Implications for Social Change
Traditionally research into social influence has been associated with social control, particularly the research of Zimbardo, but here we look at how social change can result from this research.
Already in this topic we have seen examples of social influence being a force for good: as with Gandhi in India and the Suffragettes in the UK. It can also be a force of evil, most notably with the Nazis in Germany but also many atrocities since, such as Mai Lai and the former Yugoslavia.
The board provide very little information on what they expect from this section of the topic and at time of writing, I have been unable to find any sample questions provided by AQA that might help throw light on what they expect us to teach. Looking through the half dozen or so text books we have in school they all seem to differ in their interpretation of the specification so what follows is very much a hotchpotch from various sources:
Social change is usually a gradual process but can occur rapidly following a war or revolution, for example the French and Russian revolutions brought about dramatic and rapid social changes in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries respectively.
Promoting social change
- “The mutual support provided by men for each other is the strongest bulwark against the excesses of authority” Milgram (1974). Asch and Milgram have shown that social support in the form of allies can significantly increase independent behaviour.
- Collectivist cultures such as Asian and African are more likely to conform than Western, individualistic societies. As the world becomes a wealthier place (present credit crunch excepted) it is likely that the number of individualistic societies will increase. As a result we would expect to see a decline in world-wide conformity. (Note: this is the opinion of Eysenck in AS level psychology). This does not seem to be in accordance with Twenge’s findings that in the USA (a most individualistic society), external locus of control is on the increase. External LOC is associated with greater conformity!
- People are more likely to conform with a group when that group is perceived as being of higher status. As a result conformity is more likely in hierarchical structures such as the military when orders are delivered from above.
- Education is vital in preventing blind obedience. During Milgram’s debrief of participants many said that they’d learned something useful about themselves and as a result would be less likely to conform or obey in future. Gamson reported the case of a participant that refused to obey in a Milgram-esque experiment since he’d read about the research of Milgram.
- Those with higher self esteem are far more likely to remain independent. It is unclear whether this is due to self esteem per se or attributable to the relationship between self esteem and internal locus of control.
If we want people to behave in a more socially responsible way and not blindly conform to unjust authority we need to:
- Provide people with social support
- Foster personal responsibility (in line with individualistic societies)
- Avoid hierarchical organisations
- Provide education and encourage free and open thinking
- Enhance social esteem
So far in all of the studies considered such as Asch etc., a majority have had influence over a minority, such as six stooges influencing one participant. However, in real life if this were always the case, and the minority always went along with the majority, there would be no change in Society. For change in ideas, religions, politics etc. there are times when a minority of people with different views have to exert their influence on the rest of us. This so called minority influence tends to be a slow process, but it does bring about a change both in public and privately held opinions. This is relatively straight forward if the minority has a good power base, but very often they start from a position of weakness so how do they manage to exert influence?
Real life examples:
The suffragette movement changing attitudes towards women’s rights, Galileo’s ideas on planetary movements, the Nazi’s reign in Germany etc…
Moscovici et al (1969): ‘calling a blue slide green’
I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to remember this study, ‘cos ‘minority influence’ is a likely question and this is the only study to use!
32 groups of six female participants are told they’re taking part in a study on perception.
Each group are presented with 36 blue slides differing in intensity of shade and are asked to say what colour the slides are. However two of the participants are stooges and these answer in one of two ways:
- They always say the slides are green
- They say the slides are green on two thirds of occasions.
- When the stooges say ‘green’ every time: 8% of the majority agree
- When the stooges are less consistent this falls to 1.25%
From this Moscovici concluded that consistency is vital for minority influence to occur. If the minority consistently give the same answer they are more likely to sway a majority.
Variations on the procedure
If participants were allowed to write down their answers (private response) as opposed to the usual verbal (public response) you may be surprised to find that conforming to a minority actually increased… bet you thought it would go the other way! To reiterate… when participants were shown a slide that is clearly blue, but a few stooges claim its green, then real participants are more likely to secretly agree with them than do so openly!
Moscovici concluded that the reason more people (more than the 8%) didn’t conform in the original study, was because they didn’t want to be seen going along with a minority view. Secretly it seems they were being convinced!
