Social influence can occur when a minority (small group) changes the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of a majority; this is known as minority influence.
Psychologists have identified different factors that can enhance the effectiveness of a minority, including: consistency, commitment and flexibility.
One of the most influential experiments of minority influence was conducted by Moscovici (1969). He wanted to see if a consistent minority could influence a majority to give an incorrect answer, in a colour perception task.
His sample consisted of 172 female participants who were told that they were taking part in a colour perception task. The participants were placed in groups of six and shown 36 slides, which were all varying shades of blue. The participants had state out loud the colour of each slide.
Two of the six participants were confederates and in one condition (consistent) the two confederates said that all 36 slides were green; in the second condition (inconsistent) the confederates said that 24 of the slides were green and 12 were blue.
Moscovici found that in the consistent condition, the real participants agreed on 8.2% of the trials, whereas in the inconsistent condition, the real participants only agreed on 1.25% of the trials. This shows that a consistent minority is 6.95% more effective than an inconsistent minority and that consistency is an important factor in minority influence.
Note: It is important to note that consistency and commitment are linked. If a minority is consistent in their view then they also are showing commitment to their cause. Another way a minority can show commitment is through sacrifices, which will be examined in the next section
Moscovici used a bias sample of 172 female participants from America. As a result, we are unable to generalise the results to other populations, for example male participants, and we cannot conclude that male participants would respond to minority influence in the same way. Furthermore, research often suggests that females are more likely to conform and therefore further research is required to determine the effect of minority influence on male participants.
Moscovici has also been criticised for deceiving his participants, as participants were told that they were taking part in a colour perception test. This also means that Moscovici did not gain fully informed consent. Although it is seen as unethical to deceive participants, Moscovici’s experiment required deception in order to achieve valid results. If the participants were aware of the true aim, they might have displayed demand characteristics and acted differently.
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