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Minority Influence and Social Change

Minority Influence and Social Change

 

 

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Introduction

Minority influence hinges on the premise that when people are exposed to a compelling argument characterised by definite conditions, they are likely to discard the existing views of the majority in favour of the minority position (Dreu & De Vries 2001). Should society embrace such a new way of behaving or belief, it results in internalisation and hence, an accepted social norm by the wider society. This constitutes social change.  In order to realise social change via minority influence, a person must be exposed to a minority perspective and since it counters the majority view, this creates conflict (Moscovici 1976). Accordingly, the person should be motivated to minimise such conflict. The behaviour style of minorities acts as a key factor in their ability to influence others. This is because minorities have a tendency to make their argument known to others from the word go, not to mention that they comply with their original argument. The premise of this essay is to explore three different studies on minority influence and social change and draw inferences from their findings, in addition to determining the strengths and weaknesses of each study.

Studies on minority influence and social change

Study 1: Moscovici et al (1969)

Moscovici et al (1969) carried out a study whose objective was to check if a group of participants identified as consistent minorities had the potential to influence a majority so that they provide a wrong answer in a test given to perceive colours. In total, the research consisted of 32 groups, each made up of six women. Of the six women, there were two confederates per group. The researchers showed each of the groups 36 blue-coloured slides whose intensity differed slightly. Next, the researchers asked study participants requested the confederates to verbally describe their perception of colour on each slide, followed by the other participants. The confederates were uniform in their reply that the slides were green. The research findings showed that 8% of the time, study participants concurred with the minority in reporting that the slides seen were green. On the other hand, on one occasion, 32% of participants agreed with the findings of the minority. The study further revealed that conformance with the minority reduced by about 1.25% whenever the confederates gave an inconsistent finding.  The study by Moscovici et al thus identified consistency as a crucial aspect in the realisation of successful minority influence. Nonetheless, other factors also emerged. For example, minority influence increased with an increase in the size of the minority, while a high level of confidence in minorities’ perception was associated with increased influence. These findings led Moscovici et al (1969) to arrive at a conclusion that while the majority are likely to conform to minority influence, consistency remains a crucial aspect.

Before the study by Moscovici, social scientists relied mainly on the influence of majorities within groups. Accordingly, the findings of this paper were timely in the development of minority influence as an influential and legitimate concept as far as intra-group research is concerned. However, the study has come under criticism on grounds that since the research was conducted in the laboratory setting, the artificiality of such a location cannot be replicated in real-life situations as the prevailing majority opinion is likely to be influenced by the views of such minorities, such as pressure groups. The study has also been criticised as participants were obviously rigidly inflexible, and this should not be so apparent in an experiment. The minority are generally ‘powerless’ in comparison with the majority and hence flexible. For this reason, they are expected to be ready to negotiate their stance. However, such flexibility calls for balance. Being too flexible could be a sign of inconsistency while being too rigid is suggestive of narrow-mindedness. However, the minority is still expected to remain consistent in their views, as a means of protecting them against possible exploitation.

Study 2: Moscovici & Lage (1976)

The research by Moscovici and Lage (1976) assumed the form of an experimental study whose aim was to explore the argument that a minority can influence the majority if they identify and stick to a consistent view. The study procedure involved two confederates and four real participants. In this experiment, the minority of two confederates reported that a slide was ‘green’ although it had a ‘blue-green’ colour. Moscovici and Lage (1976) further revealed that the minority of the confederates managed to influence more than a third (32 percent) of study participants to give one wrong judgement, at a minimum, in identifying the colour of the slides. Furthermore, the researcher noted that participants went on to provide wrong responses long after the two confederates had exited the study. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the minority can influence the views of the majority, as long as they are able to uphold a consistent view.  One of the key strengths of this study is that it was carried out in a laboratory setting, thereby increasing its accuracy, replicability, and controls. The experiment also involved numerous trials, and this increased its reliability. The researcher increased study validity through the method and data triangulation. The strength of the study is the use of a control group to not only reveal a cause-and-effect relationship but also to compare the results.   The study helped to uncover a crucial aspect of conformity by offering a different perspective on the factors that influence conformity.  In this way, the study acts as an improvement on the theory of conformity as provided for and applied in Asch’s original study.