Nemeth et al (1974) agree that consistency is important but is not always enough in itself. They carried out a variation on the procedure but allowed the participants to answer with a combination of colours. This time there were three conditions:
- The stooges randomly answer ‘green’ on half of the trials and ‘blue-green’ on the other half.
- The stooges answer ‘green’ to the brighter slides and ‘green-blue’ to the darker slides
- The stooges answer ‘green’ on every trial.
Assuming Moscovici et al to be correct, we would expect the third condition, in which the stooges are consistent to have the greatest influence on the minority. However this was not the case.
Findings and conclusions:
The majority were most influenced by condition 2 since it is seen as flexible. 21% of participants were influenced by the minority in this condition.
In the other two conditions few participants were influenced. In the first there is lack of consistency, (supporting Moscovici’s findings), and in the third there is a total lack of flexibility and no attempt for the stooges to use the more complex descriptions allowed.
Moscovici concluded that minorities are more likely to be influential if they are consistent but not to the point of being dogmatic.
Hogg & Vaughan (1995) claim that the following are important for minorities to be influential:
- Principle: if the minority seem to be acting on principle rather than out of self interest
- Sacrifice: if the minority have had to make sacrifices to maintain their position
- Share characteristics with the majority: if the minority are similar in age, race, social class etc.
- Social trends: if the views of the minority are in keeping with social trends. For example current trends in Western Society are tolerance and liberalisation. Therefore calls by a minority for equal rights for a minority group are more likely to meet with acceptance.
Evaluation of Moscovici experiment:
The experiment uses stooges so deception is employed. Whenever there is deception consent cannot be informed.
It lacks ecological validity since it is a very trivial exercise, i.e. a silly disagreement over a slide that is very obviously blue. This is not the sort of thing we normally disagree over, so does it tell us anything about minority influence in real life when very weighty matters of principle tend to be involved
How minorities exert their influence
According to Moscovici minorities with opposing views to ours create social conflict resulting in discomfort amongst the majority. According to Moscovici the minority must:
- Challenge the established norm by creating doubt in the minds of the majority
- Make itself highly visible (e.g. public campaigns, marches etc).
- Show that there is an alternative viewpoint
- Demonstrate certainty and confidence in their view
- Avoid compromise or even a hint of it
- Suggest that the only solution to the conflict is for others to move towards their position.
Think of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in relation to the above!
Atkinson et al (1990) report the following study:
Students were asked to read out summaries of a discussion on gay rights supposedly written by other students like themselves. Four of the summaries focused on one viewpoint. One of the summaries focused on the other viewpoint.
When asked to share their views publicly all of the students tended to favour the majority view. However, when asked to write down their views privately they tended to favour the minority view.
It was concluded that the majority creates conformity by the granting or withholding of social approval (compliance) but don’t necessarily create a change of opinion. On the other hand the minority have the power to create internalisation (a real shift in privately held views).
Explaining minority influence
Moscovici: if we encounter a viewpoint different to our own conflict is created (similar to cognitive dissonance). Generally we don’t like conflict so we are motivated to take steps to reduce it. Okay so far, but this next assumption seems dodgy to me (not to be quoted):
According to Moscovici, if a minority of people hold a different view to our own we examine their argument very closely to find out why their view differs to the majority. However, if a majority of people disagree with our viewpoint we simply fall into line and alter our own view to fit. The fact that we examine the minority’s argument more closely means we concentrate more on the content of their message and as a result are more likely to be swayed by it on a private level (we are more likely to internalise their viewpoint).
Mackie (1987) disagrees. We all like to think that others share similar thoughts and viewpoints to ourselves (so called false-consensus theory). As a result when a majority disagrees with us we spend longer examining their arguments and weighing up the evidence. When faced with a minority that disagrees we’re generally not that bothered… after all we’re still in the majority.
Maass and Clark (1984) got a group of heterosexual participants to watch a debate on gay rights between a majority heterosexual group and a minority homosexual group. In fact the observers were more likely to be swayed by the majority heterosexual group than the minority. Regardless of the majority or minority position we are more likely to be swayed by people like ourselves… our in-group. This is best explained by Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory.
