8.1 General Psychology: What are the determinants of social behavior?

Chapter 8


8.1 Describe the determinants of social behaviour


In this Chapter we will examine group dynamics and social behaviour. We will talk about some of the determinants of social behaviour which include social influence among others. We will also discuss the nature of groups and how others can influence an individuals behaviour.


Determinants of Social Behaviour

Social Influence

Social influence occurs whenever an individual does something he/she would not otherwise have done except for the presence (real or imagine) of other people. Robert Cialdini (1985) has identified six basic psychological principles that underlie social influence attempts. The six principles are obedience to authority, liking using others as social standards, reciprocation, consistency and commitment, and scarcity.

  1. Obedience to authority – every modern society has a complex and widely accepted system of authority. We are brought up to obey our parents, teachers, elders, people in positions of authority, etc.
  2. Liking – We are more easily influenced by people we like than by those we don’t. Sales people are very aware of this fact and the most successful salespeople are often those who appear especially likeable to their customers.
  3. Using others as social standards – We tend to use the behaviour of others as standards for our own actions for example when one travels to another/strange place, one watches the people there to learn the actions that are seen as appropriate. When companies advertise their products as the fastest growing or best-selling items, they are using this principle. People tend to think that if so many people are buying a certain product, then it must be very good.
  4. Reciprocation – People tend to be very likely to return favours for example we always feel like inviting to our house friends who invited us to their houses/buy lunch for those who buy lunch for us.
  5. Consistency and commitment – everyone strives to appear consistent therefore sometimes when we have made a promise, we may find it difficult to break it.
  6. Scarcity – Influence tactics also often involve real or artificial scarcity. Opportunities often seem more valuable when their availability is limited. Advertisers and companies often try to create artificial impressions of scarcity in order to boost sales of their products through limited – supply offers and impending deadlines e.g. special offer ends on 31st December.


8.2 Discuss how others can influence an individual’s behaviour

Influence of Others on Individual’s Behaviour

  1. Conformity – people feel pressure to fit in with the crowd and to be accepted by doing what is expected of them for example, a student may go for his first Chapter at the university wearing a three piece suit and a tie. To his surprise, he sees that the other students are dressed in Tshirts. Although no one says anything to him, he feels quite out of place and the next day, he too will wear a Tshirt. This is an example of conformity. The student is yielding to perceived group pressure. He behaves according to the perceived group norms which are contrary to his private preferences. The student has used the other students as social standards for appropriate dressing.


How does conformity occur?

Each of us possesses two types of information about the world:

    1. one, personal information is based in physical reality and ones own experiences. Our knowledge about our own life and behaviours is personal knowledge
    2. The other, social information is supplied by others, when one is in an unfamiliar situation, the behaviour of others provides social information about the appropriate norms, or what behaviours are expected, accepted and rewarded. Their behaviour can also provide one with important factual information about the situation. Normative social influence occurs when one changes behaviour in order to gain acceptance and approval from others. Informational social influence occurs when one changes behaviour because of the information that the behaviour of others provides. Therefore, normative social influence originates from concerns about the reactions of others while informational social influence originates from the desire to be correct. The example about mode of dressing of university students provides normative information about what type of clothing was appropriate. Groups tend to reject people who deviate from the groups standards. However, if individuals begin by deviating (as the student in the suit did), but then conform, they are likely to be accepted by the group.


Group characteristics affecting conformity

The status, similarity and expertise of group members affect conformity. The higher the status of other group members or the more expert or similar to the subject that the group members appear to be will result in more conforming behaviour occurring.


Personality and conformity

  • People with lower intelligence are likely to conform perhaps because they feel less competent and less expert than others
  • People with low self-esteem and low feelings of personal worth conform more than those with higher self-esteem
  • People high in public self-consciousness tend to conform more than those high in private self consciousness. People high in private self-consciousness are concerned with their personal identity and are very attentive to their own thoughts and feelings. In contrast, people high in public self-consciousness are most concerned with their social identity and other people’s reaction to it.

