Biggest Influence in your Life

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Social influence is the the main influencw in your life and effect different people have on a person’s attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors. Human beings are incredibly susceptible when it comes to society as a whole. They fear to stand out and yearn to be liked by all, and to either avoid or accomplish these tasks, individuals are willing to change everything about themselves. Over time, research has been conducted proving just how influential society is on its members through various different ground-breaking experiments. Based on the results, it is clear that the three biggest factors of social influence within a person are conformity, obedience, and compliance.

Conformity is the occurrence in which a person modifies their behaviors, beliefs, or attitudes in order to have them agree with the majority. Conformity is an individual’s most essential mechanism when facing social influence. As stated earlier, people fear to be different or to stand out from society, they “fear the pain of ostracism, rejection, humiliation, and social exclusion” (Riva, Williams, Torstrick, & Montali, 2014). Due to this ongoing fear of rejection, individuals alter their behaviors in order to conform to the group. For instance, Eric Pedersen, Joseph LaBrie, and Andrew Lac (2008) wrote an article discussing an experiment about college students taking a survey about their alcohol intake. The students who took the survey individually compared to the students who took the survey in a group ranged graciously. Overall, the students who completed the survey in a group tended to have answers involving greater alcohol intake while those who completed independently provided more truthful answers. What this shows is that just the possibility of “being compared to others can emerge and influence behavior” (Pedersen et al., 2008). These students did not want to be rejected or judged for having little interactions with alcohol, so they simply obscured their answers to mimic what they thought their peers would have. However, this isn’t just the case for college students. These results could be applied to anybody interacting within a group of some sort. The distress of having a different opinion from somebody else is too much for most individuals to handle.

This leads to one of the ground-breaking conformity experiments of its time, Asch’s conformity study. Through this study, there were seven confederates and one participant. The group was presented with a line task and simply had to choose which of three lines were equal to one line on a separate sheet. Ahead of time, the confederates had all agreed on an incorrect response. In the end, the results of this study found that many of the real participants had always conformed to the majority’s view despite knowing that it was wrong. The explanation for this could be viewed as “people report minority opinions less quickly than majority opinions. Bassili (2003) attributed this effect to the social inhibition that people experience when they express an opinion that departs from what they assume to be the majority opinion” (Koriat, Adiv-Mashinsky, Undorf, & Schwarz, 2018). What this means is that individuals are intimidated by a group when they hold a different opinion, view, or belief. Society needs to have a sense of “belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control” (Riva et al., 2014), and being the odd man out makes an individual feel as if they lose all of these basic needs. Instead of confronting this fear, with the possible consequence of exclusion, people choose to conform to the majority’s viewpoint.

Another huge factor of social influence is an individual’s obedience. Obedience is an action that satisfies the command of another individual. The original study on obedience was done by Stanley Milgram in 1963. On this topic, social psychologist, Thomas Blass (2002), had stated “we didn’t need Milgram to tell us we have a tendency to obey orders. What we didn’t know before Milgram’s experiments is just how powerful this tendency is.” Social influence has a tremendous impact on people’s obedience. This is primarily due to “any explicit directions from others who are regarded as having authority or perceived as taking responsibility warrants the opportunity to obey” (Riva et al., 2014). Humans have a strong tendency to obey all authoritative figures. The purpose of Milgram’s experiment was to see how far people would go in obeying an order, knowing that it is harming another individual. A key detail within Milgram’s study is that the person giving instructions to the participants was an authoritative figure—the “experimenter.” Due to the social influence that the experimenter seemed to hold, many of the participants obeyed accordingly.

From day one, human beings we’re wired to obey some form of authority. These authoritative figures could range from a policeman to a child’s mother, either way, people are hardwired to obey orders. This is why Milgram’s experiment was such a “demonstration of our powerful propensity to obey authority” (Blass, 2002). A reason people are so inclined to obey authority is a fear of consequences. People often don’t try to disobey because they are aware of the price that will have to be paid. For instance, humans are social creatures, many punishments involve isolation from other people—whether referring to a “time-out” or imprisonment. Riva et al. (2014) explain in their article that because of the “the desire to be liked and included… it is reasonable to expect that people with high levels of fear of social threat might tend to obey more.” However, Milgram was not the only person who broadened the world’s understanding of obedience.

