Social Psychology – Social Impact Theory

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Social Impact Theory (SIT) РLatan̩ and Wolfe (1981)
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The social impact theory states that there are 2 types of people involved in social influences. Sources – those who provide the influence Targets – those who are the influenced
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The impact of this influence depends on 3 factors Number of sources Importance Immediacy
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Number of sources of influence – as the number of people who agree increases so does social impact, e.g. footballers surrounding a referee.
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If there are numerous sources, then the social impact theory states we are more likely to be influenced by them.
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However, there is a law of diminishing returns, two people, plus one more would have a significant impact, but an extra person making 254 instead of 253 who not make as much impact on the target.
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Importance – status, expertise, power, how important the influencing group of people is to you – e.g. the apprentice
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If the source is in a position of high power or status, then the social impact theory states that we are more likely to be influenced by them. When the target sees the other members of a group as competent, then they are more likely to give in and conform with their views.
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Sometimes there is a factor called compliance. This occurs when the sources enhance their strength by making the target feel obligated to the source. Often sources obtain obedience by wearing a uniform or bragging about who they are associated with.
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Immediacy – proximity, closeness in time and space, psychological proximity, emotional closeness, e.g. Gordon Ramsey
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If the source is psychologically, socially or physically close to the target, then the social impact theory states that we are more likely to be influenced by them.
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Milgram concluded that obedience rates were higher when instructions and commanded were issued in person and not from a remote location.
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Mathematical formula i= F(SIN)
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Impact will depend on the function of strength x immediacy x number i= magnitude of impact F= function S= strength f the sources I= immediacy of the sources N= number of the sources
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Supporting Studies
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Milgram’s variation of the telephonic orders provides support for immediacy. The authority figure was absent in this variation, this caused the obedience levels to drop. The proximity to the experimenter meant that obedience dropped because the authority figure was not in close proximity.
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Milgram’s variation of the office block provides support for importance.
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Obedience levels dropped when the experiment was conducted in the run down office block. This means that obedience dropped due to the experiment being in an office block and not Yale. This shows that the status of a place or person has impact upon obedience.
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Criticism of Supporting Studies
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Many of the supporting studies come from lab experiments. This means that the studies lack ecological validity. This means that demand characteristics may have occurred due to this.
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Different Theories
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Agency Theory could be a better theory of obedience. As it is about obedience specifically and explain that people are agents of those in authority in society. Whereas SIT was not designed to explain obedience but rather to explain how people are affected by the influence of others.
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Applications
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In theory, the formula should be generalizable to different cultures. As SIT claims that the features are present in all groups. Therefore, it doesn’t apply to one culture but can be generalized to all.
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This theory seems to oversimplify the nature of human interaction. It ignores individual differences, e.g. some of us are more resistant to social impact and some more passive. This means that the theory is deterministic.

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