On November 18, 1978 Jim Jones instructed all members living in Jonestown, Guyana compound to commit an act of suicide by drinking poisoned punch (“Mass Suicide at Jonestown”, 2010). In all, 918 people died that day, including men, women and a third whom were children (“Mass Suicide at Jonestown”, 2010). What caused the People’s Temple members to blindly obey and drink the kool-aid? People trusted Jim Jones and believed he had a clear view of what needed to change in America. In the same way people trusted David Koresh, Hitler, Charles Manson. Seemingly normal human beings displaying rational behavior yet evil and sadistic leading to the deaths of many. Opposite of these negative examples are positive influencers such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln. What do these examples of both positive and negative persuaders have in common? They have immense power to influence others. They also have a great ability to persuade, create a movement, or provoke an action. Different levels of conformity, compliance, and obedience whether positive or negative are extremely powerful in influencing society in a specific way. The way the subjects interact with the specific influencer can lead to a predictable outcome. Such social influence is extremely powerful and can lead others to enact certain characteristics.
Martin Luther King socially influenced generations of people by his strength of purpose, religious convictions, and non-violence doctrine. Social influence is the change in behavior that one person causes in another (“Social Influence”, 2002). It is closely related to peer pressure, the pressure whether direct or indirect towards another person with the intent of influencing their behavior. Individuals change their beliefs and actions to meet the demands of a specific group. Social influence holds tremendous power, and is ever present in the world. King played an integral role in the advancement of civil rights. His social influence is taught in every school, he persuaded a minority group to work together, and is remembered every year on MLK day. One of the reasons social influence is so powerful is due to the idea of acceptance (Waude, 2017). People conform to the norms or the beliefs of a group to gain acceptance. They long to be a tight member of the specific group, therefore they adopt the beliefs and actions of the group. The three areas of social influence are conformity, compliance, and obedience (Kenrick, Neuberg, Cialdini, 2010). Conformity is the idea of the change in beliefs or behavior to fit in with a group (McLeod, 2007). This relates to belonging and esteem needs as we seek approval and friendship of others. Conformity can also be described as group pressure or majority influence (McLeod, 2007). An example of conformity would be a teenager experimenting with drugs to fit in with a group. This group is into partying and doing drugs. Therefore, this new member of the group also does drugs to fit in with the group and to show how cool they are. The second element of social influence is compliance. Compliance is when an individual or group does what somebody else, normally a leader, asks them to do (McLeod, 2007). An example of compliance is when Jim Jones talked 918 people into committing suicide in the jungle of Guyana (“Mass suicide at Jonestown”, 2010). The last element of social influence is obedience. Obedience is when a individual or group of people act in response to a command of another individual or leader (McLeod, 2007). Obedience is related to being told to do something whereas conformity is related to social pressure. An example of obedience may be a class of students listening to a teachers commands to please the teacher. Stanley Milgram performed a classic experiment in obedience talked about later in this paper. Social Influence is extremely powerful and relevant in everyday life. When a group or a person uses conformity, compliance, and obedience in a beneficial way they have the potential to create large and powerful movements. This of course is epitomized by the works of Martin Luther King as mentioned above who created a large and powerful movement for civil rights. Other examples of people using social influence is when a whole society adopts a new belief or behavior. Abraham Lincoln influenced hundreds of thousands to die fighting in the Civil War, telling everyone that the concept of freedom is bigger than anything. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln are just two examples of the importance of social influence because of their power to lead and inspired others to go further dream bigger and do good in the world.
