Week 5: Personality and Social BehaviorYou may have heard th…

Week 5: Personality and Social Behavior You may have heard the expression, “yawning is contagious,” meaning someone in a group yawns and you find yourself doing the same. This is an example of social influence and the power of social psychology. As you may have guessed, the effects of social influence are not as simple as a group of people yawning one by one. In fact, some of the biggest atrocities and victories in history could not have occurred without social influences on behavior and thinking.


The field of social psychology explores the complex interaction between an individual’s behavior and the social environment. One key aspect of this field is understanding how social influence impacts our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Social influence refers to the process by which people are influenced by the real or imagined presence of others. It can be seen in various forms, such as conformity, obedience, and compliance. This paper will delve into the role of social influence in personality and social behavior, exploring its impact on individual and group dynamics.


Conformity is the tendency to change one’s attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors in response to real or imagined group pressure. Solomon Asch’s classic experiment in the 1950s demonstrated the power of conformity. Participants were presented with a line judgment task, where they had to indicate which line matched a standard line in length. In a group setting, confederates purposely provided incorrect answers, and the real participants often conformed to the majority view, even though they knew it was incorrect. This study highlighted the influence of social norms and the pressure to fit in.

Factors that influence conformity include group size, unanimity, and perceived status of the group members. Larger groups tend to elicit higher levels of conformity, as individuals may doubt their own judgments when faced with a majority opinion. The presence of a dissenter can decrease conformity, as it provides an alternative viewpoint. Furthermore, conformity is more likely when individuals perceive the group members as having expertise or higher social status. Understanding the factors that influence conformity can help explain why people sometimes go against their own beliefs and conform to the group.


Obedience is the act of following instructions or orders from an authority figure. Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience study in the 1960s investigated how far individuals would go in administering electric shocks to another person when instructed to do so by an authority figure. The findings revealed that a significant number of participants were willing to administer potentially lethal shocks simply because they were instructed to do so. This study shed light on the role of obedience in situations where individuals may harm others under the influence of authority.

Several factors contribute to obedience, including the perceived legitimacy of the authority figure, proximity to the victim, and socialization factors. Individuals are more likely to obey when the authority figure is seen as legitimate and holds a position of power. Proximity to the victim also plays a role, as individuals may feel more detached if they are physically distant from the consequences of their actions. Additionally, obedience can be influenced by factors such as cultural norms and upbringing, as individuals are socialized to respect authority and obey orders.


Compliance refers to the act of agreeing to a request made by another person. Unlike conformity and obedience, compliance typically involves a request rather than direct social pressure. Norman Cialdini’s influential research on compliance strategies identified several principles that can increase the likelihood of compliance. These principles include reciprocity, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. By utilizing these principles, individuals can effectively persuade others to comply with their requests.

The reciprocity principle suggests that people feel obligated to reciprocate when someone does them a favor. For example, a salesperson offering a free sample is more likely to receive a purchase in return. The consistency principle emphasizes people’s desire to be consistent with their previous actions and statements. By starting with small requests and gradually increasing the level of commitment, compliance can be achieved. Social proof refers to the tendency to look to others’ behavior in uncertain situations. This principle can be seen in the use of testimonials or celebrity endorsements to persuade others. Liking and authority are principles that rely on individuals’ favorable views of others or their perception of expertise. Finally, scarcity suggests that people value something more when it is limited or in high demand. Creating a sense of scarcity can motivate compliance by making a request seem more valuable and desirable.


Social influence plays a crucial role in shaping our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Conformity, obedience, and compliance are three key aspects of social influence that help explain how individuals and groups interact in social settings. As seen through classic experiments and research, we are often influenced by the presence of others, social norms, and authority figures. Understanding the mechanisms behind social influence enhances our understanding of personality and social behavior, and it has important implications in various fields, such as marketing, education, and social change initiatives.