social influence

Chapter 5 – Social Influence

Bystander effect

Bystander intervention – When we help others in need

Bystander effect/apathy – when we fail to help someone in need

Bystander behaviour was investigated following the case of Kitty Genovese’s murder in New York in 1964. She was brutally murdered outside her apartment but even though there were many witnesses, none immediately stepped in to help. (Bibb Latané and John Darley called this bystander effect). People tend to believe others will help and also look to others to see how to behave.

Factors affecting whether we help or not – Whether we help someone in need or not can be down to a number of factors. You need to learn 2 sets of factors – situational factors (down to our environment) and personality factors (down to us)

Situational factors

  • Diffusion of responsibility – we feel less personally responsible when there are more people around to potentially help. If we are in a crowd when an emergency happens, the larger the crowd the less likely we are to help. We assume others will help and we diffuse our responsibility onto them.
  • Noticing the event – We are less likely to notice events in a large crowd compared to when we are on our own. Latané and Darley (1969) conducted such an experiment where participants were alone or in groups. They found that we take longer to notice the smoke from a fire and are slower to react when in a group compared to when we are alone in the room.
  • Pluralistic ignorance – when in situations, we often look to others and react based on what other people are doing. We look to others to help us interpret the situation. If no one is helping, we assume the event is not an emergency. If other people are helping, we are likely to offer assistance as well.
  • Cost of helping – the higher the costs, the less likely we are to help. Costs can include time, effort, danger. We will help if the costs to the victim are higher than the costs to ourselves – however this is often to avoid guilt.

Personal factors

  • Competence – if we feel competent (able) enough then we will help. How able we feel affects the type of help we give. For example, if you are trained in CPR you would be likely to assist someone not breathing by giving CPR directly to them. If you were not trained, you would be likely to not help, or help by calling the emergency services.
  • Mood – we are more likely to help if we are in a good mood than in a bad mood.
  • Similarity – the more we see ourselves as similar to a victim then the more likely we are to help them.

Psychological research indicates that although some personality factors can influence whether or not we help, bystander intervention is largely influenced by situational factors.

Piliavin et al (1969) Good Samaritanism: An Underground Phenomenon?

Aim – To investigate helping behaviour in a natural environment, and understand the conditions in which people are more likely to help

Procedure –

  • New York Subway (field experiment) with approx. 4500 passengers between 11 am and 3 pm
  • 4 groups of 4 students – two males and two females – who used covert observation
  • Victim – 1 male student fell after 1st stop (was sober with a cane; drunk with a bottle; white or black); Model – Helped after 70 or 150 seconds or sat still (sat in critical or adjacent area); Observers – took notes on number of people in both critical and adjacent areas; race and sex of passengers; who helped and comments made; time taken to help

Results –

  • 62 out of 65 times the victim had a cane – passengers helped before the model
  • 19 out of 38 times the victim appeared drunk – passengers helped before the model
  • 81 out of 103 trials, the victim was helped before the model planned to help (challenge: what is this as a percentage?)
  • In 60% of the trials, more than one person helped
  • 90% of first helpers were male
  • 64% of first helpers were white
  • 68% of helpers who aided the white victim were also white
  • 50% of white passengers came to the aid of a black victim
  • There was a tendency for same race helping if the victim appeared drunk
  • Interestingly, no diffusion of responsibility was found. The speed in which people helped was greater when there were more people than when there was less

Conclusions –

  • We are more likely to help an ill victim than a drunk victim
  • Men are first helpers more than females
  • People offer more help in bigger groups
  • Diffusion of responsibility does not always happen

G: There was a large sample size of 4500 participants. They only used male model/victims

R: Piliavin kept the procedure the same for each of the trials, but because it was in a natural environment it was hard to control extraneous variables/

A: demonstrates that diffusion of responsibility does not always happen

V: In a natural environment so high in ecological validity. Participants did not know they were being observed, so they were more likely to act naturally and show less demand characteristics

E: no consent from the participants as it was a covert observation. Also, there was deception, as the victim wasn’t really ill/drunk or in need or genuine help.


Conformity is the tendency to change what we do, think or say in response to the influence of real or imagined pressure from others.

Compliance – going along with majority even though we privately do not agree

Normative Social Influence – compliance due to need to fit into the group

Internalization – going along with beliefs of the majority group because we do not know how to believe in a situation

Informational Social Influence – others provide information on how to behave and person believes they are right so they adopt their behaviour

Identification – temporarily adopting beliefs of the group but lasts only when they are present

Deindividuation – Loss of personal self-awareness and responsibility as a result of being part of a group.

Situational Factors Affecting Conformity

Locus of Control – Internal locus of control is the belief that we are in control of our behaviour whereas external locus of control is the belief that something else controls our behaviour (fate/religion).

Age – Adolescents are more likely to conform than older people (Steinberg and Monahan, 2007)

Personality Factors Affecting Conformity

Larger groups make people more likely to conform. Unanimity amongst the majority also makes more people likely to conform as they have fewer people for social support if they choose not to. A more difficult task leads to more people conforming as they tend to look towards others for the right answer.


