Normative social influence theory is a concept that explains how individuals conform to the norms of a group or society in order to be accepted and avoid rejection. This theory was first introduced by psychologist Muzafer Sherif in the 1930s, and it has since been studied extensively in social psychology.

What Is Normative Social Influence?

Normative social influence occurs when individuals conform to the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of a group because they want to fit in and be accepted. This form of conformity is driven by the desire to avoid rejection and gain social approval.

For example, imagine that you are at a party with a group of people who are all wearing similar outfits. You may feel pressured to conform to their style in order to be accepted and avoid standing out from the group.

Factors That Influence Normative Social Influence

There are several factors that can influence normative social influence. One of the most important is the size and unanimity of the group. Individuals are more likely to conform when they are in a larger group or when there is complete agreement among group members.

Another important factor is the importance of being part of the group. Individuals who highly value their membership in a particular group are more likely to conform to its norms.

Additionally, normative social influence can be influenced by cultural values and individual personality traits. For example, individuals from collectivistic cultures may be more likely to conform than those from individualistic cultures.

The Asch Conformity Experiment

One of the most famous experiments on normative social influence was conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s. In this experiment, participants were asked to match the length of a line to three other lines. However, they were in a group with confederates who purposely gave incorrect answers.

The results showed that participants conformed to the incorrect answers given by the group in order to avoid standing out and being rejected. This experiment demonstrated how powerful normative social influence can be in shaping behavior.

The Role of Normative Social Influence in Society

Normative social influence plays an important role in society by helping to maintain social order and cohesion. It allows individuals to conform to the norms and values of their culture, which creates a sense of unity and shared identity.

However, normative social influence can also have negative consequences, particularly when it leads individuals to engage in harmful or unethical behaviors. For example, conformity to societal norms has been implicated in acts of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.


Overall, normative social influence theory helps us understand how individuals conform to the norms of their groups and societies. By studying this theory, we can gain insights into human behavior and better understand how social pressure can shape our beliefs and actions.