InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Chapter Review
Test Your Knowledge
Thinking Critically
Psychology Today
Textbook Site for:
Psychology, Sixth Edition
Douglas A. Bernstein - University of South Florida and University of Southampton
Louis A. Penner - University of South Florida
Alison Clarke-Stewart - University of California, Irvine
Edward J. Roy - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chapter Outlines
Chapter 18: Social Influence

    Norms are learned social rules that prescribe what people should or should not do in various situations. Descriptive norms communicate what other people do. Injunctive norms tell us what others would approve or disapprove of. The social influence exerted by norms creates orderly social behavior. We learn them from parents, teachers, clergy, peers, and other cultural agents.
    Social influences also create deindividuation, a personal loss of individuality that occurs as people become "submerged" within a group. A deindividuation experience can cause people to perform acts they normally wouldn't because personal accountability is diminished and attention shifts from internal behavioral standards to the external group standards.
    1. Linkages: Motivation and the Presence of Others
      Social factors often influence motivation. Social facilitation occurs when the presence of another person improves performance, and social impairment occurs when another's presence harms performance. Levels of arousal, task complexity, the expectations of peer evaluation, and increased self-evaluation interact to produce these phenomena. Social loafing occurs when people in a group exert less effort than they would when performing alone.
    Conformity results from unspoken group pressure, real or imagined. Compliance occurs when people adjust their behavior in response to a request.
    1. The Role of Norms
      Group norms tend to affect people's behavior even after the people are no longer members of that group.
    2. Why Do People Conform?
      Groups create norms; they decide what is right, wrong, and expected in a situation. Norms determine who will be liked and disliked in a group and who will receive rewards and punishments in a given social situation.
    3. When Do People Conform?
      1. Ambiguity of the Situation. The more difficult it is to determine what is physical reality, the more people rely on the opinions of others.
      2. Unanimity and Size of the Majority. Conformity is greatest when a group decision is unanimous. The more people making independent assessments in a group, the higher the degree of conformity will be by an individual.
      3. Minority Influence. When they are persistent and united, minorities can influence the behavior or beliefs of a majority.
      4. Gender. On tasks equally familiar to men and women, no gender differences in conformity are found.
    4. Inducing Compliance
      People can be induced to comply with requests by starting with small requests, as in the "foot-in-the-door" technique; by starting with an unreasonable request, as in the "door-in-the-face" procedure; or by gaining verbal agreement for one request and then demonstrating the need to escalate the cost of the original commitment, as in the "low-ball" approach.
    Obedience is a behavioral change in response to a demand from an authority figure. Stanley Milgram created a procedure to measure obedience. He developed a situation in which subjects thought they were delivering shocks to a person, but the person was never actually shocked. When confederates complained about the pain of the shock they were supposedly receiving, Milgram demanded that the subjects continue to deliver the shocks. Despite feeling stressed, 65 percent of the subjects delivered the full 450 volts of shock possible.
    1. Factors Affecting Obedience
      1. Experimenter Status and Prestige. When the status and legitimacy of the experimenter were reduced, obedience decreased, but only from 65 to 48 percent.
      2. The Behavior of Others. The presence of others who disobeyed decreased obedience to 10 percent.
      3. Personality Characteristics. Although social influences are the strongest factor in obedience, people high in authoritarianism were more likely than others to shock the learner. People with an external locus of control were also more likely to obey.
    2. Evaluating Milgram's Studies
      Recent tragedies that occurred as a result of unquestioning obedience to authority suggest that Milgram's findings are still relevant and important.
      1. Ethical Questions. Some observers say that the experiment was unethical. However, Milgram argued that his debriefing procedure and continued contact with his subjects showed that it was a positive experience. Ethical questions are difficult ones. Milgram's study would probably not be approved by today's ethics committees.
      2. Questions of Meaning. It has been suggested that alternative explanations could account for the participants' behavior. However, most psychologists believe that, under certain circumstances, human beings are capable of extreme acts of brutality toward other humans.
    Aggression is an act intended to harm another person. In 1995 in the United States a murder occurred every twenty-four minutes, a rape every five minutes, and an aggravated assault every twenty-nine seconds.
    1. Why Are People Aggressive?
      According to Freud, aggression is an inborn instinct that needs release in behavior. Evolutionary psychologists believe that aggression aided the survival of gene pools and was passed down through generations. However, in some societies, aggression is rare and peaceful coexistence is the norm. Aggressive behavior results from a nurture/nature interaction.
      1. Genetic and Biological Mechanisms. Research demonstrates hereditary influences on aggressive behavior. Lesions within certain brain areas can lead to aggression, and male hormones such as testosterone are associated with higher levels of aggression. Drugs may also affect aggression.
      2. Learning and Cultural Mechanisms. Aggression is more common in individualistic than collectivistic cultures. People learn to be aggressive by watching others or by being reinforced for aggressive acts.
    2. When Are People Aggressive?
      1. Frustration and Aggression. According to the modified frustration-aggression hypothesis, stress produces a readiness to respond aggressively, but aggression is displayed only if there are environmental cues associated with an aggressive response. The direct cause of most kinds of aggression is negative affect (emotion).
