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Discuss research into the role of social influence in social change. [16 marks]

Social influence research has demonstrated processes involved in social change. Social change is when a whole society adopts a new belief or behaviour which becomes widely accepted as the norm which was not before. These processes involve consistency, commitment and flexibility.

Committed minorities, such as those who risk themselves for their cause has an effect on the majority through an augmentation principle, this means the majority value the importance of the cause - as the minority are risking their lives for it.

Through these processes more and more of the majority will gradually change towards the cause resulting in the snowball effect which will ultimately result in societal change, once this has happened social cryptomnesia occurs which is when people can remember a change but not how it came about.

A similar effect was found by Moscovici, who investigated the importance of consistency. He had a group of 6 participants and a range of blue/ green slides varying in intensity - they all had to state the colour they saw.

The study had two conditions, confederates who consistently said green and an inconsistent group and a control group with no confederates. He found that the consistent minority group had a greater effect on the other participants than the inconsistent group. This confirms that consistency is a major factor in minority influence.

Further social influence research from Asch and Milgram demonstrates that a minority can have an affect on the majority - both studies involved a dissenter or disobedient role model who influenced the behaviour of the majority. However, there are methodological issues in these areas of research: these studies are both based on artificial tasks (judging line lengths).

In reality the issues involved in social change have much more meaning to the individual, therefore findings of these studies lack external validity are are limited in their explanation about how minority influence works in real life situations.

The application of minority influence is further limited due to the importance of identification which is overlooked in minority influence research. Psychologists have suggested that people are less likely to behave in environmentally friendly ways due to the negative connotations associated with them (“tree huggers”).

Minorities wanting social change should avoid behaviours that reinforce social change - essentially off-putting to the majority. This suggests that being able to identify with a minority group is just as important as agreeing with their views in order to change the behaviour of the major.

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