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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.

Course Breakdown

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.

A group influenced to dance to the most popular obedience-based pop song of all time.

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.

  • Course Length: 3 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, College
  • Course Type: Short Course
  • Category:
    • History and Social Science
    • High School

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