Social Influence Theory refers to the study of how an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by other people. It is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of factors including social norms, persuasion, conformity, compliance, and obedience.

The Basics of Social Influence Theory

According to Social Influence Theory, people are influenced by others in three primary ways:

1. Conformity: This refers to the tendency of individuals to adjust their beliefs and behaviors to match those of their peers or the group they belong to.

2. Compliance: Compliance involves changing one’s behavior in response to a request or demand made by another person.

3. Obedience: Obedience is a form of compliance where individuals follow the orders or commands of an authority figure.

Social Norms

Social norms are unwritten rules that govern behavior in a particular society or group. These norms can be explicit or implicit and can vary widely from culture to culture. They influence behavior by defining what is considered acceptable and unacceptable in a given situation.

For example, in some cultures it may be considered rude to speak loudly in public spaces while in others it may be perfectly acceptable. The pressure to conform to social norms can be strong and people who violate these norms often face social disapproval or rejection.


Persuasion refers to the process of convincing someone to change their beliefs or behaviors through communication. Persuasion can take many forms including advertising, marketing, propaganda, and political campaigns.

Effective persuasion often involves appealing to emotions such as fear, love or desire and using logical arguments backed up by credible evidence. Persuasive messages can also be influenced by factors such as the source of the message (e.g., a celebrity endorser) and the way the message is presented (e., using humor or fear-mongering).

Compliance and Obedience

Compliance and obedience are two forms of social influence that involve changing one’s behavior in response to requests or orders from others.

Compliance typically involves making a request that is easy to fulfill and does not require a significant change in behavior. For example, a salesperson may ask you to try a sample of their product in the hopes that you will be more likely to buy it.

Obedience, on the other hand, involves following orders or commands from an authority figure. In some cases, obedience can lead individuals to engage in behaviors that they would not normally do on their own (e., participating in unethical experiments).


Social Influence Theory is a complex and multifaceted area of study that sheds light on how people are influenced by those around them. By understanding the various ways that people can be influenced, we can better understand why people behave the way they do and how we can use this knowledge to create positive change in our communities.