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social influence

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The objective of this essay is to identify the meaning of social influence and to ascertain if personality plays a part in an individual’s decision to obey and conform to social norms. It will address how social influence is in regard to the study of how thoughts, feelings and behaviour of individuals are influenced by actual, imagined or implied presence of others (Allport, 1968).
Research has shown that an individual’s personality is made up of a number of important characteristics and behaviours, including feelings, attitude, interaction, motivation and individual values. Theorists have suggested that in psychology, the studies and theories in relation to personality are extremely varied and each one offers different perspective. Personality can be measured in a variety of ways such as case studies of behaviour, psychometric testing, observations and interviews, which overall measure types of personality identifying strengths and weaknesses in overall attitude and ability. Behavioural theories suggest that personality is a result of interaction between the individual and the environment. Behavioral theorists make observations and measure the trends in behaviour, rejecting theories that take internal thoughts and feelings into account. According to behavioral theorist Skinner (1938), any behaviour that is positively reinforced or rewarded will repeat itself and will increase over a period of time, ultimately becoming a habit (www.ehow.co.uk 2013). However, most of Skinner's experiments were done with laboratory animals, not with human beings and were therefore open to criticism as this was not an easy method to be analyzed. Humanist theorists are in favour of individual experience in the creation of personality emphasize the concept of self-actualization, which is an innate need for personal growth that motivates behaviour. Humanist theorist Rogers (1959) believed that individuals want to feel, experience and behave in ways which are consistent with self-image and which reflect what a person would like to be like, known as ideal-self. The closer an individual’s self-image and ideal-self are to each other, the more consistent a person’s sense of self-worth. A person is said to be in a ‘state of incongruence’ if some of the totality of their experience is unacceptable to them and is denied or distorted in the self-image (www.simplypsychology.org 2013).
According to the trait theory, personality is made up of a number of broad traits which are characteristics that cause an individual to behave in certain ways. One of the most well-known trait theories is that of Eysenck's five factor theory of personality. This model represents five core traits that interact to form human personality. While researchers often disagree about the correct label for each dimension, they are described most commonly as extraversion, agreeableness, consciousness, neuroticism, and openness. Whilst it is highly agreed that people can be described based upon their personality traits, theorists continue to argue the actual make up of human personality. However, criticisms of trait theory center on the fact that traits are often poor predictors of behaviour as an individual may score high on assessments of a specific trait, and he or she may not always behave that way in every situation. Another problem is that trait theories do not address how or why individual differences in personality develop. (http://psychology.about.com 2013)
Psychodynamic theories of personality are heavily influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, whose theories explore unconscious mind and childhood experiences on personality. Psychodynamic theories include Sigmund Freud's psychosexual stage theory and Erik Erikson's stages of psycho-social development. Freud believed the three components of personality were the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is responsible for all needs and urges, while the superego for ideals and moral. The ego moderates between the demands of the id, the superego, and reality. There are however weaknesses in Freud’s theories as much of it is based on the subconscious which is something that cannot be objectively measured.
Experiments carried out by Miligram and Asch prove that individuals sometimes allow social influence to take over in order to feel accepted or because they are unsure of the right way to behave. Within particular groups, there are accepted ways of thinking and behaving which are known as social norms, which can cause pressure for individuals to maintain these beliefs, known as conformity. Individuals conform if they choose to do something considered socially acceptable by the main majority. The individual is influenced how the majority thinks or behaves and this is known as majority influence. However, if an individual conforms to such course of action, this may not suggest they have changed their own personal thoughts, but have done so in order to fit into the majority and be accepted within the norms of the group (www.simplypsychology.org 2013). Asch (1951 1956) conducted an experiment to discover the level at which an individual would go to in order to conform, even in the most straight forward situations. Asch’s experiment involved seven people, six of whom were confederates, and the other who was believed to be carrying out a genuine vision test. The findings revealed that when the real participant was put under immense group pressure, the need to conform was strong, when clearly it was the wrong answer. This form of conformity is initiated as a way to be liked and be accepted the group. It seems reasonable to suggest that in an uncertain situation, people look to others to get some ideas about a sensible answer. Obedience to authority however, discusses an alternative type of social influence whereby someone acts in response to a direct order from a figure with perceived authority. Milgram (1963) investigated whether ordinary people would obey a legitimate authority figure, even when required to injure another person. In the study, the findings suggest that ordinary people can relent to obedience to authority, even when asked to behave in a callous manner proving that by having committed oneself to a particular course of action; it becomes difficult for participants to change their mind. Entering an authority system, Milgram claimed the individual no longer views themselves as acting out of their own belief, but sees themselves as agents for another (www.alevelpsychology.co.uk 2013).
Attribution theory is an explanation of why people explain happenings and actions as they do. Heider (1958) believed that people are naive psychologists trying to make sense of the social world. Jones and Davis (1965) thought that people pay particular attention to intentional behavior instead of accidental or unthinking behavior (www.simplypsychology.org 2013). In attribution theory, there are two explanations for an event or an action. One is internal, and it means the explanation stems from the fact that someone or something is motivated by internal forces. On the other hand, when an event or an action occurs and it is believed to of been caused by matters out of a person’s control, this is known as external attribution. However, attribution theory is not consistent as it allows people to pass on the responsibility for individual blame to external factors, while holding people personally responsible for mistakes they have made (www.wisegeek.com 2013).
To conclude, society itself can influence the behaviour of people in many ways. Examples of this are that certain laws are made through the government, the development and belief in values, ethics and morals, being influenced through school structures and in particular, the media plays a major factor. But the main reason why a society can control the behaviour of most people is our instinctive need for automatic development and maturity. There seems to be a natural preference within the human psyche to behave in a moral or ethical manner (Schueler, 1997).

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