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Social Impact Theory

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Social Impact Theory

Have your friends ever insisted that you skip class? Perhaps you hesitated, but they ridiculed you for being a coward. In the end, you gave in. If so, you have been exposed to what psychologists refer to as a social impact.

Social impact theory evaluation

Social impact theory attempts to explain conformity, alongside other group behaviours such as obedience to authority, majority and minority behaviour, and the idea of social influence as a whole. Social impact stems from the individual’s perception of events to feel influenced even if the others do not intend to influence them.

Social impact is when individuals or groups influence the thoughts or actions of others through their behaviour or even just their presence.

Social Impact Theory Individual standing out subject to social impact StudySmarter

Individual standing out subject to social impact, Canva

Social impact theory is crucial in this area and provides valuable information. Let’s go through some examples and their evaluation. Social impact theory explains the well-known concept of social identity theory, which describes why people behave differently depending on whether they belong to the majority or the minority. In doing so, it explains prejudice, why it occurs, and how to stop it.

It attempts to explain components of the social approach (the study of the social environment and its effects on people’s behaviour) as a whole. Social impact theory makes sense of studies such as Milgram’s obedience study. However, social impact theory is reductionist as it fails to consider the ability of the target to influence the source of influence.

Social impact theory is still being researched today; however, it is now called the dynamic social impact theory. The dynamic social impact theory is similar to the social impact theory, but considers the target of influence's ability to influence the source (person influencing). It views influence as a two-way exchange rather than a one-way street.

What are Latané’s (1981) three laws of behaviour in the social impact theory?

Latané suggested that there are three laws of behaviour in the social impact theory: social force, immediacy, and numbers. Let us look at them in detail.

Social force is when people feel pressured to change their behaviour or ideas when they disagree with the majority. This pressure can manifest itself in various ways, such as direct persuasion by others or jokes about people who do not fit in.

If your whole group of friends bought new trainers, your friends might make jokes about your old ones, prompting you to buy new ones too.

Several factors can affect the power of social force. Strength is the perceived power of the person exerting social force. If a friend tries to get you to stay after class to study, you are less likely to do so than if a teacher does the same. The teacher has more influence and power to affect your life than a friend.

Immediacy refers to the proximity of the social force in terms of distance and time.

You may find it easy to turn down plans a friend tried to arrange with you over text a few days ago, but it may be harder to say no if your friend is right in front of you.

The numbers refer to the idea that a group of people exerts more social force than a single person. It will always be harder to turn down plans with friends when the whole group is acting on you, rather than just a single friend, because they exert greater social force together. Latané has proposed a simple equation to calculate how much social influence there is in a given situation:

Social impact theory [+] Latane social impact equation [+] StudySmarter

Latané social impact equation, Jay Makepeace, StudySmarter Originals

In Milgram’s 7th variation, in which the researcher confederate gave commands over the phone, obedience decreased as immediacy was reduced.

What is psychosocial law?

The psychosocial law states that the more sources of social pressure in a situation (i.e., the more people come into your space), the more the additional effect plateaus. While there is a big difference between one person or five people trying to peer pressure you, there is not a big difference between 20 or 30 people trying to pressure you.

What is a division of impact?

Division of impact is the idea that social impact is equally distributed among those to whom it is directed. If your friends make fun of you for not wearing the latest trainers, there is less pressure to conform if you are not the only one they are making fun of.

This idea is known as diffusion of responsibility. It states that you feel less responsible and influenced when in a group than alone. Latané had a similar equation for calculating social influence for the idea of the distribution of influence:

Social impact theory [+] Latane division of impact equation [+] StudySmarter

Latané division of impact equation, Jay Makepeace, StudySmarter Originals

Milgram’s findings supported this idea of division of impact. The study found that participants felt less compelled to deliver shocks when they had peers who would not follow instructions.

Social impact theory examples

Numerous studies support the social impact theory. Let us take a look at some of the most notable.

