General Psychology

Social Influence: Compliance & Conformity

Social Influence

Decision Making and Social Influences


            Compliance and conformity could be two topics described as the grasp of a target individual’s ability to cognitively process decision-making and select behaviors and actions which are deemed socially fit for their social identity. Social adherence could arguably be traced to social identity directly, or to the identity imposed upon individuals by their affiliated, relatable social groups.  Analyzing social influence on compliance and conformity is no new topic, as research on the topic exists dating many decades old, with direct links between outside influence and social adherence (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). Better understanding these relationships may help psychologists, politicians, scientists, families, leaders, and others, craft more appropriate social norms.

Description of Research


            The authors of Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004) suggest the principles and actions related to an individual’s susceptibility to outside influences can be traced to three goals which describe the human being’s most fundamental reward system.  These goals are described as the “goal of accuracy,” the “goal of affiliation,” and the “goal of maintaining a positive self-concept.”  The article reviews these three distinctions as they belong to both compliance and conformity. It is reasonable to suggest that social identity, social groups, and the action of compliance and conformity, may go hand-in-hand in terms of decision-making, cognitive processing of ideas, and real-world behaviors. The authors suggest there are methods for analyzing these facets of social influence and behavior, indicating that the research has evolved throughout modern times offering new insight (2004).

Evaluation of Method

            The research aligns social influence with two arms: compliance and conformity. The research is broken down into three areas of discussion within these arms: goal of accuracy, goal of affiliation, and goal of maintaining a positive self-concept (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). The goal of accuracy is an analysis of people’s motivation to achieve their goals in an effective, rewarding fashion. The goal of affiliation can be classified as an individual’s need to adopt or create a meaningful social relationship with other people.  And the goal of maintaining a positive self-concept can be described as an individual’s desire to enhance their self-concept, self-worth, and self-perception by adhering to consistent actions and behaviors which best align with their belief system, commitments, and self-described traits (2004).

            The authors utilize the “foot in the door” technique as a method for describing people’s basic desire for consistency (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). And although this method cannot account for all attributes and actions surrounding self-perception, it is one method used to gauge and measure an individual’s social adherence. The authors also describe a “door in the face” method, which outlines an individual’s attempt to achieve a desired response from another individual by presenting a more extreme option to start; however, this phenomenon has been regularly challenged, and its foundation of research is still brief and uncertain to say the least. The authors also suggest the idea of reciprocation as a method for individuals to obtain desired responses out of others. While this method is well-researched and highly reliable in many studies, it is pointed out to be most reliable in public domain only (2004). The samples which are used in the meta data presented throughout the authors’ referenced studies are scattered, mostly unreliable, too limited or defined, and oftentimes the evidence and outcomes are inconclusive.

Description of Results

            Many results are discussed throughout the article review.  One strong conclusion included an individual’s likelihood to follow (conform) based upon being primed in terms of social norms within a particular social group (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). Specifically, the study outlined the likelihood of conformity of anonymous groups primed with a social norm, versus individuals already identifying with a particular group.  This study found that individuals who already associated social norms with an identifiable social group were far less likely to conform. The authors suggest that this identifiability and behavioral reactions are mostly associated with cognitive processes rather than strategic desires or motivations. Unfortunately, the authors also outline contrasting information which suggests the opposite motivations and adherences may also be true (2004).


            The authors also suggest there may be differences in adherence and conformity on topics and behaviors between members of an identifiable group who form common bonds with other members of the same group (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004).  Common bonds may be described as a bond between individual group members, rather than the group bond formed through the social identity of being a part of a particular social group. The research poses individuals which remain anonymous within a particular social group who remain anonymous may or may not be more likely to conform to a social norm, depending upon their affiliations with these common bonds.  Still, this research is also shaky due to the injection of conflicting theories which states these common bonds may hold no bearing over an individual group member’s behavioral decisions and actions (2004). Ultimately, these contradictions may lead one to believe the authors have arrived at no foundation or solid empirical data which could be used to modify one’s position on social influence when it comes to compliance and conformity.

Evaluation of Findings

            The social influence on compliance and conformity can be a difficult topic to collect unbiased, empirical data.  This may be due to the many measures of an individual’s personal makeup and vulnerability to social influence. Personal prejudice, an individual’s decision-making process, the choice to comply or conform, and the ability to comply or conform, may not always be easily detected or readily available during the research gathering process or while conducting studies. And while the authors have suggested even older conformity and compliance data is relevant to modern studies and research (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004), these older data sets may be tainted by this uncertainty in participants and defects as well.  Additionally, the author’s review has almost entirely focused on modern research (2004), which may pose its own sets of questionable outcomes due to the exclusion of already-formed, psychological certainties.


            The concept of social identity seems to play a large part in decision-making and group adherence; however, it could be argued that the existing research on the topic is still under-developed and under-utilized. And with no clear end assessment, it is difficult to take the research provided by the authors to be anything more than anecdotal meta data.  While it could be argued that there is a definite relationship between the two variables (outside influence and conformity/compliance), there are still very few studies or sets of empirical data which can be used to form a foundation for any argument.  Still, the research conducted does compile data in an easier to understand fashion, with some information which is undeniably useful in the furthering of investigating this relationship.


Cialdini, R. and Goldstein, N. (2004). Social influence: compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology: Business Insights Global. Vol. 55. Pp. 541+. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142015

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