Studies in social influence: I. Those absent are in the right: Convergence and polarization of answers in the course of a social interaction



The theories of social influence assert that: a) the existing dependence on the source of influence and hence the presence of the latter, is the cause of the above changes, b) the effective qualities of the stimulus or those which are attributed to it - ambiguity, clarity and certitude, etc., - can be seen in the divergence or convergence of the estimations made on the stimulus have an independent effect from the relations which exist between this source and its target. In this research OUI aim is to question both postulates by using a very well know phenomenon. On the one hand we have shown that the style of behaviour of the source, its consistency, is sufficient to produce the desired influence. On the other hand, we have shown that if this behaviour creates a conflict of response, the subject will adopt the proposed response on the condition that he has done so of his own free will and not because of having given in under pressure. That is why an absent source of influence can be successfull; the subject has the impression of approaching it without giving in to it, while the presence of a source of influence causes the polarization, this being the only means for the subject to preserve his independence. The experimental paradigm used is the same as that of Sherif. Dozens of experiments have shown that the greater the distance between the stooge subjects and the naive subjects, the greater the tendency for response polarization. In the control situation where subjects were confronted with a constant stoodge for the entire duration of the experiment, we obtained the same results. In the experimental situation where the stooge would leave the room with a justified excuse before the end of the experiment, we have found a trend converging towards his judgements. The polarization phenomenon is therefore due to the relation between the source and the target of influence, to the meaning which is assigned to the distances of judgment rather than to the distances themselves. Moreover, the withdrawal of the source in no way diminishes its influence and so, those who are absent are sometimes right.