Interpersonal Social Influence
Why do television comedies use canned audience laughter? Why do bartenders
often fill their tip jars from their own pocket before going on duty? Because
social proof is persuasive; the behavior of other people influences your own
behavior. But this begs another fundamental question: Why do you use other
people to learn about stuff anyway? Can't you just figure it out for yourself?
One answer is that you don't always know how you are supposed to act or behave.
In many everyday situations, you feel uncertain about what to think or how to
act or behave because you simply don't have enough information to make a good
or accurate choice. Fortunately, when you do not know what to do, you have a
powerful and useful source of information for how to proceed: the behavior and
actions of other people. Asking others or observing what they do helps you to
make your way through an otherwise novel or ambiguous situation. The behavior
and actions of other people provide social proof of what is the most frequent
and appropriate behavior for the situation. Social psychologists call this type
of influence Informational Social Influence.
Information is only one reason that leads you to conform to the behavior of
other people. Human beings, by nature, are social animals; you have to interact
with other people to be healthy and happy. There are important benefits to
having relationships with other people, such as love, affection, emotional
support, and, sometimes, a free meal. There also are important costs to being
alone. Research shows, for example, that people who live in isolation from
others tend to experience more stress, which can contribute to physical
illness. Living in isolation also tends to cause depression. Thus, it is
important to your physical and psychological well-being to have positive
relationships with other people.
Given this fundamental need for social companionship, it should not be
surprising that you often have to conform to be accepted by others. Simply put,
in order to belong, you have to live by other people's rules. The rules for
conduct set by others are commonly referred to as norms—socially shared rules
or standards for behavioral conduct. When you want to know how to behave in a
given situation, it is useful to understand the generally accepted rules or
standards for behavior set down by your group for that situation. Violation of
the rules means that you will be punished by the group and possibly excluded
from being in the group altogether.
Conformity for the sake of group membership is called Normative Social
Influence. Norms tell you what most people believe is the appropriate behavior,
and the power of a norm on your behavior depends on the power of others to
reward or punish you for conforming to their rules for conduct.
To prepare for this Discussion:
• Read Chapter 7 in the course text, Persuasion: Psychological Insights and
• Reflect on what the "rule of reciprocity" is and why it exists in
society. Determine if it operates based on informational or normative social
influence. Be sure you understand the examples of how reciprocity is used to
influence sales and other consumer behaviors. Be able to describe the steps
required to use the door-in-the-face strategy, and also consider some of the
ways in which it could be implemented incorrectly (as illustrated in Figure
• Think about how the behavior of others creates "social validation."
Determine if it is a form of informational or normative social influence. Be
sure you understand how you respond when you receive conflicting social
validation information. Be able to describe why similarity plays a role in
social validation and how to use the list technique to persuade.
• Consider some reasons for why it is important to appear consistent to others.
Think about why commitment is critical to this process, and determine if
consistency is driven primarily by informational or normative social influence.
• Review the steps involved in the four-walls technique and the
foot-in-the-door strategy. Think about why you would have trouble walking away
from an offer when someone uses a bait-and-switch or a low-ball strategy.
Consider why you would or would not be persuaded by a paltry-favors strategy.
• Reflect on the many ways in which people can persuade you by creating the
perception that they are your friend, that they like you, that they are
attractive or attracted to you, share similar attitudes and beliefs, or are an
authority figure. Determine which of these influence strategies operates based
on informational or normative social influence.
• Define scarcity and think about the two major reasons for why it is
persuasive. Determine whether it operates based on informational or normative
social influence. Consider whether you would experience psychological reactance
if someone used a scarcity strategy to influence your consumer behavior. Think
about how the different uses of the deadline technique can influence your
• Finally, consider the author's ideas about how you can avoid or resist being
influenced by these strategies.
With these thoughts in mind:
Post by Day 4 a description of a time when you were influenced by a
reciprocity, social validation, commitment, or scarcity strategy. Describe the
steps in the strategy that were used and explain the psychological process by
which the strategy influenced your attitudes and/or behavior. Determine if it
was informational or normative social influence. Finally, explain what you
could have done to avoid being influenced by the strategy. 2 to 3 paragraphs.
Be sure to support your postings and responses with specific references to the