Minority influence including reference to consistency, commitment and flexibility. The role of social influence processes in social change.

AO1, Description – Resistance of Social Influence:

Definition of Resistance of Social Influence- The ways in which individuals attempt to withstand perceived attempts to threaten freedom of choice. For what reasons are able to stay independent and not conform or obey.

There are two explanations of why people resist Social Influence:

                            1. Social Support                                                         2. Locus of Control

  1. Social Support Conformity is at its most powerful when there is ‘unanimity’ from the group (e.g. everyone is in agreement). A dissenter (i.e. someone going against the crowd) breaks this unanimity and  provides the participant with moral support – this then ‘frees’ the participant to give their own answer or disobey a given order.  Dissenters make disobedience and non-conformity an option that the individual may not have considered without them.


Evidence to support the idea that social support brings about a resistance of social influence (AO3):

(1) POINT: Conformity research from Asch supports the idea that social support can reduce the level of conformity and bring about more independent behaviour. EVIDENCE: For example, when Asch introduced a dissenter into his lines judgment test experiment he found that levels of conformity dropped from 32% to 5%. EVALUATION: This is a strength because it shows that when an individual has social support they are more likely to resist social influence and act in an independent manner.


(2) Point: Research has demonstrated that when participants are joined by a dissenter, the level of conformity within a group falls.

Evidence: For example, Allen and Levine (1971) conducted a study similar to Asch’s study with three conditions:

C1 – the participant was given a supporter with extremely poor vision

(evident from the glasses that he wore with thick lenses),

C2 – the participant was given a supporter with normal vision

C3 – the participant wasn’t given a supporter

Allen and Levine found that in conditions one and two there was a significant drop in the level of conformity compared to condition three where there was no support for the lone participant. Evaluation: This is a strength because the research from Allen and Levine supports the idea that social support (even unreliable dissenters) can decrease the level of conformity and lead to more independent behaviour.


(3) POINT: Research for Milgram also illustrates that social support can reduce to level of social influence and bring about more independent behaviour. EVIDENCE: for example, in one variation of Milgram’s experiment he introduced two dissenters, one who withdrew their participation in the study at 150 volts and a second who withdrew their participation at 210 volts. Milgram found that with this social support, the real participant was less likely to shock to 450 volts (9 out of 10 refused to obey). EVALUATION: This is a strength because it illustrates that social support can bring about independent behaviour and lowers social influence.

Resistance to social influence – Description, AO1:

2. Locus of Control – Rotter (1966) This refers to a person’s perception of personal control over their own behaviour. It is measured along a dimension of ‘internal’ (where people take responsibility for control over their behaviour) to ‘external’ (where people believe their behaviour is controlled by luck or external influences).

(a) Internal

A person believes they can affect the outcomes of situations

  • Take personal responsibility for their actions
  • Confident
  • No need for external approval
  • Likely resist social influence


(b) External

A person believes things turn out a certain way regardless of their actions

  • Do not take responsibility for their own actions
  • Can lack confidence
  • Seek approval from others
  • Not likely to resist social influence


Evaluation (AO3) of the Theory of Locus of Control:


(1) Point: Research has demonstrated the influence of locus of control in resisting social influence. Evidence: Shute (1975) exposed undergraduates to peers who expressed either conservative or liberal attitudes to drug taking and found that undergraduates with an internal LoC conformed less to expressing pro-drug attitudes. This means that people with internal LoC were less influenced by the liberal peer views. Evaluation: This is a strength because the research supports the idea that having an internal LoC increases resistance to conformity and leads to more independent behaviour as Rotter’s theory suggests.


(2) Point: Further research offers support for the assumption that individuals with internal locus of control are more likely to resist social influence. Evidence: Atgis (1998) carried out a meta-analysis of studies looking at the relationship between locus of control and conformity. He found a positive correlation (of 0.37) between external locus of control and persuasion. Evaluation: This is positive as it shows that externals are more easily persuaded and so it can be implied that internals are likely to be less persuaded and therefore show higher rates of resistance to social influence.


