Bolton School Girls’ Division Newspaper


The Dangers Of Social Influence By Ella Davey



It’s easy to be influenced by others in any environment, whether it’s at school, home or work. Most of the time, we don’t even realise it’s happening until it has already happened. But why do we do it? Is it a bad thing? Should we stop doing it?


Generally, there are two explanations for the type of social influence most commonly known as conformity, which simply means yielding to group pressure. One is the desire to be liked, otherwise known as normative social influence. Most of the time, we want to be accepted by others and avoid rejection. Sound familiar? Picture this: you’ve just started at your dream job. Your new colleagues have invited you out to dine at seafood restaurant with them. Only problem is, you don’t like seafood. Would you go anyway and suck it up for the sake of bonding with your colleagues? I know I would. This is a prime example of normative social influence. The best way of gaining the acceptance of others is by sharing (or pretending to share) their like of seafood, regardless if you actually like it or not.


Allow me to paint you a different scenario. You are sitting in class. The teacher asks a question to the whole class, and tells everyone to shout out the answer. You think the answer is C,  but the rest of the class begins to shout out A. Do you go along with everyone else, or tell the class what you think is the right answer? If it’s the first option, don’t feel disheartened. As humans, we have a basic need to feel confident that our beliefs (even if it’s just about a question posed in class) are correct. If we are uncertain about what beliefs are right or wrong, we may follow the majority due to the desire to be right. In other words, we go along with the majority due to informational social influence.


Robert Cialdini defined six “weapons of influence” that can contribute to a person’s likeliness to be influenced and change their behaviour due to the persuader. One of these is reciprocity, which might include repaying a favour someone else has given us. We may do this for various reasons; we might want to return the favour, or it might be something that we only feel obliged to do because they did it for us. This can take a different forms in everyday social situations. Reciprocity is by itself a powerful engine for motivating and sustaining cooperative behaviour needed for contributing to the social system. However, it’s unfortunate that the power of reciprocity can be used against the unwary, and is the basis for many malicious confidence games. For example, because your friend bought you a drink yesterday, they make you feel obliged to give them your homework to copy. This obviously isn’t right, and it’s unfortunate that it’s not a common occurrence. This probably all happens without you realising it.


Commitment is another of Cialdini’s six “weapons of influence”. Once a person has committed to a belief, they are against changing it without good reason. Similarly, a person might not want to change a belief due to feeling like they would be viewed as weak minded if they did. And this is completely rational thinking. But what many people don’t think about is the fact that it’s okay to change your mind on a belief, maybe because of learning new information or a change in mindset.



A further dangerous effect of social influence is the bystander effect, or “Genovese syndrome”. Psychologists came up with the theory after the murder of Kitty Genovese. She was brutally murdered outside of her apartment building, and The New York Times claimed that there were thirty-eight witnesses to the incident, none of whom moved to come to her aid or call the police. The event prompted inquiries into what became known as the bystander effect. This states that individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when there are other people present. There are various factors involved in this, such as the number of bystanders. It would be easy sit back and not stand up for other people, and this is the danger of group situations. People don’t want to be the “odd one out” so don’t stand up for others if no one else is doing it.




The influence of others can make us feel like we “ought” to go along with the crowd, because we feel like if we don’t, we will be rejected from the group, or labelled “weird” or “abnormal”. However, of one person decides to stand out and resist social influence, more people may feel less pressure to go along with something they don’t believe in.


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