Who Discovered Social Influence Theory?


Vincent White

Who Discovered Social Influence Theory?

Social influence theory, also known as social psychology, is a field of study that focuses on how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by others. It explores the ways in which individuals are influenced by their social environment, including the presence of others and the social norms that exist within a given context.

The Origins of Social Influence Theory

The foundations of social influence theory can be traced back to the work of several influential psychologists who sought to understand why people conform to societal expectations and how they are influenced by those around them. One such pioneer in this field was Muzafer Sherif.

Muzafer Sherif was a Turkish-American psychologist who conducted groundbreaking experiments in the 1930s that laid the groundwork for our understanding of social influence. His most famous study, known as the Robbers Cave experiment, demonstrated how intergroup conflict can be created and reduced through cooperative activities.

The Robbers Cave Experiment

In the Robbers Cave experiment, Sherif divided a group of 22 boys at a summer camp into two groups. The boys were unaware that they were part of an experiment and believed they were simply attending a regular summer camp. The two groups were kept separate from each other and developed their own identities and group norms.

Sherif then introduced competition between the two groups through various activities such as sports tournaments. This led to hostility and animosity between the groups, with each group developing negative stereotypes about the other.

Next, Sherif implemented strategies to reduce intergroup conflict by introducing situations that required cooperation between both groups. This included tasks like fixing a truck together or sharing common resources.

Over time, these shared goals and cooperative activities led to the reduction of intergroup conflict and the development of more positive attitudes between the groups. The boys began to see themselves as part of a larger, unified group rather than separate factions.

Impact and Further Development

Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment had a profound impact on the field of social influence theory. It demonstrated that intergroup conflict could be reduced through cooperation, highlighting the importance of shared goals and common interests in promoting positive social relationships.

Further research in social influence theory built upon Sherif’s work, exploring various factors that contribute to conformity and obedience. Psychologists such as Solomon Asch, Stanley Milgram, and Philip Zimbardo conducted experiments that shed light on how individuals are influenced by authority figures, peer pressure, and situational factors.


Social influence theory is a fascinating field of study that examines how individuals are influenced by their social environment. Muzafer Sherif’s pioneering work in the Robbers Cave experiment paved the way for further research in this area, demonstrating the power of cooperation in reducing intergroup conflict. By understanding the origins of social influence theory, we can gain insight into why people conform to societal expectations and how they are influenced by those around them.