What Is Social Influence Theory in Psychology?


Jane Flores

Social Influence Theory is a concept in psychology that describes how the behavior, thoughts, and feelings of an individual can be influenced by their interactions with others. The theory suggests that people are heavily influenced by the actions and beliefs of those around them, and this influence can shape their attitudes and behaviors.

Types of Social Influence

There are three main types of social influence:

  • Conformity: This occurs when individuals change their behavior or beliefs to align with those of a group.
  • Compliance: This happens when people change their behavior in response to a request or demand from someone else.
  • Obedience: This is when individuals follow orders from an authority figure.

The Role of Social Norms

Social norms are unwritten rules that dictate how people should behave in different situations. They play a significant role in social influence theory because they define what is considered acceptable behavior in a particular context. Individuals may conform to social norms to avoid rejection or gain approval from others.

The Asch Conformity Experiment

One famous experiment that demonstrated conformity was the Asch Conformity Experiment. Participants were asked to match the length of lines on cards.

However, they were influenced by confederates who purposely gave incorrect answers. The results showed that many participants conformed to the group’s wrong answer, even though they knew it was incorrect.

The Milgram Obedience Study

Another famous study that demonstrated obedience was the Milgram Obedience Study. Participants were asked to administer electric shocks to another person whenever they made an error on a task.

However, the other person was actually an actor pretending to receive shocks. Even though many participants were uncomfortable administering shocks, most continued following orders from the researcher.


Social influence theory highlights the importance of social interactions in shaping human behavior, thoughts, and emotions. It shows that individuals can be strongly influenced by others and their environment. Understanding this theory can help us better understand why people behave the way they do in different situations.