Solved IGNOU Assignment >> MPC004 >> Q1

1. Define social influence. Elaborate the concept and principles of compliance.

Social influence

It refers to the influence of others on an individual’s behavior. Human behavior is influenced by other people in countless ways and on a variety of levels. The mere presence of others—as co-actors or spectators—can stimulate or improve one’s performance of a task, a process known as social facilitation (and also observed in nonhuman species). However, the increased level of arousal responsible for this phenomenon can backfire and create social interference, impairing performance on complex, unfamiliar, and difficult tasks.

Overt, deliberate persuasion by other people can cause us to change our opinions and/or behavior. However, a great deal of social influence operates more subtly in the form of norms—acquired social rules that people are generally unaware of until they are violated. For example, every culture has a norm for “personal space”—the physical distance maintained between adults. Violation of norms generally makes people uncomfortable, while adherence to them provides security and confidence in a variety of social situations. Norms may be classified as one of two types: descriptive and injunctive. Descriptive norms are simply based on what a majority of people do, while injunctive norms involve a value judgment about what is proper and improper behavior.

Both conformity and compliance are attempts to adhere to social norms—conformity occurs in response to unspoken group pressure, as opposed to compliance, which results from a direct request. Research has shown that conformity is influenced by the ambiguity of a situation (people are more apt to go along with the majority when they are uncertain about which course of action to pursue), the size of the majority, and the personal characteristics of the people involved, including their self-esteem and their status within the group. A person may conform by acting in accordance with group norms while privately disagreeing with them (public conformity) or by actually changing his or her opinions to coincide with those of the group (private acceptance).

In contrast to compliance, which characterizes behavior toward those who make direct requests but have no authority over us, obedience is elicited in response to a specific demand by an authority figure.

Another type of social influence that can lead normal people to engage in cruel or antisocial behavior is participation in a crowd or mob. Being part of a crowd can allow a person’s identity to become submerged in a group, a process known as deindividuation. Contributing factors include anonymity, which brings with it a reduction of accountability; a high level of arousal; and a shifting of attention from oneself to external events, resulting in reduced self-awareness.

The concept and principles of compliance

Compliance refers to a response, specifically a submission, made in reaction to a request. The request may be explicit (directly or overtly stated) or implicit (subtly implied). The target may or may not recognize that he or she is being urged to act in a particular way. In social psychology, compliance is considered a social influence, meaning it is based on the effect that the words, actions, or mere presence of other people have on thoughts, feelings, attitudes, or behavior.

Persuasion and the gaining of compliance are particularly significant since they use the power of social influence to attain submission of others. Compliance affects everyday behavior, especially in social interactions. Social psychologists view compliance as a means of social influence used to reach goals or attain social or personal gains. Social psychology focuses on people as a whole and how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors allow individuals to attain compliance. In studying compliance, social psychologists aim to examine overt and subtle social influences experienced and their relationship to compliance.

Compliance: The Underlying Principles

Some years ago, Robert Cialdini, a well-known social psychologist, decided that the best way to find out about compliance was to study what he termed compliance professionals— people whose success (financial or otherwise) depends on their ability to get others to say yes. Who are such people? They include salespeople, advertisers, political lobbyists, fundraisers, politicians, con artists, professional negotiators, and many others.

Cialdini’s technique for learning from these people was simple: He temporarily concealed his true identity and took jobs in various settings where gaining compliance is a way of life. In other words, he worked in advertising, direct (door-to-door) sales, fund-raising, and other compliance focused fields. On the basis of these firsthand experiences, he concluded that although techniques for gaining compliance take many different forms, they all rest to some degree on six basic principles (Cialdini, 1994, 2008):

  1. Friendship/liking: In general, we are more willing to comply with requests from friends or from people we like than with requests from strangers or people we don’t like.
  2. Commitment/consistency: Once we have committed ourselves to a position or action, we are more willing to comply with requests for behaviors that are consistent with this position or action than with requests that are inconsistent with it.
  3. Scarcity: In general, we value, and try to secure, outcomes or objects that are scarce or decreasing in availability. As a result, we are more likely to comply with requests that focus on scarcity than ones that make no reference to this issue.
  4. Reciprocity: We are generally more willing to comply with a request from someone who has previously provided a favor or concession to us than to someone who has not. In other words, we feel obligated to pay people back in some way for what they have done for us.
  5. Social validation: We are generally more willing to comply with a request for some action if this action is consistent with what we believe people similar to ourselves are doing (or thinking). We want to be correct, and one way to do so is to act and think like others.
  6. Authority: In general, we are more willing to comply with requests from someone who holds legitimate authority—or simply appears to do so. 

According to Cialdini (2008), these basic principles underlie many techniques used by professionals—and ourselves—for gaining compliance from others.

* * *

To summarize, social influence is the influence of others on an individual’s behavior. The mere presence of others—as co-actors or spectators—can stimulate or improve one’s performance of a task. Conformity, compliance and crowd or mob are three forms of social influence. Conformity occurs in response to unspoken group pressure, as opposed to compliance, which results from a direct request.
The techniques for gaining compliance rest to some degree on six basic principles – friendship/liking, commitment/consistency, scarcity, reciprocity, social validation and authority.

Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology
Social Psychology, 12th Edition by Robert A. Baron, Nyla R. Branscombe, Donn R. Byrne, Gopa Bhardwaj (Click for eBook)

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