8.3 General Psychology:How can others influence an individual’s behavior?

8.3 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.


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