Evidence (AO3) to demonstrate/support the role of locus of control as a way of resisting social influence (obedience)

(3) Point: Further research has supported the fact that personality plays an important role in resisting obedience to authority. Evidence: Elms and Milgram (1974) set out to investigate the background of disobedient participants by following up and interviewing a sub-sample of those involved in Milgram’s experiments. Milgram found that disobedient participants had a high internal locus of control. Evaluation: This is a strength as the research supports the idea that a high level of self-esteem and a high rating if internal control can lead to more resisting obedience and that locus of control is an important factor in an individual’s ability to resist social influence.


(4)Point: Further research has supported the fact that personality plays an important role in resisting obedience to authority. Evidence: Schurz (1985) found no relationship between LoC and obedience among Austrian participants who gave the highest level of what they believed to be painful, skin-damaging bursts of ultrasound to a learner. Evaluation: This is a weakness because it demonstrates that there may not be a link between internal LoC and resisting social influence.


Minority influence

Description (AO1) of Minority Influence Research:

Definition of Minority Influence – A type of social influence that motivates the individuals to reject the established majority group norms, achieved then majorities are gradually won over to a minority viewpoint.

Key factors in successful minority influence

  1. Consistency
  2. Commitment
  3. Flexibility

Aim: To investigate the role of a consistent minority upon the levels of a majority in an unambiguous situation


  • Female participants were placed into groups of 6, 4 real participants, 2 confederates
  • Participants were told it was an investigation into perception.
  • Groups were shown 36 blue slides, varying in terms of colour intensity
  • All participants were required to answer the colour of the slide verbally in the presence of the group
  • The real participants were in one of two conditions

Consistent – Minority answered green for all 36 slides;

Inconsistent – Minority answered green for 24/36 slides

  • Each condition was compared to a control condition with no minority influence.


  1. Consistent condition = 8.2% agreement on answer green (32% agreed with the minority at least once)
  1. Inconsistent condition = 1.25% agreement on answer green
  1. Control group = less than 1% responded green


Conclusions: Although the consistent condition only yielded an 8.2% agreement rate, it is significantly higher than the inconsistent condition (1.25%) which shows that although minority influence is relatively small, consistency is the important variable.


Evaluation (AO3) of research into Minority Influence:


(1) Point: Further research demonstrates the impact of minority influence. Evidence: For example an adaptation of Moscovici’s research was completed where participants  were exposed to minority influence but were able to give answers privately. They found even higher levels of agreement with the minority that in the original research. Evaluation: This is a strength because the research demonstrates that the minority can be a powerful influence on the attitudes and behaviours of others, but more specifically that consistency is the key to successful minority influence.


(1) Point: Moscovici’s research can be criticised for lacking ecological validity. Evidence: For example Moscovici’s study is conducted in the artificial setting of a laboratory in which participants are aware that they are being observed and that their behaviour is being recorded. Evaluation: This is a weakness because the investigation isn’t assessing real life minority influence and so the results can’t be generalised beyond the research to represent real-life minority influence.


(2) Point: Moscovici’s research can be criticised for being gynocentric. Evidence: For example the sample was populated by female participants which means that only the female response to minority influence was being assessed during the investigation. Evaluation: This is a weakness because the results cannot be generalised beyond the research to men, this is because man may respond differently to minority influence, it is recognised that typically women are more conformist, and so the results lack population validity.


(AO1) Successful Minority Influence Occurs When…

(1) Consistency & Commitment

Minority influence will be persuasive if the minority is consistent (unchanging) with its opinion/behaviour, shows confidence in its beliefs and appears unbiased. Consistency seems to be the most important feature here, as it shows the minority are commited, especially if the minority have has to resist social pressures and abuses against their viewpoint. This creates enough doubt in the mind of the majority about the established norms in order for them to re-examine their own beliefs/behaviour.


(2) Flexibility

Consistent minorities who are inflexible, rigid and uncompromising in their belifs and behaviour will not be persuasive. If they are seen to be flexible by demonstrateing an ability to be moderate, co-operative and reasonble, then they will be persuasive. Successful minority influence therefore seems to require the minority to compromise and be slightly inconsistent in its position.