In 1973, Philip Zimbardo built off of Milgram’s experiment and went more into depth about the understanding of obedience. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo proved how social influence impacts people on what roles they believe they must play. The purpose of this study was to find out whether guard brutality was the result of dispositional or situational. The participants were randomly assigned between two roles, prisoner and guard. The results of this experiment were shocking, forcing Zimbardo to terminate the study earlier than planned. The results concluded that individuals will willingly conform to the social roles that they are expected to play. Although these were just boys in the experiment, they acted as cruel guards and had done inhumane acts to make the prisoners obey their orders. Through these forceful acts done upon the prisoners during the experiment, “the ostracized participants were more likely to obey the experimenter’s explicit direction” (Riva et al., 2014). This could be viewed as the more the guards sunk into their authoritative role, the more the boys in the prisoner role sunk into theirs and had the mindset of obeying authority’s orders. Social influence has a boundless impact on how individual acts and “leads to changes in judgment and behavior at earning social approval” (Riva et al., 2014). In the end, all people want is to be accepted by those around them and have approval from their society.

Compliance and Obedience go hand in hand with one another. Compliance is to follow one’s demand. Many people find ways to use social influence to their advantage. People who fear being judged by their society “increase compliance” (Riva et al., 2017) and tend to comply with the majority opinion. Riva et al. (2014) stated how these “individuals are more likely to cooperate in groups, work harder on collective tasks, and even express a liking for new, potentially dangerous groups.” For instance, there are many tactics that business people use to increase the chance of compliance with individuals. Two prime examples of strategies used to engage compliance consist of the door-in-the-face phenomenon (DITF) and the foot-in-the-door phenomenon (FITD). FITD is described as making an individual complete a small demand, which then will cause compliance with a larger demand. DITF is described as “one of the few social in?uence techniques eliciting compliance” (Cantarero, Gamian-Wilk, & Dolinski, 2017). This is due to the fact that DITF involves making an original larger demand—with the knowledge that the person will initially refuse—but then follow with a second, smaller demand to which the person will most likely comply to. Both of this phenomenon have the power of social influence the change an individual’s mind about a certain object and to comply with a specific demand. Through the experiments of Asch, Milgram, and Zimbardo, compliance was shown throughout. Whether the participants were reluctant or willing to follow along, in the end, they each demonstrated compliance through the three experiments. Based on social influence, the participants were prompted to do as they told, follow the crowd, or act as they thought they were expected to do so.

Social influences have the power to change a person’s complete identity. People could change their behaviors, attitudes, values, or beliefs to imitate ones of another group or society all for acceptance. Being human means that one desires to be liked and belong, and without that aspect, people feel lost. Through the years, research has been conducted and has accumulated knowledge that paints a clear picture of social influence. From the works of Solomon Asch, Stanley Milgram, and Philip Zimbardo, the world is able to understand the concept of social influence and how greatly it impacts everyone. Through this, society was able to see to what lengths people would go in order to conform, obey, and comply.



Blass, T. (2002). The man who shocked the world. Psychology Today, 35(2), 68–74.

Cantarero, K., Gamian-Wilk, M., & Dolinski, D. (2017). Being inconsistent and compliant: The moderating role of the preference for consistency in the door-in-the-face technique. Personality & Individual Differences, 115, 54–57.

Koriat, A., Adiv-Mashinsky, S., Undorf, M., & Schwarz, N. (2018). The Prototypical Majority Effect Under Social Influence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(5), 670–683.

Pedersen, E. R., LaBrie, J. W., & Lac, A. (2008). Assessment of perceived and actual alcohol norms in varying contexts: Exploring Social Impact Theory amongcollege students. Addictive Behaviors, 33(4), 552-564.

Riva, P., Williams, K. D. ., Torstrick, A. M. ., & Montali, L. (2014). Orders to Shoot (a Camera): Effects of Ostracism on Obedience. Journal of Social Psychology, 154(3), 208–216.  

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