14 Social Influence and Group Behavior

Personality and Social Psychology


  1. Donelson R. Forsyth PhD

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop205014

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Forsyth, D. R. 2012. Social Influence and Group Behavior. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 5:II:14.

Author Information

  1. University of Richmond, Department of Psychology, Richmond, Virginia, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


The concept of social influence is the cornerstone of social psychology; people would not be social beings if they were not influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. If humans were guided only by their personal interests and idiosyncratic goals, even the most simple of collaborative undertakings would end in failure. People must be sensitive to, make use of, and in many cases change in response to social influence. Early studies of such topics as the psychology of crowds, the development of norms, reference groups, and leadership provided a foundation for the scientific analysis of three sets of social influence processes: conformity, compliance, and obedience. Because of both normative and informational influence, individuals often conform to the standards set by other people, although dissenting individuals sometimes succeed in eventually changing the majority's opinion. Compliance, like conformity, involves a change in opinions, judgments, or actions, but this change results when one person deliberately tries to influence another person. Obedience is also a relatively direct form of influence: a change in behavior to match the dictates of a person who occupies a position of social power. Research, including Milgram's behavioral study of obedience, suggests that those who control key bases of power can compel individuals to obey even when they would rather resist this social pressure, but that those who occupy positions of power in a social organization experience psychological changes that can cause them to misuse their authority.


  • social influence;
  • conformity;
  • compliance;
  • obedience;
  • social power