Although social influence has the capability to influence good, it also has the potential to cause harm in the world. An example of the harm caused by the social influence is the Milgram experiment (Turowetz, Hollander, 2018). If an authority figure ordered somebody to deliver electrical shock to another person, would they do it? They might say ‘no way”. However the Milgram obedience experiment proved otherwise. Psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of obedience experiments whose results offer a disturbing look at the power of authority and obedience (Turowetz, Hollander, 2018). “The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.” Stanley Milgram, 1974 (“Stanley Milgram”, 2001). Milgram started his experiments shortly after the trial of World War II criminal Adolf Eichmann had begun. Eichmann’s defense was that he was merely following instructions when he ordered the deaths of millions of Jews, this gained Milgram’s interest (“Milgram’s Experiment”, 2014). Milgram recruited 40 men and paid them a small fee to participate. Milgram developed a shock generator with varying levels of volts. Each participant took the role of a “teacher” who would then deliver a shock to the “student” whenever an incorrect answer was given (“Milgram’s Experiment”, 2014). While the teacher believed they were delivering real shocks the student simply pretended to be shocked. The “experimenter” was in charge of the session. The teacher was given a sample electric shock in order to experience first hand what the shock would feel like to the student. The teacher and learner were then separated. The student was asked a question and if incorrect the teacher would administer a shock to the student. Increasing the voltage for each wrong answer. The teachers believed the students were receiving the shocks because sounds of protests and banging occured. When the highest voltages were reached the student would fall silent. The experimenter prodded the teacher by saying please continue, using the idea of blind obedience. The experiment requires the teacher to continue, it is essential the teacher continues and has no other choice and must go on. If the teacher wanted to stop after all four successive prods the experiment was halted. Otherwise it was halted after the teacher had given the maximum voltage shock three times in succession. Milgram polled students, colleagues and psychiatrists who predicted less than 4% would stop by the time the 300 volt shock was reached. In Milgram’s first set of experiments 65% or 20 out of 40 teachers administered the experiments massive 450 volt shock (“Stanley Milgram”, 2001). Every participant paused the experiment, but most continued after being assured by the experimenter that they should continue. Milgram arrived at two theories; Theory of Conformity – A person especially in crises will leave decision making to the group (“Stanley Milgram”, 2001). Also, the Agentic State Theory – A person comes to view themselves as the instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes and therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions (“Stanley Milgram”, 2001). The study being located at a prestigious university provided authority and the participants assumed the experimenter knew what he was doing. Obedience and conformity were overwhelming induced even though many people were strongly inclined to disobey. The Stanford Prison experiment was a 1971 social psychology experiment that attempted to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers (“Stanford Prison Experiment”, 2018). It was conducted by Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford University. In the study, student volunteers were randomly assigned to be either guards or prisoners in a mock prison. The students quickly embraced their assigned roles. Guards enforced authoritarian measures and prisoners accepting psychological abuse (“Stanford Prison Experiment”, 2018). On the second day, the prisoners blockaded their cell door refusing to come out. The guards subsequently attacked the prisoners with the spray of fire extinguishers without being supervised (“Stanford Prison Experiment”, 2018). Finding that handling nice cell mates with only three guards was challenging, one of the guards suggested they use psychological tactics to control the prisoners (“Stanford Prison Experiment”, 2018). They set up a privilege cell in which prisoners who were not involved in the riot were given special rewards, such as higher quality meals. The privileged inmates chose not to eat with their fellow prisoners (“Stanford Prison Experiment”, 2018). Due to the circumstances, some guards became increasingly cruel. With most guards becoming upset, and the mental states of the prisoners declining, the experiment was ended after six days. The results were similar to the Milgram experiment. Social influence being used in a negative way has the possibility lead to catastrophic events. This is displayed through both the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. There are three forms of social influence, conformity, compliance, and obedience that have the possibility to lead to aggressive acts. Through Zimbardo’s video on the psychology of evil, it can be seen that a person’s surroundings and situation have immense impacts on the outcome of behavior of that person. Negative situations can make a good ordinary person turn evil very quickly. Through the experiments outlined above, it can be seen that social influence in the negative realm, can lead to aggressive and violent behaviors. Through these studies, psychologists have been able to understand the use of these main points of social influence can lead to negative and terrible events. According to Zambardo, it is not about the who is responsible but what is responsible (Zambardo, 2008). “Violence can be influenced by the “who” of the people but also the “what” of the situation”, (Zambardo, 2008). The power is in the system, the system creates the situation that corrupts the individual (Zambardo, 2008). This leads into the idea of the Lucifer effect. The Lucifer effect deals with how to understand how good people turn evil. It relates the ideas that a person’s situation, the social influences acting upon them, have the ability to greatly influence them. This can be influencing good or evil. A person’s situation has the power to lead to violent and evil acts. The social influences that a person experiences have the capability to bring about catastrophic events.
