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Understanding Social Influence And Social Power

Have you ever found yourself getting so pulled by someone who seems to know what they say? As they keep talking you can’t help but agree with every word that spills out of their mouth. Looks like you got influenced!

understanding social influence and social power

Source: Sergey Nivens/Adobe Stock

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.

However, it is important to understand that social influence is distinct from conformity, power and authority. Conformity takes place when you are not necessarily finding yourself accepting what the other person has to say and yet you avoid confrontation and superficially agree with them to fit in with the group.

Power refers to coercing someone to think, feel or behave a certain way. The resulting change has happened only because of a threatening and not genuine change in attitude.

When a majority of people think a certain way, we are naturally inclined towards adopting those attitudes and beliefs as well.

For example, a few decades ago mental health was considered taboo. But now as people have started the conversation about mental health, many more people understand its essence and seek help instead of visiting shamans and drilling holes in their heads.

Another way in which people get influenced by others is when they identify themselves with them. When they find a person similar, we are more likely to become influenced by their ways and mannerisms.

Categories of Social Influence

Social psychologists usually divide social influence into three important categories, and they are conformity, compliance and obedience. These three concepts are highly interwoven and viewing them distinctively might be hard. But they are three distinct features nevertheless.

1. Conformity:

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.

Conformity springs out of two determinants: Informational influence and normative influence.

A person gets informational influenced when they don’t have confidence in their own judgments and choose to follow a belief that is typically accepted. This concept is beautifully demonstrated in the classic Asch experiment where participants choose to go by the opinions of others although their judgments were logically right.

On the other hand, normative influence is when a person desires to be socially accepted. One of the best examples of that is wanting to dress a certain way because everyone else does so or making TikTok videos using similar background music as that of the majority because you want to jump onto that bandwagon as well.

2. Compliance:

Compliance is when agreeing to a request put forth by someone. Psychologists have formulated four important compliance techniques such as foot-in-the-door technique, door-in-the-face technique, lowball technique and that’s-not-all technique.

Foot-in-the-door technique is to make a small request initially and later make a bigger request which is the target request. Results from an experiment found this technique influenced people to do the target request.

A child asks his mom’s help to draw a science diagram as he finds it difficult, and then gradually asks to do full record work saying his hands are paining.

Door-in-the-face technique is to make a big request and then make the target request. In this case, people are more likely to commit to the target request.

One example would be requesting a friend to complete all the pending assignments and then reducing it to just a statistics assignment.

Lowball technique is where a part of the request is withheld until the time, they accept the initial request after which the other part is revealed. Findings reveal that people are likely to do the task with a higher sense of commitment.

For example, Smith asked his friend to drop him at his college and when the friend agreed, he later adds that he has to be there at 6 in the morning.

That’s-not-all is yet another interesting one which contrasts with the lowball technique. Here, the target request is fulfilled by pitching in the request and explaining the benefits followed by adding more benefits. This one showed great results as people were more willing to do a task when they realized it is smaller than what they initially thought.

Jim asked his friend David to join him for the concert because their favorite artist was conducting the show. When David was reluctant, Jim added that there was a 50% discount on the ticket price and David immediately agreed.

3. Obedience:

Obedience is an individual’s response to command or authority. Many classic studies have been conducted to understand the influence behind obedience and why some obey and others don’t.

Studies such as the Milgram experiment, Stanford prison experiment have been efficiently able to explain this phenomenon and the results of these studies concluded that people are likely to obey a command in the presence of a legitimate authority figure.

Social Influence Through The Five Bases Of Social Power

Sometimes having a certain advantage over others would mean we can influence them to behave in any desired way. French and Raven in the year 1959 conceptualized that social influence can be facilitated by having access to five bases of power.

These bases can influence an individual to alter their behaviors for personal gain. This creates a win-win situation as the person who holds the power and the person requesting a favor get to take a share of the benefit.

