Normative and informational influences in conformity, persuasion, and group polarization: a unified paradigm of social influence



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Texas Tech University


Researchers have long held that two types of conformity, public "compliance" and private "acceptance," result, respectively, from the desire to meet expectations held by the majority and from the belief that the majority is accurate. These motives underlie the traditional distinction between processes of normative and informational social influence. The recent discovery of additional types of conformity has questioned the utility of conceiving social influence processes as dichotomous. Fortunately, the concepts of normative and informational social influence have evolved considerably in the domains of group polarization and persuasion.

A model that unifies processes of social influence, as conceived in conformity, group polarization, and individual attitude change research was tested. The model postulates three related processes, based on the traditional normative/informational distinction, that give rise to three forms of influence.

As predicted, results supported the existence of one process of normative social influence and two processes of informational social influence. In a problem-solving setting, subjects complied with implausible majority responses to simple problems. Based on the assumption that "consensus implies correctness," subjects accepted both plausible and implausible majority responses to complex problems. Acceptance under these conditions did not generalize to related items or exhibit other characteristics of effortful processing. Finally, when subjects actively considered simple problems from the perspective offered by a plausible majority, they discovered arguments to support the majority's perspective. Subsequent acceptance generalized to related items and persisted over time. Implications for integrating research in conformity, group polarization, and persuasion were discussed.