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Social Influence

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Social Influence

What would you do if someone asked you to take an ice cream from a baby? Assuming that this isn’t your usual behaviour what would make you follow the request? Would you do it if a friend dared you to? Or if a stranger told you to? What if the stranger was a doctor or the child’s parent? Or what if you knew the ice cream was poisoned?

In social influence, we investigate what it would take to change an individual’s thinking and behaviour. To cover the basics, let us first look at the definition of social influence. We will then examine the different types of social influence and social influence theories.

What is social influence?

Many different factors influence how we interact with our environment and social influence processes play a part in many different areas, including sales, marketing, peer pressure, socialisation, persuasion, obedience, and even large-scale political and social change.

Social influence is any change in behaviour, emotion or thinking that is caused by other individuals, even if their presence is only imagined, expected or implied. It also includes the interpersonal processes that lead to changes in behaviour, emotion or thinking. In short, it’s about how people change their minds.

Social influence comprises majority influence (conformity) and minority influence.

Majority influence is how a larger group influences an individual or smaller group. In psychology, most investigations into social influence deal with majority influence, as psychology focuses on the individual.

Minority influence is when an individual or smaller group influences a larger group. Although this has been studied in psychology, this type of large-scale social change is more the domain of sociology.

  • Kelman’s Social Influence Theory (1958) introduces three types of social influence.

  • Latané’s Social Impact Theory (1981); a very useful mathematical model for explaining social impact.

Kelman’s theory is older, so much more research up to date has been based on his theory. These two theories will be explored in more detail below.

What are the three different types of social influence in psychology?

Kelman describes three levels of depth of social influence; internalisation, identification, and compliance. Any of these three could be the outcome when a group puts pressure on an individual. You can imagine the three subtypes as a continuum of how much a person matches up with a group inside their mind and with their behaviour. On the lowest level, a person is separate from a group, and at the highest level, completely unified with a group.


Social Influence Process of social influence StudySmarter Original

Process of social influence. In compliance, the individual and group are separate, in identification they overlap, and in internalisation, they are completely merged. Bruna Ferreira, StudySmater Originals

What is compliance?

What does it mean to comply? What is compliant behavior and what are psychological factors of compliance?

Compliance is the lowest level of social influence. This is when an individual does what is directly requested of them. Typically, an individual goes along with what’s expected in public but holds different views in private. This type of social influence is short-lived and the behaviour usually stops once the individual isn’t monitored.

Most marketing and sales aim to make customers comply with the business's request for the consumer to buy their products or use their services.

  • Wearing a uniform to school but taking it off as soon as possible when you get home.

  • Seeing an advertisement on the television that says “Buy Slurpy Delight!” and buying it next time you’re in the supermarket.

  • Picking up a friend from the airport because they asked you to.

What is identification?

Our identification of ourselves and the world around us has great importance. How does identification affect us and those around us?

Identification is the medium level of social influence, where an individual identifies with the group or individuals in the group because they value the group and want to belong to it. The individual might change some behaviours in public as well as in private but might not agree with all aspects of the group's behaviour or thinking.

The process of identification most strongly determines socialisation, peer pressure and looking up to role models. Leaders or celebrities rely on identification you might not like all aspects of a specific footballer’s life or demeanour but still put their poster up on your wall, maybe because you look up to them.

  • Cutting your hair in the most popular style.

  • Buying a celebrity-endorsed shade of lipstick.

  • Voting for a politician because they are plain-spoken and down-to-earth, not because they are particularly well-suited to the job.

  • Acting in a particularly loud and raucous manner every time you’re out with your friends.

What is internalisation?

Internalisation is the deepest type of conformity. Here, the individual has completely taken on the expectations of the group, in private as well as in public. This change continues on indefinitely, even in the absence of the group. In essence, internalisation leads to new behaviour. The individual is now completely part of the group, in terms of thinking and behaviour.

  • Following the religion of your parents even after they’ve passed on.

  • Retaining your cultural customs even if you’re far from your native land.

  • Waiting at the crosslights even if there’s no car or person in sight.

What is obedience in psychology?

A good dog? A child who completes their school work? What is obedience? What is obedience within psychology?