The five bases of power are:

  1. Reward power: Reward or reinforcement is the ultimate driver for any behavior. So a person is likely to go with the demands and wishes of someone if that produces desirable rewards or benefits.
    For example, Sam volunteered to complete the assignment for Joseph because he promised to take him to a movie if he did so.
  2. Referent power: This develops out of admiration for someone. A person who is admired or looked up to will own this power. Their behaviors are cherished and in consequence, they are modeled and imitated. This is the major reason behind many famous brands chose influential figures to endorse their products.
    For example, the famous soft drink brand Pepsi choosing supermodel Kendall Jenner to advertise their product. This particular ad became a viral sensation among fans all across the globe.
  3. Expert power: A person is more likely to believe and be influenced by someone if they are an expert in the relevant field.
    For example, a person is more likely to follow the ideas of a social media marketer than a random person to build their social media profile.
  4. Legitimate power: This refers to the power held because of being in a certain position. Here, power comes with authority which gives them immense influence over the behavior of the ones under them.
    For example, the headmaster of a school decides the dress code of the students, the manners to follow within the school campus, the date of examination etc. and students can follow them without opposition.
  5. Coercive power: This is the opposite of reward power. In this case, influence is acquired because of aggression, force or coercion. One obeys this power out of fear.
    One ideal example would be during times of war. One country would try to get its demands fulfilled from another one by giving threats to lives and resources.

However these aren’t the only situations where influence can take place. It can also happen during the interactions between people, in families, between couples, a salesperson and a customer, political figures etc.

Applications Of Social Influence

To influence someone is to make them behave in a way we desire. Many influencers are much aware of this notion and use the concept of influence strategically to elicit certain behaviors from people. Social influence is incessantly used in many areas. Of all fields, media uses social influence to a great extent. Right from movies, television series, advertisements, news reports, social media have had an immense influence on people today.

In today’s time, “Netflix and chill” is the new norm. Post lockdown, youngsters spend most of their time binge-watching series broadcasted on this OTT platform and in many instances it has influenced people for both good and bad. Reports claim that the famous Netflix series “13 reasons why” has incited suicidal ideations in many and even cases of suicide in some.

Another important source of influence is news reports. This source is a predominant one in influencing people to view the world from a particular set of lenses. One of the most controversial conversations of the decade is about Islam. Many westernized media portray Muslims from an angle of violence and terrorism which has kilned ideas of Islamophobia in the minds of many, leading to many attacks on Muslim civilians across many countries.

Social influence is also used in the field of marketing and advertisements. Today many advertisers employ innovative methods to advertise products. They trigger subliminal emotions in viewers to encourage them to buy their products.

Another very important area in which social influence is applied is during public speeches and voting campaigns conducted by politicians. They influence the public through their charismatic speech delivery and their charming personality. They understand the psychology of the common well and target those areas to appear relevant and concerned. They use non-verbal cues to their advantage to elicit certain emotions in the audience and draw them to the same page.

How To Be Influential? The Fine Art Of Persuasion

Under the context of social influence, persuasion is a skill which has been mastered more than ever before. There are so many persuasive stimuli surrounding us constantly. Billboards, magazines, newspapers are some of the sources flashing many different ideas and choices and persuading us and making us buy what they choose for us.

However, persuasion is an important skill to hone as that helps us reach our goals. In places like an organizational setting where you wish to send across your ideas and opinions, being persuasive is a mandate.

So how do we become persuasive so that people buy our ideas and suggestions?

  • What, why and how: When you start pitching in your points, you have many questions coming your way. “What do you do?”, “Why do you do so?”, “How are you going to do it?”, “How are you different from others?”
    And you need to give answers that would be convincing rather than confusing. So make your points crisp, clear and precise. Have a plan about how your answers would stand out and make an impression on people.
  • Be confident: Confidence is the bread and butter for any social task that you may take up. People love those who are confident. When you’re confident, people assume that you know what you’re saying and that you must be right undoubtedly. This would naturally translate to them choosing your ideas over others.
  • Make it appear like a good bargain: People always look for personal gain. So if you are willing to pitch in an offer that would seem beneficial to the other party, they are likely to be persuaded by what you place on the table.
  • Be relatable: Try to understand where the other person comes from and make appeals which would be relatable to them. This would make the person feel heard and appreciated.
  • Make a good argument: Logic is the most essential weapon to use. People can’t deny or overlook a logical claim. To seem convincing, talk facts with evidence and conclude by saying how these facts add up to the idea that you put forth. This would make people put two and two together.
  • Take care of your non-verbal cues: If your verbal claims don’t align with your body, your options are not taken quite as seriously as you may prefer. Have a posture which speaks for you; maintain eye contact, have a pleasant smile, use an appropriate amount of hand gestures etc.
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