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Arguments of Direct and Indirect Social Influences

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1940 words Published: 18th May 2020

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There is much debate whether deliberation about subjective issues have a stronger effect on the outcome or is it heavily influenced by the thoughts and sentiments of others in society. While individuals are more prone to rely on the former, it is often that in reality people’s opinions are shaped by and are interdependent on others. Factors such as cultural norms, social interactions and mass media all influence social behavior, either directly or indirectly. Social influence is the aggregate of all the effects of each of these influences. It is described as individuals behaving in accordance with the expectations and principles of other individuals (Kahan, 1997).

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Social influence falls under two categories; direct and indirect. Direct social influence is a consequence of an individual swaying another individual’s opinion first hand, often through means of persuasion or manipulation. Indirect social influence exhibits subtle psychological proclivities in which an individual’s opinion or conduct is effected due to the information available on the other individual’s actions (Mavrodiev, Tessone and Schweitzer, 2013).

A prerequisite for theoretical work in this arena is to identify a social structure coupled with instruments through which the influence exerted within that social structure is adopted by the individual (Castellano, Fortunato and Loreto, 2009). Usually, individuals are considered to form behaviors in a social network, often of their own acquaintances, in which they experience a web of intricate interpersonal influences.

In 1956, French proposed the social power theory in which an interaction network represents the social structure explicitly. It postulates that an individual’s opinion is influenced in a way that he adopts the mean of the opinion of those in his social network and his own. This theory predicts that masses that are connected to each other will invariably reach some form of consensus, provided that there is a substantial amount of available knowledge of others opinions (French, 1956).

Additionally, mathematicians and social psychologists have furthered the theory of social power by building upon it. Some noticeable work accounts for greater averaging of the opinions of others (Friedkin, 1986).  Specifically, in his social impact theory (Latane, 1981), Latane provided several noteworthy quantitative contributions which elaborated through empirical evidence that individuals who have adopted a particular groups opinion are the power function of the size of the group whose opinions they have conformed to (Jackson, 1987).

Further research into individual identity in relation to a group shows how individual opinion is affected. Especially in interaction network models, results increasingly showed that individual responses tend to be non-linear. An example of this is opinion fragmentation that is a result of the intricacies of interpersonal influences stemming from group norms (Groeber, Schweitzer and Press, 2009).

Presently, group norms can be described as the average reaction of individuals to a given situation. There are two prevalent categories of group norms, namely descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive group norms have a strong influence on the behavior of individuals, especially in circumstances of mutual interdependence, apart from different interaction norms (Cialdini, Reno and Kallgren, 1990).

For example, Schroeder discovered that the behavior of individuals is majorly influenced by the actions and sentiments of other individuals in which the members of the group share a communal pool of points (Schroeder et al., 1983). Participants of this group are seen to conform immediately to the knowledge of other individuals consumption behavior. To explain further, Schroeder argued that the situation is more readily defined when the knowledge of consumption behavior of other individuals is available. This helps decrease any uncertainty of the way to act in a commons dilemma in which the immediate welfare of the individuals as well as the long-term combined welfare are in conflict (Schroeder et al., 1983).

Additional laboratory studies have examined the boundary requisites required for conforming to manage resources for a common pool. For example, people expressed a greater desire to follow the opinions and sentiments of a group when they associated the primary cause of having access to a large sized common pool of resources to the group (Messick, 1991).

When natural reasons, such as the decreasing rate of regeneration, was the cause of the common pool resource size, individuals were less likely to conform and more likely to act increasingly ecologically efficient. For example, a field study in California for the conservation of water proved this phenomenon. Individuals who consumed more than the allocated amount of water showed increasing proclivities to believe that other individuals who consumed more water caused the shortage. Whereas those individuals who only consumed the amount allocated to them believed that it was natural causes that led to the decreased water resource (Talarowski, 1982).

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In its entirety, this evidence has made it is safe to assume that group norms dictate the consumption behavior of individuals in relation to managing a common pool of resources. Additionally, the boundary requisites for individuals conforming behavior have been identified. An example of a boundary requisite for measuring effects of conformity is the distinction between the global pool of resources and the local one, thus identifying the physical distance between the individuals sharing the common pool resource (Brucks, Reips and Ryf, 2007).

When using a common pool of resources, the physical distance can differ vastly between the individuals involved. For example, individuals who share a global common pool resource, such as the oxygen on the planet, have great physical distances between them. On the other hand, when individuals are sharing a local common pool resource, such as the fresh water supply in their neighborhood, the physical difference between them is smaller, thus enabling their presence to have a more immediate effect on them (Brucks, Reips and Ryf, 2007).

According to Latane in his Social Impact Theory, the influence of group norms can be moderated through the physical distance between individuals. The Social Impact Theory states that social influence is made up of the strength, immediacy and the number of individuals in a growing manner. An important finding for the purpose of this theory is that the more immediate individuals are in respect to physical contact, space, and time, the greater the social impact on the actors involved. For example, a greater tendency to conform in consumption behavior can be noted if a smaller settlement with clear boundaries is set up to a local solar power system rather than sporadic houses in a much wider area that are connected to it. The former case has individuals living in closer space to each other than in individuals in the latter. Therefore, more individuals would show tendencies to follow others consumption patterns (Latane, 1981).

Thus, it is reasonable to state that individuals who share a local resource common pool have greater tendency to conform to the consumption sentiments and behavior patterns of other individuals than individuals who share a global resource common pool.

 In conclusion, the substantial evidence and theories posited by multiple social psychologists and mathematicians give insight into successfully managing the common pool resources.  Simultaneously, it also presents an opportunity for substantiating and furthering social psychology through research on environmental behavior. As the evidence gathered in this essay shows, the consumption behavior of involved actors collectively had a stronger impact on individuals in determining their own consumption behavior when others were in close proximity and the supposed behaviors of conformity were ecologically efficient. For example, conservation behavior in a compact neighborhood could be adopted by spreading conservational group norms through communication, particular when it maintains the ecological efficiency, such as during a disaster resulting in water shortage. If others are seen to be conserving water during an uncharacteristically hot and dry summer, others will tend to conform to the conservational group behavior also. This is not to say that group norms can always effectively manage common pool resources. For example, group norms for global common pool resources don’t necessarily prompt behavioral change despite the ecological demand in these situations. However, there is some hope for the sustainable use of global resources to find solutions. An example of this is the local behavior in response to the greenhouse effect, which is spreading due to private mobility, suggesting the need for smaller interpersonal distances plays a pivotal role in countering the problem.


  • Brucks, W., Reips, U. and Ryf, B. (2007). Group norms, physical distance, and ecological efficiency in common pool resource management. Social Influence, [online] 2(2), pp.112-135. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15534510701193436 [Accessed 14 May 2019].
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