Obedience is a type of social influence where the pressure doesn’t come from a peer but rather stems from an authority figure who directly instructs or gives orders.

Usually, these authority figures have the power to punish disobedience they have legitimate authority. Depending on whether the individual is the one taking or giving the orders, they are either identifying with a role or complying with orders.

The first studies into obedience started after World War II when the big question was whether there were people whose personalities were just naturally more obedient compared to others. Researchers who looked into this were Theodor Adorno and Stanley Milgram.

Milgram demonstrated that the circumstances (situational variables e.g. whether an authority figure wears a uniform) determined the likelihood of a person to obey. To explain his findings, he later developed his Agency Theory which states that to be effective, the authority must be legitimate.

What are majority and minority influences in psychology?

It is important to know what a majority or a minority influence is. How does this relate to the influences of psychology?

Majority and minority Influences are terms that refer to which direction the influence flows between a larger group (majority) and a smaller group or individual (minority).

What is majority influence or conformity (normative and informational influence)?

In majority influence or conformity, the larger group influences the individual or smaller group. There are two explanations of why people conform: either they want to be accepted in a group (normative influence as investigated by Asch and Zimbardo), or they want to do what is correct informational influence as investigated by Sherif. Informational influence is more important in situations where there is no clear answer. Asch also found that group size, unanimity and task difficulty affect conformity.

Conformity does not have to be enforced with specific instructions like obedience. Rather it’s the sum of all the spoken and unspoken social norms and expectations that a person has to follow to be part of a group. Whether the internal world that leads to obedience is more one of compliance or identification is still a matter of debate (see Zimbardo in his Stanford Prison Experiment versus the BBC Prison Study.

There are also ways in which any social influence can be resisted. The two main factors determining if one can resist social influence are whether a person is supported or whether they feel in control of their own decisions.

What is minority influence?

In minority influence, the individual or smaller group influences the larger group and causes a change in the behaviour or thinking of the larger group. This social change is more likely to be permanent and internalised. The main factors that contribute to social change are consistency, the commitment of the minority group and flexibility of the majority group.

An example of minority influence leading to social change is the process by which suffragettes obtained the vote for women in the western world. At the time the suffragettes were founded, women couldn’t vote, have their own money, or even have custody over their own children. This often led to devastating abuses and miserable lives for women.

Social Influence Minority influence feminism movement StudySmarterFeminism movement as an example of minority influence, Katarina Gadže, StudySmarter Originals (images from Canva)

In the beginning, the vote was fought for by small groups of women protesting their lack of say in government and in life by having sit-ins and demonstrations, being arrested and going on hunger strikes. But over time many men and women alike started to support their cause. The women's rights movement became a mass movement; resulting in the majority taking on the thinking of a few.

Nowadays, it’s normal for women to be able to vote and have a bank account. What started as a handful of women ended up leading to changes benefitting women in law and society that are still transforming society today.


Social Influence - Key takeaways

  • Social influence means changes in behaviour or thinking as a result of influence by others.
  • Social influence comprises majority influence/conformity, minority influence and resistance to social influence.
  • Majority influence or conformity is when a large group influences an individual or minority.
  • Minority influence is when an individual or small group influences the majority. This can lead to long-lasting social change.
  • There are three subtypes of conformity; compliance, identification and internalisation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Influence

Social influence is when an individual or group changes their thinking or behaviour in response to another person or group.

Normative social influence is when someone feels the need to change their behaviour to match the social norms of their current environment or company.

Informational social influence is when someone feels the need to change their behaviour as a response to information gained from other people or the environment.

Final Social Influence Quiz

Question

What is obedience?




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Obedience is a specific type of social influence on human behaviour; it is when people follow an explicit command given by a legitimate authority.



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What are the advantages of obedience?




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Obedience helps maintain order and structure in society and helps the general public maintain shared societal values



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What are the disadvantages of obedience?




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Obedience has led to dangerous outcomes if the authority figure is seeking to harm a person or group of people.



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According to Milgram’s Agency Theory, when does obedience occur?




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Obedience occurs when people are in an agentic state. This means the individual does not feel responsible for their actions as they are acting as an ‘agent’ of the authority figure that has given them a command.