A real world tragedy that displays the powerful impact of social influence is bullying. Bullying uses superior strength to influence or intimidate somebody, normally to make the victim do what the bully wants them to do (“Putting An End To Bullying”, 2014). The bully is able to successfully intimidate or influence the victims through different and complex uses of conformity, compliance, and obedience. These three forms of social influence are the main mechanisms of bullying. Obedience being one of the strongest mechanisms of bullying. A bully uses imitation or harsh treatment against victims to force them to perform the acts the bully wants (“Stop Bullying”, 2018). The victim follows the requests of the bully to avoid further embarrassment or punishment. The victim also complies with the bully to avoid further possible bullying or torture. There many times is also a group of bullies. These group of bullies are normally controlled by one main leader (Stop Bullying”, 2018). The bullies work to impress the leader and to better fit in with the group. The act of fitting in better with the group of bullies supports the idea of conformity. These acts of social influence within bullying push it to become more aggressive, more abusive, and more destructive. The more the bully wants to gain popularity with his peers or group, he becomes more aggressive and abusive towards the victims (“Putting An End To Bullying”, 2014). To become more powerful and more effective, the bully will become more destructive and implement meaner tactics against the victim. The system of bullying works off of responses from the the bully or the victim. It normally is a cause and effect relationship. The bully continues persistence against the victim if the victim displays reactions to the bullying. The bully normally will seize to bully if a reactive response is no longer given by the victim (Stop Bullying”, 2018). Likewise, the bully will continue and become more persistent if his group encourages the action. Bullying is completely powered by social influence. The bullies use forms of social influence to project power and to produce reactive actions from the victims. The victims will obey or comply to the bully to try and put a stop to the bullying, Social influences are extremely powerful and effective and have the ability to greatly impact everyday life.
The Social Interaction Theory can help to explain why bullies act the way they do. Why they display the behaviors they do, and why the victims react the way they do. The Social Interaction Theory states that aggressive behavior, bullying, is a social influence behavior (Anderson,Bushman, 2002). The theory states that an actor, the bully, uses coercive actions to produce a change in the victims behavior. A bully can display such coercive actions to bring about specific social and self identities (Anderson,Bushman, 2002). The actor, the bully, is the decision maker and their actions are directed by the rewards or reactions of the victim (Anderson, Bushman, 2002). The bully acts in such a way that is motivated by an ultimate goal; gaining popularity with their peers or making their self feel better. The action of bullying perfectly supports the Theory of Social Interaction. The bullies want to gain popularity or the victim wants to put a end to the bullying. To do this many times, the parties resort to violence. They do this to achieve a desired goal. They believe the use of violence allows for a more effective and efficient outcome. The Social Interaction Theory supports this idea of acting in a way to achieve a desired goal.
Prosocial behaviors are helping behaviors that deliberately benefits another, examples of prosocial behaviors could be a person donating money to charity even though they receive no tangible benefit from doing so, stopping to help a stranded motorist, or volunteers working to save people affected by a natural disaster. Prosocial behaviors can and are being used to combat aggressive future tragedies and negative occurrences of compliance and obedience. For example, during 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the accounts are multiple employees helped fellow employees to the stairwell going back time and time again at their own peril. Prosocial behaviors power is the intention of helping and a broad range of actions intended to benefit people. People doing something for others when there is zero benefit for themselves. Acting kindly and helping others can combat the negativity of society.
What caused the People’s Temple members to blindly obey and drink the kool-aid? The mass suicide teaches us what happens when social psychology is placed in the wrong hands. Follower’s came to the Guyanese community, known as Jonestown, seeking paradise and escape from racism and persecution. Instead, they found what resembled a concentration camp with long work hours and little food. The deaths of over 900 people show the power if situational and social influences are used in a negative way. “Sources of influence can be like dynamite- they can be used for good or for ill” (Dittmann, 2003). Jonestown serves as a warning, when principles of influence are abused by leaders of an organization. Different levels of conformity, compliance, and obedience whether positive or negative are extremely powerful in influencing society in a specific way.