own.
For more detailed discussion of informational influences, see PracticalPie’s Informational Social Influence. Also, see my article, Mob Mentality Examples: The Ways They Occur, Reasons They Happen And How To Avoid on where informational social influences can go to far.
2. Comply: Social Influence That Asks.
Compliance occurs when individuals act according to the wishes or suggestions of others without necessarily agreeing with them internally. Compliance is akin to conforming in that you agree to do the request, but you are not necessarily in agreement with it. Below is a definition.
“Compliance is when agreeing to a request put forth by someone.”
Comply Example: “You ask me to pass the salt. I comply by giving it to you.”
Below are some more examples where people comply as a result of social influence.
- Friend’s Request. A friend or colleague asks you to participate in an event that you’re not particularly interested in, but you comply to maintain good relations.
- Social Norm. You abide by societal norms, such as dressing appropriately for an occasion, even if it’s not our personal preference.
3. Obey: Social Influence That Demands.
Obedience occurs when individuals follow orders or commands from an authority figure. This type of influence is often seen in military settings or other hierarchical organizations where individuals are expected to follow orders without hesitation. Below is a definition.
“Obedience is an individual’s response to command or authority.”
Obey Example: “You tell me to pass the salt. I obey by giving it to you.”
Below are some more examples where people obey as a result of social influence.
- Fire Drill. Your office conducts a fire drill. You obey the instructions of the designated fire warden.
- Military Training. A soldier follows their commanding officer’s orders even if they don’t fully understand the reasoning behind it.
- School Setting. A teacher assigns a group project and students follow the guidelines set out by the teacher. The students obey because the teacher is an authority figure who has knowledge and expertise in the subject matter.
Overall, social influence can have both positive and negative effects on our lives depending on how it’s used. It’s important for individuals to recognize when it’s best to go it alone versus being socially influenced and to make decisions based on their own values and beliefs. For more resources on social influence, see VeryWellMind’s What Is Conformity? and CommunicationTheory’s Understanding Social Influence And Social Power.
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