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What is the relevant study for Milgram’s Agency Theory?




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The relevant study is Milgram’s shock experiment (1964).



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What was the name given by Adorno for the influence of personality on obedience?




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The name for the influence of personality on obedience is dispositional influence. 



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What is the relevant study for Adorno’s dispositional influence explanation?




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The relevant study is Adorno’s dispositional explanation study (1950).



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What is situational influence?




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Situational influence measures the impact of environmental factor(s) on obedience.



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How did the situational influences of the proximity and uniform of the authority figure affect obedience in the variation studies?




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Obedience levels decreased in the variation studies when the authority figure was not in close proximity to the participant and when the authority figure wore everyday clothes instead of a laboratory coat.



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It was found that there were higher levels of obedience in a study conducted at an office building than at the campus of Yale University. Is this true or false?


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This is false. There were lower levels of obedience when the study was conducted in an office building. 



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Which explanation for obedience discusses the influence of personality on obedience?


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The explanation of dispositional influence discusses how different types of personalities affect obedience. It states that those with authoritarian personalities are more likely to obey as they favour authoritarian systems.



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Question

Why were variations of Milgram’s shock experiment (1964) held?




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Researchers wanted to see whether situational influences, namely environmental changes, affected obedience levels. They aimed to test whether factors such as the location of the study, uniform and proximity of the authority figure had an impact on obedience.



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What are the key components of the Agency Theory?



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The key components of the Agency Theory are the agentic state and legitimate authority. The theory states that obedience occurs when we act in an agentic state. This means the individual does not feel responsible for their actions as they are simply acting as an ‘agent’ of the authority figure. We are more likely to obey if we have a legitimate authority. 



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What was the aim of the BBC prison study?

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The researchers aimed to observe oppressive behavior in a simulated prison setting.

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How were the participants recruited?


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They were recruited through a call for volunteers for the study.

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What kind of study was the BBC prison study?


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Experimental case study

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What was explicitly prohibited for the Guards?


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Physical violence was explicitly prohibited for the Guards.

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Did anything happen amongst the prisoners when they were told there would be no more promotions and that there were no differences between them and the guards?


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Yes; the Prisoners formed a strong group identification and began working together to implement changes in living conditions.

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According to the researchers, why were the prisoners able to break into the guard's quarters and create their own 'commune'?


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The guards had no group identification and solidarity, which is why they could not achieve goals and maintain their authority.


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On application of the study what did the researchers state as a reason for tyranny to take place?


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The guards could not work together, which is why tyranny took place.

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Which theory did the independent variables in the study come from?


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The independent variables came from Tajfel's Social Identity Theory (1978).

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What were the applications of the study?


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The study had useful applications regarding group behavior, systems of power, authority and inequality.

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Why can the findings of the study not be generalised?


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The findings cannot be generalized to the wider population as it was androcentric; the participants were all male. The participants were all volunteers and so this is not representative of the population.

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What is Milgram's Agency Theory?

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Milgram's Agency Theory aims to explain why humans are socially influenced to obey.

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What is the definition of obedience?

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Obedience is a type of social influence when people follow an explicit command given by a legitimate authority.

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What is the definition of an agentic state?


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In an agentic state, the individual believes that the authority ordering them will be responsible for the consequences of carrying out the order. The individual does not feel responsible for their actions as they are simply acting as an 'agent' of the authority figure.

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What is the definition of the autonomous state?


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The autonomous mental state is when people make choices entirely out of free will. Due to this, they feel responsible for their own actions and therefore their consequences.

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What is the definition of moral strain?


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Moral strain refers to the hesitation or reluctance a person may feel when an authority figure is giving them an order that goes against their conscience. Someone experiencing moral strain feels conflicted and may express emotion or show physical signs of distress.

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What is the definition of the agentic shift?


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Humans experience an agentic shift if they are given an order from a legitimate authority figure. The agentic shift puts us in the agentic state and causes us to obey the authority figure.

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Why was Adolf Eichmann classed as acting in an agentic state?


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Adolf Eichmann was acting in an agentic state as he claimed his actions were simply the result of him following orders from an authority figure.

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What are three important studies supporting the Agency Theory?


