5.4 Social Influence Part 1: Attitudes, Conformity, Compliance and Obedience

We will now have a very brief look at several topics that are typically covered under the term “social influence”. These topics include attitudes, as well as conformity, compliance and obedience.


To start with,  you should watch the Crash Course video [10:48] on “social thinking”, which discusses phenomena/theories including:

  • attribution theory and fundamental attribution error
  • persuasion – dual process theory
  • foot in the door
  • Stanford Prison to highlight situational influence versus personal attributes
  • cognitive dissonance.

We will now hear from a social psychologist about some aspects of attitudes in more detail. Please watch the following recording [36:45], in which the psychologist Dr Madelyn Pardon discusses some fundamentals of how attitudes are formed and which factors are important throughout this process. The video will also provide an introduction to the next section, in which we will look at conformity, compliance and obedience in a little more detail.

Reflection Activity

After watching the above video with Dr Pardon, please think about the following questions:

Consider one specific attitude that you held in a recent conflict or other situation and think about how your behaviours are/ were aligned with that attitude.

Perhaps somebody tried to change your attitude by attempting to persuade you. Try to describe the route of persuasion used and which one works usually better for you (central or peripheral route), the source (the person who tried to persuade you) and their characteristics, as well as the message and you as the receiver. Alternatively, you could consider yourself as the source who is trying to convince somebody else. How do the principles of source (e.g., credibility), the message (eg., length and order) and audience (level of need for cognition, resistance, etc.) that Madelyn discussed in the above video apply?

What can you learn from this topic and the above activity for your practice as a conflict practitioner?

To learn more about the topic of attitudes, you may choose to read:


Chapter 6 in Kassin et al., 2020, pp. 223-263.

Conformity, Compliance and Obedience

We will now consider conformity, compliance and obedience in some more detail. We will explore these topics predominantly by way of viewing videos that describe and discuss the most important research that social psychologists have undertaken in the last 100 years in this space, including Asch’s conformity study and the Milgram experiment. Before we look at any of these experiments in more detail, however, you can get an overview of the topic of social influence more broadly by watching the following Crash Course video. Please watch up to minute 5:59. After that, Hank Green will discuss group processes, which we will look at in the next topic (5.5) and you will be prompted again to watch the rest of the video then.

In the part of the video that you just watched, Hank Green describes Asch’s Conformity Study and the Milgram experiment, noting that they have had ground-breaking impact from the time when they were conducted until today. So, let’s have a look at those original experiments and some more recent versions of conformity and compliance experiments.

We will start with Asch’s experiment, described in the following video [1:58]:

A more recent example of conformity can be viewed here [3:40]:

We will now have a look at the famous Milgram Experiment [14:16] – in fact, the experiment is referred to as “one of the most famous experiments ever conducted” (Kassin et al., 2020, p. 293), and how Milgram came about to conducting the study.

As was explained in the video, 65% of the research participants delivered the ultimate punishment to the confederate in the other room. This ultimate punishment amounted to 450 volts, which would have killed the other person. For a reenactment of the study in more recent times, please watch the following video [10:48].

After watching the above videos about experiments on conformity and obedience, you may want to think about what the findings of these studies may mean for conflict and conflict resolution. To get some ideas, you may want to go back to the video in which Dr Madelyn Pardon and the author of this eBook briefly consider this question (at the end of the video).

To learn more about the topic of conformity, compliance and obedience, you may choose to read:


Chapter 7 in Kassin et al., 2020, pp. 273-311.



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