Social Influence in Psychology: Theories, Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Power Struggles in Relationships

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:57 Automated Behaviors
  • 2:33 Principles of Social Influence
  • 2:47 The Reciprocity Principle
  • 3:46 Commitment and Consistency
  • 5:05 Social Proof
  • 5:54 Liking, Authority & Scarcity
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robert Turner
This lesson offers you an overview of the various ways our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are influenced by other people. These other people may include family members, salesmen, advertisers, public relations experts, or even media celebrities like Big Bird.

Sources of Social Influence

Taking a broad perspective, we can think of social influences at the three levels of analysis recognized by sociologists. In a nutshell, people are influenced in many different ways by:

  • Social institutions: Organized religions, political parties, and labor unions are social institutions that influence our attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior
  • Interactions with other people: The people we interact with, at home, at work, or at play
  • Individual socialization: Beginning in infancy, the process by which we are inducted into a culture or a society.

Individuals are as unique as fingerprints. Nevertheless, the degree to which people are open to social influence depends on how they are socialized. The language we speak, the ideas we hold to be true, and all the ways we are likely to behave are products of socialization.

Automated Behaviors

From the perspective of social psychology, the work of Robert B. Cialdini stands out. Professor Cialdini is an emeritus professor at the University of Arizona and a past president of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. His engaging, often amusing approach to social influence has captured the imaginations of countless undergraduate college students. What follows is a sampling of his key insights.

We can begin with the understanding that, to an amazing extent, our behaviors, ideas, and beliefs are automated. Put another way, an awful lot of what we do, what we say, and what we believe is a product of habit. We internalize all kinds of habitual, virtually automatic behavior that's similar to a reflex response to a physical stimulus. For example, if the doctor taps near your kneecap with a little rubber hammer, you'll exhibit a knee-jerk reaction. In a similar way, humans will react automatically, and often unconsciously, to social stimuli.

If you are a classical behavioral psychologist, you'll view automated reflexive behaviors as responses to conditioned stimuli. Recall Pavlov's experiments. By associating the ringing of a bell with servings of meat powder, he could condition the dog to salivate simply by ringing the bell. For his part, Cialdini uses the metaphor of internal 'tapes.' Once a stimulus-response pattern is 'stored' in the mind, it will be activated by an appropriate trigger. We'll explore several of these 'tapes' and their triggers in this lesson.

Principles of Social Influence

To set the stage for his insights into social influence, Cialdini borrows a comment from Walter Lippmann, one of the founders of modern public relations: 'Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.'

The Reciprocity Principle

You scratch my back, and I'll scratch your back. That aphorism helps us think about the reciprocity principle. It's a principle found in every culture. In fact, Richard Leakey, a much-respected paleoanthropologist, maintains that the reciprocity principle is an essential human trait that helps us sustain ideals of sharing and cooperation within social groups.

On the dark side, the rule of reciprocity can be used to manipulate behavior. For example, companies provide free samples to potential buyers. Often enough, that may encourage a person to buy Product X - under the social rule of reciprocity. Further, to the extent that reciprocity rules in market economics, people may be encouraged to assume more debt that they can manage. In social situations, you may feel you should invite Jake to your brother's birthday party, even though you don't really like him, simply because he invited you to his mom's retirement party.

Commitment and Consistency

Cialdini refers to the commitment and consistency principles as hobgoblins of the mind. Here are examples of both of these principles that illustrate his point. Let's look at these principles separately.


If your friend can get you take a stand on something like, say, supporting charter schools, you will have made a commitment. That may be the case even though you actually agreed to be a proponent of charter schools because you want this person to like you. Nevertheless, when you attend a debate on the charter school issue, you'll feel compelled to voice your approval of charter schools over public schools - even if your friend isn't present at the debate.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account