Social Influence: Compliance and Comformity

Authors: Robert B. Cialdini & Noah J. Goldstein, Arizona State University

Publication: Annual Review of Psychology

Year: 2004

Focus Area: Persuasion, Decision Making

Relevance: Understanding what makes an individual more likely to comply with a request may help explain how fraud is achieved.

Summary: This article offers a review of the recent literature in compliance and conformity, a branch of persuasion research.  The themes of compliance and conformity are outlined around three central motivations that, together, help determine whether a person accepts or resists an outside persuasion influence:

  • Accuracy: the desire to achieve one’s goals effectively requires an accurate perception of reality – one misperception may be “the difference between getting a bargain and being duped” (p. 592).  An influence that appears reasonable and informs one’s thinking in a valuable way is more likely to be accepted, a tendency that can be influenced by distraction, authority appeals, and reframing.
  • Affiliation: the desire to be part of a meaningful social group.  A request emanating from a favored person or group, or that draws upon favored group identification, is more likely to be granted.  This tendency can be manipulated using flattery, reciprocation, and similarity appeals.
  • Maintenance of a positive self-conception: the desire to preserve a positive image of oneself.  A request framed to contribute to a person’s self-image is more likely to be granted.  This desire can be manipulated through appeals to consistency, public commitment, and follow-up techniques.

Author Abstract: This review covers recent developments in the social influence literature, focusing primarily on compliance and conformity research published between 1997 and 2002. The principles and processes underlying a target’s susceptibility to outside influences are considered in light of three goals fundamental to rewarding human functioning. Specifically, targets are motivated to form accurate perceptions of reality and react accordingly, to develop and preserve meaningful social relationships, and to maintain a favorable self-concept. Consistent with the current movement in compliance and conformity research, this review emphasizes the ways in which these goals interact with external forces to engender social influence processes that are subtle, indirect, and outside of awareness.

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