Psychology of Influence
Simon Says: Take this course.
Nirvana might ask you to "Come As You Are," and Madonna might want you to "Express Yourself," but when push comes to shove, humans are crazy-inclined to follow the crowd. (How else do you explain your Furby collection?)
In this course, we'll enjoy some Social Psychology 101 and examine how we as humans change due to our desire to fit in and please the people around us. With assignments, readings, and Common Core-aligned activities, we'll cover
- why your behavior changes depending on who's around you.
- how we lose sense of our personal values when we're surrounded by a large crowd. (Hello, Mean Girls.)
- ways in which culture affects group behaviors and expectations.
- the differences between obedience, conformity, and compliance.
Unit 1. Psychology of Influence
This short course will teach you why "everybody's doin' it" is a persuasive argument. We'll cover topics like identity, obedience, conformity, cognitive dissonance, and false consensus. Come on...everybody's doing it.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 2: Simon Says: Complete This Lesson
We have a psychic prediction that you're not reading this course by choice. There's maybe a 95% chance that a teacher assigned you to do it.
And that's okay! It's common knowledge that a person in a position of authority holds a lot of power over individual and group behavior.
Teacher commands, students obey. You graduate, you become a group's supervisor, you command, they obey.
To get nit-picky, there are three basic ways that people modify their behavior due to group influence:
- Obedience: following a direct command.
- Compliance: being persuaded by an order you don't really believe in
- Conformity: when you change the ways you act to fit in to group...without being told to (spooky!)
We'll be using these phrases a lot during this course, just to warn you.
The type of behavioral change that occurs—conformity, compliance, or obedience—depends on the situation.
Obedience happens when an authority figure tells you what to do and you do it, in a straightforward way. We're often obedient towards a parent, a policeman, or a super-charismatic friend. We trust their command will lead to something positive, so we do it.
Compliance is a little murkier: it's obedience that involves doing what you wouldn't usually do, or giving in. (Don't worry, we'll get into it more in our readings.)
If there's no single person in charge and you're in a group situation, things become more interesting. People conform modify their behavior by doing what appears to be "normal" around them in a group, either consciously or unconsciously.
For example, let's say on our new friends' suggestions we bought a vintage Nirvana t-shirt. That's some pretty conscious group influence. But if we go to a concert and, without planning to, join in a giant mosh pit and start shoving people around with our friends, we've conformed to the group.
Nice new shirt, by the way. Group influence really looks good on you.
In our last lesson, we learned about social identities and group membership. In this lesson, we'll learn how to exploit them. While obedience, compliance, and conformity are totally normal things that happen every day, they can lead to some darker and more twisted decisions.
Cue: ominous music.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2: Simon Says: Complete These Readings
Changing behavior—whether you're trying to change yourself or someone around you—is a complicated thing. Before we move on to the cloudy, morally gray concept of influence, we have to fully understand obedience, compliance, and conformity.
For conformity, read one of Solomon Asch's many experiments to see how intelligent people follow the majority and quickly switch to an incorrect opinion without being told to.
For compliance, head over to a review of a recent film about a shocking and morally corrupt "social experiment." The 2012 film was called, shockingly enough, Compliance.
For obedience, meet The Milgram Experiment . We'll refer to The Milgram Experiment at least ten times in our course; you'll be best friends in no time.
Once you've read these three articles, you'll probably be pretty depressed about how easy it is to be a follower.
But on the bright side, you should also be able to explain the difference between obedience, conformity, and compliance. So, uh, that's cool, right?
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2: Case Studies: Take 1
As an aspiring psychologist and generally savvy human being, you should view all social interactions as a potential case study: a descriptive written analysis of a person, group, or event that reveals psychological beliefs and motivations. In this activity, we'll practice writing mini case studies about each of the three psychological experiments we just read about.
Let's set some guidelines. A case study should include:
- Background information: Where and when did this study occur? Who was the experimenter who started the study? Who were the participants?
- Motivation: What traditional behavior or action did the experiment set out to test? What, if any, was the experimenter's hypothesis?
- Testing Conditions: Give a summary—what happened during the experiment?
- Conclusion: What did we learn once the study was complete, both about these participants and bigger picture? Was the experimenter's hypothesis proven or disproven?
Mini case studies should be one or two paragraphs long, 150-200 words each.
Be patient: unless you're an under-the-radar social scientist, this is your first case study. As long as you show perfect compliance to our guidelines, it'll be perfect.