Study 3: Wood et al. 1994

Wood et al was a meta-analysis consisting of a total of 97 studies to explore the social influence process. The researcher evaluated these 97 minority-influence experiments with the aim of determining the influence of minority opinions on majority views. In particular, Wood et al (1994) were interested in reviewing three forms of influence namely, public judgement change; private change regarding issues that are directly connected worth the appeal; and private change regarding issues indirectly connected with an appeal. Study findings revealed that minority influence was more pronounced on measures of influence indirectly connected with the appeal as well as private from the sources, but less pronounced on p[public measures as well as direct private influence measures. Minorities rely on a private validation process as a means of inducing conformity. This refers to a directed cognitive activity whose intention is to enable the researcher to gain an understanding of why the minority almost always gives the same opinion

Such an attenuated influence of minorities on direct public and private measures is indicative of the fact that when faced with normative pressures, recipients regularly respond by desisting from associating themselves with a deviant source (Pratkanis 2011). After Wood et al (1994) had carried out mediator analyses, it emerged that minorities viewed as being consistent in the articulation of their arguments tended to be more influential than those who were less consistent. This finding is similar to the one that Moscovici et al (1969) found in their study, where consistency acted as a driving force for minority influence.  On the other hand, Wood et al. (1994) found out that majorities had more direct private influence in comparison with minorities, meaning that majorities are in a position to produce conversion just like minorities. However, this finding contradicts the findings of Moscovici et al (1969). Nevertheless, the patterns of influence that Wood et al. 1994 identified from their meta-analysis were in alignment with the dual-process model that Moscovici reported. This promoted Wood et al to opine that social influence occurs because Ss have no intention of being associated with deviant social groups, as opposed to as a result of diverse cognitive processes. This is in keeping with the findings of various studies that revealed limited direct private agreement after they had described their minority source as belonging to one of the minority social groups (for example, racial feminists or homosexual students).

Conclusion

From the findings of the three studies discussed above, it is quite evident that minority influence is much more time-consuming and difficult than majority influence. In addition, it leads to conversion, unlike majority influence which leads to compliance.  Moscovici found that confidence and consistency result in a higher likelihood of minority influence. If at the minority are to influence the majority into challenging their perspective, they must be seen to behave in a consistent manner. Moreover, the various individuals in a minority group must also be seen to be in agreement with their viewpoints. However, when minorities are inconsistent in their viewpoints, they cease enjoying real influence on the majority. Moscovici and Lage also found that by retaining a consistent proposition, minorities had a higher probability of influencing the views of the majority.  Elsewhere, Wood et al. Report that the effects of social influence are largely associated with the social aversion to deviant minorities and less to varying levels of processing.

References

Dreu, C.K.W & De Vries, N.K (2001), Group Consensus and Minority Influence: Implications for Innovation, New York: Psychology Press.

Moscovici, S, Lage, E & Naffrechoux, M. (1969),’ Influence of a consistent minority on the responses of a majority in a color perception task’, Sociometry, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 365-380.

Moscovici, S (1976), Social influence and social change, New York: Academic Press.

Moscovici, S & Lage, E (1976),’Studies in social infleunce III: Majority versus minority influence in a group’, European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 149-174.

Pratkanis, A.R. (2011), The Science of Social Influence: Advances and Future Progress, New York: Psychology Press.

Wood W, Lundgren S, Ouellette J, Busceme S, Blackstone T. (1994),’ Minority influence: a meta-analytic review of social influence processes’, Psychol. Bull., vol. 115, pp. 323-45.

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