In The Lucifer Effect, we examined how social situations lead ordinary people to commit unimaginable acts of violence, discrimination, and indifference to the suffering of others. Many of us hope that if we were placed in such situations, we would be the courageous ones who resist unjust authority, who are immune to compliance tactics, and who never abandon our core beliefs and principles in the face of social pressures. However, the reality is we can never predict our actions without being placed in similar situations. This is one of the recurring themes of “The Lucifer Effect” and something that should not be lost on us as we make everyday decisions.
Indeed, even without being placed in the heat of war, the inhumanity of prisons, or the clutches of social psychologists, our daily lives are wrought with similarly compelling social tensions. This section of the website was created as a springboard for learning how unwanted and unjust influence can impact your daily life and to better equip you to resist these forces. By understanding the contexts of influence and social compliance, become familiar with significant experimental findings from social psychological research, along with some basic terminology, we hope you will become more proficient in identifying common social influence principles and the strategies that professional agents of influence may use to gain your compliance. Finally, we will take you through frameworks that prominent social psychologists have created to understand social influence and identify how you can apply these ideas to your own life. Furthermore, we will discuss ways to utilize your new understanding of the principles of social influence for positive social change, and finally close with some specific hints from Dr. Z on how to resist unwanted influences.
Varieties of Influence
We listen to a debate with each side presenting seemingly compelling reasons to endorse one or another point of view. We get messages from advertisers, from the government, from assorted authorities to take particular actions, like buy a product, vote for a candidate, give blood, avoid impending disasters, and more. Such attempts to influence our attitudes, values or actions are considered forms of persuasive communication. ”Do as I say,” is its motto. When they are politically motivated with a bias toward a politically relevant action such messages are considered propaganda.
Other times the influence comes not dressed up in words in persuasive messages or visually appealing ads, but simply when the members of a group you are in, or want to belong to, act in a particular way. They don’t have to tell you what to do; they simply exhibit the behavior or the style of action that is expected of “good team members.” That form of social influence is known as conformity. “Do as we do,” is the conformity motto.
Go along with the majority, the consensus and be accepted. Refuse to dress as they do, talk like they do, value what they value, or act in ways that are clearly the accepted social norm for this group, and you are rejected, isolated, expelled, ridiculed. The power of many groups in our lives to influence our thoughts and actions can be enormous, especially when we desperately want to be accepted by any given “in group.”
You don’t need a group to put pressure on you to act as they expect you to do; in fact, much social influence comes from a singular source—another person. Compliance is a form of influence in which direct pressure is put on individuals to take some specific action, such as doing a favor, buying a product. The influence agent doesn’t want to change your mind, only to get you to act on his or her request. Sometimes the request is pro-social, like donating blood in a blood drive, but more often than not, the request is to get people to purchase a variety of products that they might not need or even want initially.
In some special cases, an organization wants to go beyond inducing such specific changes, and actually to get individuals to change in more fundamental ways, to become “true believers” in some ideology or belief system. They want individual members to internalize a set of beliefs and values, even to change their personalities, so that they totally identify with the group’s mission. One common form of this intense personal change is seen in cult recruiting and indoctrination.
Finally, all these sources of social influence are imposed from the outside in, from assorted influence agents on individuals or groups. One of the most powerful forms of influence is self-persuasion, where conditions are set up that encourage individuals to engage in personal thought and decision processes. Obviously we tend to know our strengths and weaknesses better than do others, so we can tailor self-generated persuasive messages likely to be effective. One tactic for inducing self-persuasion comes from role-playing positions that are contrary to one’s beliefs and values. Also when we are resolving a commitment we have made to engage in public behavior that does not follow from our personal beliefs, cognitive dissonance is created. To the extent that we come to believe we made that commitment freely, without (awareness of) external situational pressures, we start to rationalize it and come to convince ourselves that it was the right action and the right position to hold.
There are many books on the science of influence, some of which we will note for your later in depth review. For now, however, we will outline some suggestions about what you can do to weaken or counter each of these varieties of social influence. Some of our advice is specific to a given influence type, other advice is more general in that it focuses on how to develop effective mind sets which will serve you well across many different influence settings. Knowledge of how these influence settings work and what you can do to resist them is the first step in becoming a wiser consumer of social influence. However, you have to be continually vigilant and continually put into operation these resistance tactics for you to inoculate your self against their insidious power.
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Una traduzione italiana del testo di Philip Zimbardo è visionabile qui