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Social influence is the process by which individuals make real changes to their feelings and behaviors through interaction with others who are perceived to be similar, desirable or expert. Current research on social influence falls into five main areas: (1) minority influence, (2) research on persuasion, (3) Dynamic Social Impact Theory, (4) a structural approach to social influence, and (5) Expectation States Theory.
Minority influence occurs when a minority subgroup attempts to change the majority. While some research has characterized the process of social influence as the majority riding roughshod over the minority, many scholars interested in minority influence believe that every member of a group can influence others.
Current research on persuasion, defined as change in attitudes or beliefs based on information received from others, focuses on messages sent from source to recipient. This research assumes that individuals process messages carefully whenever they are motivated and able to do so.
Dynamic Social Impact Theory describes and predicts the diffusion of beliefs through social systems. In this view, social structure is the result of individuals influencing each other in a dynamic and iterative way and society is a system in which individuals interact and impact each others’ beliefs.
The structural approach to social influence examines interpersonal influence that occurs within a larger network of influences. Social influence here is the process by which a group of actors will weigh and then integrate the opinions of others.
Expectation States Theory provides another formal treatment of social influence. When group members are initially unequal in status, inequalities are imported to the group from the larger society such that, for example, age structures a hierarchy of influence.
- Friedkin, N. (1998) A Structural Theory of Social Influence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Moscovici, S., Mucchi-Faina, A., & Maass, A. (eds.) (1994) Minority Influence. Nelson-Hall, Chicago, IL.
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