      2. Generalized Arousal. In transferred excitation, an internal characteristic and environmental conditions interact to produce aggression. Generalized arousal is most likely to produce aggression when the situation contains some reason, opportunity, or target for aggression.
      3. Environmental Influences on Aggression. Environmental psychology is the study of how people's behavior is affected by the environment in which they live. Hot weather, air pollution, noise, and crowding can all lead to increased aggression.
    3. Thinking Critically: Does Pornography Cause Aggression?
      What am I being asked to believe or accept?
      There is a casual link between the viewing of pornographic material and several forms of antisocial behavior, including sexually related crimes.
      What evidence is available to support the assertion?
      Convicted rapists use pornography extensively, and often do so right before they commit a crime. Those aroused by aggressive themes are also potentially the most sexually aggressive. Experimentally induced arousal, especially negative arousal, seems to be readily transferred into aggressive acts.
      Are there alternative ways of interpreting the evidence?
      Convicted rapists are not credible; they may have wanted to blame pornography for their crimes. Also, preferring violence-oriented pornography doesn't prove that such materials create an impulse to rape someone. With regard to the transfer-of-excitation studies, the observation of violence, not sex, could have been the cause for increased aggression.
      What additional evidence would help to evaluate the alternatives?
      Research needs to examine the effects of violence and sex when presented separately. In addition, factors that affect men's reaction to pornography that involves violence must be more clearly understood. Do men who are prone to committing rape have greater needs to dominate and control women? A recent study suggests that sexual promiscuity, hostility toward women, and consumption of pornography jointly affect sexual aggression against women.
      What conclusions are most reasonable?
      Portrayals of violence, including aggressive pornography, affect attitudes toward aggression and may make some viewers more likely to commit sexual violence. However, for most people, sexual arousal and aggression remain quite separate. Pornography alone may not lead to violence against women, but may play a role in sexual aggression when combined with other factors.
    Helping behavior is any act that is intended to benefit another person. Altruism is an unselfish concern for another's welfare.
    1. Why Do People Help?
      1. Arousal: Cost-Reward Theory. The arousal: cost-reward theory suggests that people feel upset when they see a person in need and are motivated to do something to reduce the unpleasant arousal. People then weigh the costs of helping versus not helping. The clearer the need for help, the more likely people are to help. The presence of others inhibits helping behavior due to diffusion of responsibility, a belief that someone else will help. Environmental and personality characteristics also influence helping.
      2. Empathy-Altruism Theory. According to the empathy-altruism theory, helpfulness is seen in those who have empathy with the person in need.
      3. Evolutionary Theory. Evolutionary theories propose that people help others to ensure the survival of their genes, at the risk of endangering themselves.
    2. Focus on Research Methods: Does Family Matter?
      Researchers cannot ethically put people in danger to see who will help them; therefore, researchers used a laboratory simulation, or analogue. Participants were asked to imagine situations in which they could help only one of three people. The outcome of the experiment indicates that people describe themselves as more likely to save the life of, or do a favor for, a close relative than an unrelated friend in a hypothetical situation. However, since this was a laboratory situation, caution must be used in making generalizations to the real world.
    Cooperation is any type of behavior in which people work together to attain a goal. Competition exists whenever people try to attain a goal for themselves while denying that goal to others. Conflict results when people believe that another stands in the way of achieving a goal.
    1. Social Dilemmas
      Social dilemmas are situations in which an action that is most rewarding for each individual will, if adopted by all, become catastrophic for the group.
      1. The Prisoner's Dilemma. Researchers have created a game in which cooperation guarantees the best mutual outcome but in which there are incentives to compete. Players cannot be certain that their partners will cooperate. Research shows that people tend to respond competitively because winning is rewarding and competition seems to beget more competitive behavior.
      2. Resource Dilemmas. When people share a common resource, conflicts exist between the individual and the group, and between short- and long-term interests.
    2. Fostering Cooperation
      Cooperation increases when nonthreatening and relevant communications increase. Playing tit-for-tat, or rewarding cooperative responses with cooperation, and punishing exploitative strategies with like actions, produces a high degree of overall cooperation.
    3. Interpersonal Conflict
      When one person can win only at another's expense, it is a zero-sum game, which can lead to interpersonal conflict. There are four major causes: competition for scarce resources, revenge, attributing another's motives to selfishness or unfriendliness, and faulty communication.
      1. Managing Conflict. Conflict can lead to beneficial changes. It is much better to manage conflict than to eliminate it. Bargaining, third-party interventions, and the introduction of superordinate goals are all methods of managing conflict.
    1. Group Leadership
      In general, good leaders are intelligent, ambitious, and flexible. Leadership ability also depends on the situation and on the person's style of handling it. Both the task-oriented style and the person-oriented style of leadership are effective, depending on the structure of the group's task and the time pressure the group is under. Research has uncovered gender differences in leadership. Women are more democratic and tend to use the person-oriented style of leadership, whereas men tend to be more task-oriented.
    2. Groupthink
      In small, closely-knit groups, decisions can reflect a process called groupthink, a pattern of thinking that renders members unable to evaluate decisions realistically. Groupthink occurs when the group feels isolated from outside forces, intense stressors are experienced, and the leader has already made up his or her mind. Assigning someone a "devil's advocate" role and arranging ways to gather opinions anonymously can help avoid groupthink.