This final section builds upon minority influence, seeing this as the igniting spark of social change. However, to some extent it also ties in some of the earlier ideas of internalisation and compliance that we looked at in conformity.
The minority need to get lots of media attention. They are a minority and may therefore struggle to get their message across. Usually this involves organising marches, sit ins, blocking roads or access to public buildings. Examples would include the civil rights protests in the southern states of the USA and Ghandi’s sit ins during India’s fight for independence from the British.
As already seen with Moscovici’s research and Conversion theory, consistency is vital, both over time and between individuals within the minority group.
Deeper processing of the message
If a message is significantly different to ideas currently in circulation amongst the majority it gets further attention. People want to know how others can develop ideas so different to those commonly held as fact. Because the message is processed at a deeper level it is likely to take on greater significance and at least for a few, lead to internalisation.
Some members of the minority often take greater risks to get their message across. Women that strapped themselves to the gates of Greenham Common US air force base during the CND rallies of the 1980s, or members of Greenpeace that place small boats between whales and the harpoons of the whalers. This are seen to be making sacrifices and clearly not benefiting from their stance.
Gradually others are drawn to the message and numbers start to increase. In the early days this will be via internalisation of the message. Later, as numbers grow and grow, those left outside will start to feel like a minority and may conform initially via compliance and NSI. They will feel left out by not conforming.
Eventually, the message will be so strong that a change in the law will be needed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination in the USA. In the UK gay marriage as recently been legalised, smoking has been banned in public places, drink-driving has long since been illegal. All of these started as minority ideas.
This is a strange concept. You probably recognise the ‘mnesia’ component as referring to some kind of memory loss. This refers to the idea that as a social group we tend to recall that change has taken place but tend to forget about the steps that brought it about; the rallies, sit-ins, riots etc.
All of the ideas presented above are based on social influence research, Moscovici, Asch etc. As we’ve noted throughout, this often lacks external validity, is carried out in laboratories and involves tasks of low mundane realism. Use these ideas when evaluating research into social change!
Explaining social change using the Suffragettes as an example
Personally this is how I'd answer the typical questions that AQA seem to ask. You may be asked about recent revolutions/evolutions in gay rights, recycling, vegetarianism, ant-smoking etc., but the same rules and same basic structure are the same:
1. Getting started
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century few people considered women should have the right to vote. Even women conformed to the traditional gender role has it had existed for centuries. However, during the second decade of the twentieth century a minority of women began calling for suffrage (the right to vote). At this stage we have a small group ignoring the pressure to conform. This could be for a number of reasons that we’ve already seen: It is clear that the women involved
- Were low in authoritarian personality
- Were non-compliant personalities
- Had internal locus of control.
2. Bringing about change
Asch and Milgram both found that having an ally significantly increases independent behaviour. Once the group had become established and gained publicity they would have acted as a disobedient role model to other women. Obviously at this point they would still be a minority and according to Moscovici, minorities are more likely to create internalisation since their message is examined more closely to see why it differs from the majority view. Internalisation is a private as well as public conversion. If you look back at the “calling a blue slide green” study you’ll also see that Moscovici believed the message of a minority needs to be consistent and the group need to be committed. Clearly the suffragettes were consistent and as for committed… Emily Davison threw herself under the horse of the King’s horse Anmer as it ran in the Derby and died a few days later.
3. Critical mass
There eventually comes a point when the message has so much support that others begin to conform through normative social influence. The once minority now hold the majority position and others feel left out. Minority groups often get lots of media coverage because their message is different. Lots of coverage can give the impression that the idea is more prevalent than it really is. However, with NSI there can be compliance rather than true conversion. Those conforming may only do so publicly, privately still maintaining their original beliefs. Today those airing dissenting views would be seen as sexist. Public opinion expects us to conform!
4. Enshrined in law
In 1918 Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act giving some women over the age of 30 the right to vote. Further legislation has followed since. We now have obedience!
Note: the word suffragette was coined by the Daily Mail (nicknamed the ha’penny liar) and was initially intended as a term of abuse!