Social Influence and Conformity Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :


Social influence plays a major role in determining the extent to which people conform to norms in their environment. Social psychologists point to a variety of data that shows how impactful on the behaviors of individuals social factors can be. Bandura (2018) used his cognitive learning theory to show that “social cognitive theory is founded on an agentic perspective” that issues agency operation in a “triadic codetermination process of causation” (p. 130). In other words, Bandura (2018) showed that there are individual, proxy and collective agencies that impact an individual’s sense of self and that dictate how that person will conform to what is seen from the various agencies that provide meaningful inputs. Those agencies can consist of other people, other groups, or media, and they form the perspective and ideas that motivate human behavior. An individual’s psychology and behavior is thus determined by the person’s exposure to these agencies over time, which is why social influence is such a major factor in conformity. This paper will discuss social influence and conformity to show how the former leads to the latter.

Media as Social Influencer

The media is one of the most powerful agents in determining human behavior and in getting people to conform to a particular idea, ideal, or type (Chandra et al., 2008). This notion was put forward by critical theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno of the Frankfurt School in their seminal work The Culture Industry (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1944). The premise of their work was that popular media is simply a tool of the state and of the ruling classes: it is used to mold and shape the behaviors, attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of the mass of people who subsist under the ruling class. The state will use media to produce conformity in the public. This concept has been described in various disciplines wherein researchers have delved into social psychology to explain phenomena like the “CNN effect,” the “FoxNews effect” or the way in which “soft power” is used to create conformity of beliefs about what the state should do about a foreign country’s dictator (DellaVigna & Kaplan, 2007; Seib, 2009). Media plays an enormous role in determining the extent to which there will be conformity of viewpoint and opinion among the public.

The reason media is so powerful as one of the three social agencies that shape public behavior and beliefs is that acts on the passive viewer who absorbs the information that is presented typically without thinking about it critically. Bandura (2018) notes that people are more likely to buy into an idea that is presented to them on a socially accepted platform—i.e., the news—on public television (which can be found everywhere in public these days, from restaurants to airports) because the accept the authority of those on the TV and do not have a frame of reference that allows them to oppose the ideas on the TV or to think critically about them. Rather they allow the message communicated to act as a governing voice within their own minds, which propels them into a state of conformity with all the other individuals who are in the audience. In the film Network written by Paddy Chayesfky, the main character laments the fact that so many individuals in the audience eat, drink, think and act like “the tube” without even stopping to question why they model their every moment and behavior to reflect what they see on the TV. They conform to the values, styles, and ideas and actions communicated via popular media and thus everyone in the audience becomes a conformist to the…

[…… middle part of this paper is missing, click here to view the entire document ]

…is so high. On the other hand, individual social influences can also have a repellant effect in terms of driving a person away from conformity. The person may feel that the individual with whom he has come into contact does not offer anything satisfactory or in the way of having any of the person’s needs met, so there is no need to conform to that person’s world view, ideas, beliefs, attitudes, behavior and so on. As Maslow (1943) explains there has to be some trade-off between a need being met and something given in return. Bandura (2018) suggests that the trade-off is one of psychological satisfaction, which can be associated with a social need, such as belonging.


Social influence and conformity go together according to the theory of human agency, as applied by Bandura (2018): there are three main agencies—media, groups and individuals (peers or families). Each of these social agencies is responsible for influencing human behavior and can lead to the development of conforming actions. People have social needs that have to be met once their physical needs are met, according to Maslow’s (1943) theory of the hierarchy of needs. Conformity to the beliefs, expressions, attitudes, ideas, actions or viewpoints of others, as obtained through media, formal or informal groups, or other individuals, is part of that process of having the social needs met. Maslow (1943) points out that these needs can include a need to enhance one’s self-esteem, one’s sense of belonging, or one’s sense of self-actualization. Conformity is enacted by individuals because they want to be accepted, they want to put into practice the ideas they have come to know, or they want to belong to a group, have a relationship, or show their devotion to a particular concept seen in media. When there is disagreement between the…

Sources Used in Document:


Bandura, A. (2018). Toward a psychology of human agency: Pathways and reflections. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 130-136.

Chandra, A., Martino, S. C., Collins, R. L., Elliott, M. N., Berry, S. H., Kanouse, D. E., & Miu, A. (2008). Does watching sex on television predict teen pregnancy? Findings from a national longitudinal survey of youth. Pediatrics, 122(5), 1047-1054.

DellaVigna, S., & Kaplan, E. (2007). The Fox News effect: Media bias and voting. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(3), 1187-1234.

Hartman, R. L., & Johnson, J. D. (1990). Formal and informal group communication structures: An examination of their relationship to role ambiguity. Social Networks, 12(2), 127-151.

Horkheimer, M. & Adorno, T. (1944). The Culture Industry. UK: Routledge.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370.

Seib, P. (2009). Public diplomacy and journalism. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(5), 772-786.


Cite This Research Paper:

"Social Influence And Conformity" (2019, February 26) Retrieved July 20, 2019, from

"Social Influence And Conformity" 26 February 2019. Web.20 July. 2019. <>

"Social Influence And Conformity", 26 February 2019, Accessed.20 July. 2019,