Psychosocial approach: Communication and social listening in polarised contexts
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Social influence theory

Within social psychology is the fundamental social influence theory, which examines how an individual’s social surroundings and actions of others can impact and influence them. Conformity, obedience, and persuasion all fall under this theory, displaying how people act and think in response to social expectations and try to align themselves with those around them.

Let’s have a closer look in these three aspects:


Conformity  … involves individuals modifying their beliefs or actions to align with the group’s existing norms and expectations. The motivation to conform can stem from a multitude of reasons- seeking acceptance, dreading social rejection or the group’s supposedly valuable knowledge. Assume that a group of friends is excited about a game. Even if a person isn’t entirely interested, they may feel obligated to participate for fear of missing out.


Obedience  … as another significant aspect of social influence revolves around the impact of authority figures on individuals’ behaviour. People may exhibit obedience through adherence to directives or commands issued by individuals in positions of power, regardless of their personal opinions or values. A common example is complying with instructions from a boss in a professional setting, even if one may have reservations or alternative viewpoints.


Persuasion … as the third dimension of social influence focuses on the ability of individuals to sway others’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. Through various strategies such as persuasive reasoning, emotional appeals, or even subtle forms of coercion, individuals seek to influence the thoughts and actions of those around them. Persuasion plays a pivotal role in domains ranging from advertising and marketing to interpersonal relationships and public discourse.


The potential risks of such social influence

While social influence can have positive implications, such as fostering social cohesion and collective action, it is not without its potential drawbacks. Unchecked conformity can lead to the suppression of individuality and critical thinking, stifling innovation and independent thought. Excessive obedience to authority figures can facilitate the perpetuation of harmful or unjust practices. Moreover, persuasion techniques, when misused or applied unethically, can manipulate individuals and lead to the adoption of beliefs or behaviours that may not align with their best interests. Understanding the dynamics of social influence provides valuable insights into the mechanisms through which individuals navigate their social world.

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Social influence theory
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