Minority influence is a type of social influence that motivates individuals to reject established majority group norms. This is achieved through conversion, where individuals become gradually won over to a minority viewpoint. Conversion requires a permanent change in an individual’s belief system and a new belief/behaviour being accepted both privately and publicly. This involves internalisation (see page 3) and as such is a strong, true form of conformity. Conversion generally occurs through informational social influence, where a minority exposes the majority to new information and ideas. This is a gradual process, where individuals rethink their belief systems in regard to such new information and ideas. It is known as social cryptoamnesia, where initial converts are few, but then there are more and more converts as the minority gets bigger, acquiring more status, power and acceptability. Minority influence is most persuasive if the minority has a behavioural style that is: (1) consistent, as this suggests the minority has confidence in its beliefs; (2) committed, as this shows the minority may have resisted social pressures, ridicule and abuse against their beliefs; (3) flexible, as this suggests the minority can be moderate, co-operative and reasonable enough to show some compromise.
Fig 1.9 Bar chart showing conformity to inconsistent and consistent minority influence
Moscovici et al. (1969) investigated the role of a consistent minority upon the opinions of a majority in an unambiguous situation. Female participants were placed into 32 groups of 6, with 4 real participants and 2 confederates in each group. Each group was shown 36 blue slides, with filters used to vary the intensity of the colour. Participants had to say aloud what colour they thought the slides were. In the consistent condition, confederates answered wrongly that the slides were green, while in the inconsistent condition, confederates said that 24 of the slides were green and 12 of them were blue. 8.2 per cent of participants agreed with the minorities’ wrong answers in the consistent condition, while only 1.25 per cent agreed in the inconsistent condition. This suggests that although minority influence is relatively small, consistency is the important factor. Consistency is even more influential on private attitudes, as was shown in a variation where, when answers were given privately, there was greater agreement.
• Nemeth (1986) had groups of three participants and one confederate, who were asked to consider how much compensation to pay to an accident victim. When confederates consistently argued for a low amount, they had no effect on the majority, but when they compromised and offered a slightly higher amount, the majority changed their opinion and lowered their original amount. This suggests flexibility is more important than consistency in minority influence.
• Mugny & Papastamou (1982) found that minorities who refused to budge on opinions about controlling pollution, were not persuasive, but flexible minorities were. This supports the idea that flexibility is more influential than consistency.
• Smith et al. (1996) found that if a minority could get a majority to consider an issue in terms of the arguments for and against the issue, then the minority became more influential. This suggests that systematic processing (thinking deeply about something) is also an important factor in minority influence.
Moscovici et al.’s findings that consistent minorities have greater social influence on majorities than inconsistent minorities have been shown to be valid, as they have support from other studies. For example, Meyers et al. (2000) found that minority groups successful in affecting minorities were more consistent than inconsistent minority groups.
Minority influence has an important role to play in social influence. Without minority influence, important social change, innovation and the introduction of new ideas and practices cannot occur (see page 22).
Moscovici et al.’s study lacks external validity, as asking participants to identify the colour of slides is artificial and not true to life. Moscovici et al. also only used females as participants in their study, so findings cannot be generalised to males.
Studies into minority influence that use confederates pretending to be minorities are unethical. They involve deceit, which means it is not possible for participants to give informed consent. Participants may also experience mild stress in such studies.
Studies into minority influence also often fail to identify important variables like group size, status and the minority group’s degree of organisation.
Because minority influence needs careful consideration and changes in beliefs and behaviour occur over time, new, innovative practices can be road-tested for suitability. This means that any unforeseen dangers of a new practice should emerge before it becomes a mainstream practice, for example, the adoption of euthanasia (voluntary ending of life) as an accepted practice.