Obedience – Following orders from a higher authority

Blind Obedience – Following orders of an authority figure without question

Milgram (1963) staged an obedience experiment where participants thought they were taking part in a study of memory and learning. They were invited to Yale University and met a participant (Mr Wallace – confederate) who was strapped to a chair and had electrodes placed on his arm to give him a “shock” – unreal but participants believed it was real. They were asked to give him an increasingly higher level of electric shock if he couldn’t learn and remember the word pairs read to him. He was in a different room so participant couldn’t see him but could hear protests over speaker. Experimenter Mr. William was in the same room and asked them to continue.

Situational Factors Affecting Obedience

Proximity of the Victim – Mr. Wallace was in a different room so it was easier for participants to continue. (In a variation, when they were in the same room, obedience fell to 40% and when asked to force his hand onto the shock plate, fell to 30%).

Proximity of the Authority Figure – If Mr William was in the same room, 65% obedience. If he gave instructions via telephone, 20% obedience.

Authority Figure – Mr. William wore a lab coat and looked legitimate but when replaced by an ordinary member of the public, obedience fell to 20%.

Legitimacy of Context – Originally experiment was held in Yale, but when replicated in a run-down office block, obedience fell to 47.5%.

Personal Responsibility – When participant was asked to ask another person to give the shock, obedience rose to over 90%.

Support of Others – Milgram placed two participant confederates with the genuine participant and one refused at 150 volts, the other at 210 which offered social support to the genuine participant. Only 10% continued to 450 volts.

Ways to prevent blind obedience:

  • Social support
  • Familiarity of situation
  • Distance
  • Education

Crowd Behaviour:

  • A large group of individuals behaving collectively (a mob mentality)
  • Reduction in personal responsibility
  • Anonymous within a crowd (deindividuation)

Types of crowds

  • Active crowds – taking part in a protest
  • Passive crowds – listening at a religious service

Anti-social behaviour is considered unhelpful, destructive and aggressive and pro-social behaviour is behaviour that is seen as kind, helpful, co-operative and peaceful

Craig Haney, Curtis Banks and Philip Zimbardo (1973) A Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison

Background – Before their study, people believed in the Dispositional Hypothesis: Prisons are horrible places because of the nature of the people who live and work there. They wanted to test how the conflict between prisoners and guards arose.

Aim – To test prisoner-guard conflict in a stimulated prison environment

Procedure –

  • Participants – 22 males (1 dropped out) paid $15 a day and psychologically healthy
  • Randomly allocated to guard or prisoner – 11 guards, 10 prisoners
  • Guards: Wore a military uniform, set the rules, designed the prison, not allowed to use physical punishment or physical aggression
  • Prisoners: Arrested from their homes, blindfolded, brought to the “prison”, deloused and dressed in a lesser uniform

Results –

  • The experiment disintegrated very quickly
  • The guards began to humiliate & punish the prisoners and many prisoners began to show signs of mental & emotional distress.
  • On the second day, the prisoners organized a mass revolt & riot, as a protest about the conditions.
    • Guards worked extra hours & developed a plan to stop the riot, using fire-extinguishers.
  • After this, prisoners began to react passively.
    • They began to feel helpless and no longer in control of their lives.
  • The guards became more aggressive. Every guard at some point behaved in an abusive, authoritarian way.  Many seemed to really enjoy the new found power & control that went with the uniform. Some of them volunteered to work extra shifts. They continued to behave in an authoritarian way even when they believed the cameras were not on.
  • All prisoners’ rights were redefined as privileges
  • They punished the prisoners with little or no justification; verbally insulted the prisoners
  • The prisoners became institutionalized very quickly and adapted to their roles.
    • Pathological prisoner syndrome
      • The loss of personal identity
      • The arbitrary control exercised by the guards
    • Evidence of pathological prisoner syndrome
      • One prisoner left & a replacement prisoner was introduced. He went on a hunger strike as a protest about the treatment of the inmates, & as an attempt to be released. The other inmates saw him as a troublemaker rather than a fellow victim trying to help.
    • Stopped after just 6 days instead of the planned 14 days because of the pathological reactions of the participants.
    • 5 prisoners had to be released even earlier because of extreme emotional reactions.

Conclusions –

  • Rejects dispositional hypothesis
  • The prison environment changed the guards’ behaviour
  • People conform to the roles they are expected to play
  • The roles we are given can shape our behaviour and attitudes

G: The sample was limited – only males took part, it was a small sample and they were all university students

R: There were lots of controls in place – the experiment was recorded so there could be inter-rater reliability. There were rules put in place (although these were broken)

A: The study tells us about prison behaviour – it tells us that the situation in a prison can lead to negative behaviour

V: The prison was not real life – the prisoners had not committed real crimes and the guards had limited power. The participants all knew it was part of the study and may have shown demand characteristics

E: The study was unethical – there was lots of psychological harm, and it was very difficult for the prisoners to withdraw, despite asking for “parole”

Issues and Debates: Social and Cultural Issues

Society – a group of people in a community

Social issue – a social problem or conflict that affects a community of people

You need to be able to apply your theories to a range of social issues such as Nazi Germany, Black Friday, Rioting behaviour. Culture is a set of traditions, beliefs and values shared by a group of people

Individualistic culture – Emphasizes independence, autonomy and individuality (less obedience). Collectivist culture – Emphasizes group membership, interdependence and cooperation (more obedience)