How Social Influence Research helps us understand social change

What are the implications for social change of research into social influence? (6)



Social influence research has suggested that it is minorities and independent behaviour that brings about social change (conformity maintains the status quo).

For example, a minority can challenge the beliefs and values of the majority causing them to re-think/re-evaluate their beliefs. However, this change can be slow and sometimes the majority does not even know where the ideas originated (eg social crypto-amnesia). A single individual such as Martin Luther King can bring about considerable social change (no segregation and less racism).  Sometimes it is the personality of the individual, other times it is the particular aspects of the situation, or it is a combination of these two.

Describe how social influence research has contributed to our understanding of social change (6)

Social change occurs when individuals/small groups change the way the majority thinks and acts. Historically, there have been many examples of such changes: the Suffragette movement, Civil Rights movement, etc. The research into minority influence by such psychologists as Moscovici: has shown how powerful a minority can be, as long as certain conditions are met (eg consistency, confidence, flexibility):

Moscovici found that when a minority group were ‘consistent’ in saying that a series of blue coloured slides were green, they were more likely to persuade the majority to say green than if they weren’t consistent.


Consistency – minority influence fell sharply when confederates weren’t consistent.

Confidence- majority are more likely to believe views

Later research showed that confidence and consistency aren’t sufficient and

Flexibility is also important- minorities must appear like they’re ar least willing to hear another point of view.

It is the minority that usually brings about social change while the majority retains the status quo.

Examples of social change:

Part 1= theories/studies

Part 2= examples



A01- Moscovici (consistency, confidence, flexibility and blue slides)

A02-  UK smoke free law, 1st July 2007

  • law that ended smoking in public places
  • before, people were allowed to smoke in cinemas, restaurants and workplace.
  • anti-smoking lobby campaigned hard to influence government
  • many wanted a complete ban
  • Anti-smoking lobby’s victory example of how a consistent yet flexible minority can win and change minds of majority



AO1: A minority can challenge the beliefs and values of the minority causing them to rethink their belief; however this change can be slow. There is a point in any group where after some members have started to agree with the minority, the minority then turn into a majority.

The minority position gains more power as more people express the same opinion and this is called the snowball effect. Eventually, minority influence changes to majority influence.In history, minorities have changed the attitude of society (eg. the suffragette movement) whose views changed the personal opinion of the majority.

AO2: Example of the Snowball effect – The suffragettes

  • campaigned for equal voting rights for women
  • eventually made the public internalise (informational social influence) their views
  • there would’ve been members of the public who would’ve publically complied to agree with notion but privately disagree (normative social influence).



AO1- Asch’s conformity study and importance of a dissenter

  • most important variable of Asch’s study was presence of a dissenter who expressed minority position different to the majority’s.
  • a dissenter in the room allows others to be free to express what they really believe and not to conform if they don’t want.

AO2- Gandhi’s salt march

  • In 1930 Gandhi and 78 volunteers marched to protest against the salt tax Britain introduced
  • 3 weeks later, over 5 million people followed his example of breaking an unjust law
  • eventually led to overthrow of British rule in India



AO1- Milgram variation study

  • involved two further ‘teachers’ confederates who defied the ‘experimenter’, refusing to punish the ‘learner’.
  • in this setting, 36/40 participants defied the ‘experimenter’.
  • Milgram suggested in original studies, many were close to disobeying but needed disobedient peers to encourage them to do it.

AO2- Example=Rosa Parks

  • Black woman Rosa Parks sat in area of bus reserved for white people.
  • sparked a chain of events resulting in America’s supreme court ruling against segregation on buses.
  • this was arguably a catalyst for the American Civil Rights movement.
  • Rosa Parks known as ‘first lady of civil rights’.



AO1- People w/strong moral convictions=less likely to be influenced

  • Social influence research has shown that people with strong moral convictions are less likely to be influenced by others
  • this suggests that children should be encouraged to act on moral principles and not blindly obeying/disobeying
  • reminder of self-responsibility for behaviour
  • Zimbardo suggests social heroes are people who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of others in society

AO2- Example= Nelson Mandela

  • imprisoned for 36 years for resistance to apartheid
  • his social heroism arguably influenced the abolition of apartheid and transference of black South Africans.


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