Sedikides and Jackson (1990)

This study was a field experiment in a zoo in New York. A confederate had to ask visitors not to lean on the railings. Sedikides and Jackson subsequently observed the visitors’ behaviour. This experiment provided evidence for the ideas of strength, immediacy, and numbers in the following way:

IdeaDescription
Strength When the confederate was dressed as a zookeeper (thus perceived as a source of greater power and influence), visitors were more likely to obey (58%) than when they were wearing a T-shirt and shorts (36%).
Immediacy When the confederate was in the same room as the visitors, they obeyed 61% of the time. However, when they were further away, in another room, obedience dropped to only 7%.
Numbers The experiment found that visitors were less likely to obey in a larger group of about six (14%) than in smaller groups of one or two (60%).

French and Raven (1959)

French and Raven found that power, as claimed by Latané, affects people’s actions, thoughts, and feelings. They divided this idea of power into five different categories. These are:

  • Legitimate power is the perceived power that comes from a person’s seniority and the natural authority that comes with their role.
  • Reward power derives from a person’s ability to reward good behaviour and performance.
  • Expert power arises from the perception that someone has a high level of knowledge, skill or experience on the subject in question.
  • Referential power results from a person’s social standing and ability to be liked or even idolised by others.
  • Coercive power stems from a person’s ability to subdue others through coercion or force.

Darley and Latané (1968)

In this study, participants were placed in booths to discuss health issues. A confederate was instructed to fake a heart attack. Darley and Latané hypothesised that participants would be less willing to help if there were more people in the booth due to the idea of diffusion of responsibility.

When there was only one other participant in the booth, they attempted to help the confederate in most cases (85%). However, when two other people were present, this number dropped to only 62%. When four or more other participants were present, they attempted to help only 31% of the time. This study supports Latané’s idea of numbers and diffusion of responsibility.

Social Impact Theory - Key takeaways

  • Social impact is when individuals or groups influence the thoughts or actions of other individuals.
  • Social impact theory forms the background for many ideas and studies in psychology.
  • Three laws of behaviour exist in the social impact theory: social force, psychosocial law, and divisions of impact.
  • Factors that influence social force are strength, immediacy, and numbers.
  • Psychosocial law states that pressure plateaus when other sources of social pressure are added.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Impact Theory

The dynamic social impact theory is similar to the social impact theory, but considers the target of influence's ability to influence the source (person influencing). It views influence as a two-way exchange rather than a one-way street.

Social impact theory is reductionist as it fails to consider the ability of the target to influence the source of influence.

Social impact theory is important because it provides a background explanation for many theories and studies in social psychology.

Factors that influence social impact are strength, immediacy, and numbers.

Social impact theory attempts to explain conformity, alongside other group behaviours such as obedience to authority, majority and minority behaviour, and the idea of social influence as a whole.

Final Social Impact Theory Quiz

Question

What is social impact?

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Answer

Social impact is when people influence individuals’ thoughts or actions.

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Why is social impact theory important?

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Answer

Social impact theory provides a background to many ideas and studies in psychology.

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What are Latané’s three laws of behaviour?

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The three laws of behaviour are social force, psychosocial law, and divisions of impact.

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What is social force?

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Social force is the sense of pressure for people to change their behaviour or ideas if they don’t align with the majority.

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What are the three factors that affect social force?

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Factors that influence social force are strength, immediacy, and numbers.

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What is strength in social force?

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Strength is the perceived power and influence of a source of social force.

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What is immediacy in social force?

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Immediacy is the locational and temporal proximity of the source of social force.

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What is meant by ‘numbers’ in social force?

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In social force, ‘numbers’ refer to the idea that a group of people exert more social force than a single person.

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What is meant by psychosocial law?

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Psychosocial law is the idea that as sources of social pressure are added to a situation, the addition of pressure diminishes with each new source.

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What is division of impact?

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Answer

Division of impact is the idea that social impact is distributed equally among those to whom it is directed.

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What is the mathematical equation for social impact?

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The equation of social impact is i = f(SIN).

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What is the equation for division of impact?

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The equation for division of impact is i = f(1/SIN).

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According to French and Raven, what are the five types of power?

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The five types of power are legitimate, reward, expert, referent, and coercive.

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What is the diffusion of responsibility?

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The diffusion of responsibility is the idea that people feel individually less responsible for their actions if they are part of a larger group.

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How did Latané and Darley support the idea of diffusion of responsibility?

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Answer

Latané and Darley found that the more participants were present, the less they felt compelled to help the confederate having a ‘heart attack’.

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