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Milgram's shock experiment (1964), Meeus and Raaijmakers (1995) and Hofling (1966).

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What is a key criticism of the Agency Theory explanation for obedience?


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A key criticism is that the Agency Theory fails to consider other factors in explaining why people obey, such as personality and personal motivations.

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Why did Adorno study dispositional influence?

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According to Adorno, explanations of social context and pressure did not sufficiently explain obedience. He stated that there must be dispositional (internal) factors that explain why some people obey and others do not. In Milgram's shock experiment (1964), 35% of participants were disobedient despite experiencing the same social context as the participants that did obey. This suggests there are other explanations for obedience.

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What is a dispositional explanation?

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A dispositional explanation is interested in the importance of the individual's personality, ie their disposition. Dispositional explanations focus on the traits unique to the individual and are often used in comparison with situational (environmental) explanations.

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What is the definition of an authoritarian personality?

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An authoritarian personality is a personality that is more likely to obey authority figures, as it favors the status of authority figures and views non-authority figures as inferior.

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What did Adorno believe causes someone to have an authoritarian personality?


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An individual develops an authoritarian personality through childhood experiences with strict parents who value discipline and loyalty. Such parents also have high expectations for the child and criticise the child heavily for any mistakes. Due to this, the child grows up to be respectful of authority figures and critical of those who are inferior.

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What was the procedure of Adorno's study?


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The procedure of the study involved the recruitment of over 2000 middle-class white Americans. Adorno developed a questionnaire to measure levels of authoritarian personality called the California F scale. The 'F' stands for fascism.

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What were the findings of Adorno's study?


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The study found that the participants that scored highly on the F scale were authoritarian personalities. They showed high respect and obedience for authority and were conscious of status. Since such scores measured attitudes towards fascism, it was concluded that agreement with fascist attitudes meant the individual had an authoritarian personality and was, therefore, more likely to obey authority.

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What is fascism?


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Fascism is a movement and a form of nationalism that supports a centralized state authority and a dictatorial power. It is considered a far-right ideology.

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What correlations did Adorno find from the study?

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Adorno found strong positive correlations between authoritarian personalities and obedience as well as between authoritarian personalities and prejudice.

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What was a criticism for the sample used in Adorno's study?


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A criticism of the sample used in Adorno's study was that it had low generalisability as it only sampled white, middle-class Americans. It has been argued that the sample was more likely to have authoritarian personalities due to the nature of the sample itself (white, middle-class Americans) and the time of the study (1950).

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What is a criticism of the correlations found in Adorno's study?

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A criticism of the correlations found is that they do not show causation. Therefore other factors may be involved in explaining the link between an authoritarian personality and obedience, such as education levels or cultural upbringing.

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What is social influence?

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Social influence is an individual’s change of thinking or behaviour in response to perceived group pressure.

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Why is social influence important?

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In the example of majority influence/ conformity, social norms can influence the behaviour and think of individuals through advertising, sales and persuasion. In minority influence, the behaviour and thinking of a majority can be influenced by individuals, which can lead to societal change.



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What are the three different subtypes of social influence or conformity?

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The three different types of social influence are compliance, identification and internalisation

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What is the same and what is the difference between obedience and compliance?

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Both obedience and compliance involve explicit instructions or requests, compliance is a request or instruction from a person who is an equal or not an authority figure, whereas obedience is a request or instruction from an authority figure.

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Question

The past decade has seen a boom in people being tattooed in the west. Tattooing is a cultural practice in many non-western cultures and fringe subcultures of the past. More and more workplaces are taking back their no-tattoo policy. Which type of social influence is at play here? 



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The gradual acceptance of tattoos is an example of minority influence, as other cultures who are minorities in the west end up influencing the western majority and changing social norms.



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What is situational influence as an explanation for obedience?

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Situational influence is the name given to the impact of environmental factors on obedience.

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Why did researchers carry out variations of Milgram's original shock experiment?

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Variations of Milgram's shock experiment were carried out to test the impact of situational influences on obedience levels.

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What were the independent variables in the variation studies?


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The independent variables were the proximity of the authority figure, the uniform of the authority figure, the proximity of the learner, the presence of other participants, and the location of the study.

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