Presence or actions of others lowering one’s inhibitions

a. Behavioural Contagion – People and groups can sometimes stimulate individuals into new and sometimes negative behaviours. Often, a person refrains from doing what he would prefer because of internal restraints such as guilt or fear of embarrassment or reprisal. If however, he sees someone else doing what he wanted to do, this provides social information that the action is now acceptable. This may reduce his restraints against similar actions. This is referred to as behavioural contagion. (Think of how people enter buses through windows during or a few days before Christmas). Behavioural contagion differs from conformity in that the person ends up doing what he really wanted to do all along. In conformity, conflict occurs after an individual observes a conforming model and feels group pressure. In behavioural contagion, conflict occurs before the individual observes the model.

b. Deindividuation, Self-consciousness and Disinhibition – When an individual feels submerged in a group, deindividuation may occur. Deindividuation refers to the loss of inner restraints that may occur when an individual feels submerged in a group. The behaviour displayed under these conditions is often compliant or aggressive.

Self-consciousness (or self-awareness) may be especially important in deindividuation. The process of deindividuation is produced by a lack of self-consciousness. Self consciousness is reduced when:

    • One is not identifiable to authority figures in a situation
    • Is anonymous to potential victims
    • Feels immersed in a group
    • Feels that responsibility for behaviour is shared with other group members

The lack of self-consciousness produces a disregard for personal and societal standards of appropriate conduct. The person becomes more aware of environmental cues that can reduce inhibitions toward behaviours that one would ordinarily not engage in. If the cues are positive for example suggesting cooperation, then deindividuation can increase positive behaviours. However, if the cues are negative fore example suggesting aggression, then negative behaviours are more likely to occur.

Reduced public self-consciousness may result in disinhibition of behaviour because people feel less accountable to others and do not fear reprisals. Reduced private self-consciousness also leads to disinhibition, through the process of deindividuation. There is less reliance on internal standards such as conscience and moral beliefs and more attention to environmental cues such as the opinions and behaviours of others. Reduced self-consciousness may permit the expression of all kinds of behaviour that is harmful. People can easily lose their individual identities in large crowds for example people at political rallies would probably not be violent if they were not part of an anonymous crowd.


8.3 Explain the nature of groups

Nature of Groups

Definition: A group can be described as two or more people who interact with and influence each other


The group is held together by the common interests or goals of its members, who recognize some degree of affiliation or connection with each other because of these interests or goals.


Group behaviour refers to group members’ responses to the social structure of the group and to the norms it adopts while collective behaviour refers to actions of people who simply because they are in the same place at the same time, behave in a similar manner.


Why People Join Groups

There are two general types of reasons:

  • A person may join a group in order to reach goals not achievable by working alone – tasks such as preserving national defence
  • Groups may represent ways of satisfying human needs and obtaining social rewards, such as approval, belonging, prestige, praise or friendship

Group Behaviour

The size of a group can affect the type of interactions that occur and the decisions that a group makes.

Group cohesion also plays a role. Group cohesiveness is the degree to which group members like each other, have similar goals, and want to remain in one another’s presence. Cohesiveness usually leads to higher productivity as members who like one another and want to remain together are likely to work harder toward a group goal. Cohesiveness however does not always have positive results because members are especially likely to feel pressure to conform to the group norms. In some situations cohesiveness can have a negative impact as people conform to support a poor decision.

Group problem solving has been found to be superior to individual’s abilities to solve problems. This has led to the popularity of “group brainstorming”. Group performance is superior qualitatively and quantitatively to the average individual’s performance. Interactions in the group may produce new ideas or solutions. The group has the advantage of a wider range of knowledge and the greater probability that someone in the group will have the specific knowledge relevant to the question at hand. However, a group’s performance is often inferior to the performance of the best individual, especially when the group contains many low-ability members and is faced with a complex problem.


In this chapter, we have looked at the determinants of social behaviour. We have also described how other people can influence and individual’s behaviour. In addition, we have given reasons as to why people join groups and discussed group behaviour.


Self Assessment Questions

  1.  Describe the determinants of social behaviour
  2.  Explain how others can influence an individuals’ behaviour
  3.  Give two reasons why people join groups


Further Reading

Brigham, J. C.  (1986). Social Psychology.  USA: Brown and Company.

Hilgard, E. R.  (1977). Introduction to Psychology.  New York: Harcourt, Brace and World

Lamberth, J.  (1996). Foundations of Psychology.  New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

Morris, C.  (1980). Psychology and Introduction.  New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Myers, D. G.  (1990). Exploring Psychology.  New York: Worth Publishers Inc.

Silverman, R. E.  (1982). Psychology.  Englewood, New Jersey Cliffs: Prentice Hall Inc.1


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