What Is Social Power in Social Psychology?


Vincent White

Social power is a fascinating topic that has been studied extensively in the field of social psychology. It refers to the ability of an individual or a group to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others. In this article, we will explore what social power is, how it works, and its different forms.

What Is Social Power?

Social power can be defined as the ability to control or influence the behavior of others. It is a complex phenomenon that can manifest in various ways depending on the situation and context. Social psychologists have identified several forms of social power that individuals and groups can exert over others.

Types of Social Power

1. Coercive Power:

Coercive power is based on fear and intimidation.

It involves using threats, punishment or other negative consequences to control the behavior of others. For example, a boss may threaten to fire an employee who does not meet their performance Targets.

2. Reward Power:

Reward power is based on offering positive consequences or incentives for compliance. For instance, a teacher may promise good grades to students who work hard and submit assignments on time.

3. Legitimate Power:

Legitimate power comes from having an official position or role in society that gives one authority over others. Examples include police officers, judges, and politicians.

4. Expert Power:

Expert power is based on knowledge, skills or expertise in a particular subject area. People who possess expert power are seen as credible sources of information and advice.

5. Referent Power:

Referent power comes from being liked or respected by others. Individuals who possess referent power are seen as role models or people to emulate.

The Dynamics of Social Power

The dynamics of social power are complex and can vary depending on a variety of factors. For example, the amount of power that an individual or group has can depend on their position in society, their resources, and their level of support from others.

In addition, social power can be used in both positive and negative ways. For instance, a leader with legitimate power can use their authority to inspire and motivate others to achieve common goals. Conversely, a leader with coercive power may use fear and intimidation to control their followers.


In conclusion, social power is a complex phenomenon that plays a crucial role in shaping our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. By understanding the different types of social power and how they work, we can become more aware of the dynamics at play in our personal and professional lives. Whether we are seeking to exert influence over others or trying to resist the influence of others, knowledge about social power is an essential tool for navigating our complex social world.

  • Coercive Power: Based on fear and intimidation
  • Reward Power: Based on offering incentives for compliance
  • Legitimate Power: Based on official position or role in society
  • Expert Power: Based on knowledge or skills in a particular subject area
  • Referent Power: Based on being liked or respected by others

The Dynamics of Social Power:

The dynamics of social power are complex and can vary depending on a variety of factors such as:

  • Position in society
  • Resources available
  • Level of support from others

Social power can be used both positively and negatively.