If a majority can exert influence simply by sheer number, then what is it about minority groups that allows them to influence others? What is their power? According to Moscovici, the power of a minority lies in its consistency (Moscovici, Lage, & Naffrechoux, 1969). In a variant of the study mentioned earlier, the confederates were instructed to sometimes say the slide was green, and other times say that it was green. As a result of this inconsistency on the part of the minority, less participants ended up agreeing with the minority than those in the original study. From this, Moscovici concluded that the power of a minority lies in its consistency.
Think of it this way: If a group’s position remains the same no matter what kind of opposition it receives, would you not be at least curious as to whether the message is valid?
|Problem? (2011). [Web Photo].|
Consistency, while the first discovered aspect of minority influence, is not the only thing that affects the ability of a minority to make change. The size of the majority relative to the size of the minority also has an effect. That is, the larger the majority is in comparison, the weaker the influence of the minority becomes (Clark & Maass, 1990). The study in which this was found involved a group of subjects (two confederates, the rest were participants) discussing the topic of abortion. The participants had already been tested to find how favourable they were to abortion, and so the discussion groups ended up with either pro-abortion or anti-abortion being the opinion of the participants, who were the majority, and the confederates took the minority opinion. In the groups with four participants, the minority showed the most influence of all three of the size conditions, with the twelve-person majority being the least affected by the minority, and the eight-person majority lying between the other two.
This news does come with a bright side for minorities: As much as the majority’s dominance over the minority through increased with size, the greatest increase happened between four and eight members of the majority. After that, the increase of majority influence tapered off in a pattern reminiscent of the law of diminishing returns. In other words, while a majority can be overwhelming, its power does have limitations.
When the Tables Turn
Now that we have established many ways in which minority influence works, the next question to address is: What happens if a minority is so successful that they become the majority? Since societies and the people that make up them are complex and interconnected, it would be overly simple to assume that nothing substantial happens beyond a change of opinion in members of the majority group.
First, we must again take into account how certain events are perceived. When it comes the interaction between minority and majority groups, barring the creation of more groups, there are two possible kinds of movement: Away from the minority (and towards the majority), or away from the majority (and towards the minority). The first kind of change is seen as a gain, as a positive decision on the part of the one making it, while the second is seen as a loss, and that loss is weighted more than the gain (Prislin & Christensen, 2005). Since, in the kind of situation we are considering, there has been a great deal of movement of the second kind, the situation is viewed in a negative light by many of those who make up the minority-become-majority.
In the study done to test this theory (Prislin et al., 2000), a participant was put into a group with three confederates in order to discuss a political problem. In one condition, all the confederates disagreed with the participant, but they changed sides one by one as the proceedings went on until there was only one confederate left who did not agree with the participant. In another condition, the situation was the opposite. Initially, only one of the confederates disagreed with the participant, but then the other confederates eventually changed their position to agree with that confederate, leaving the participant in the minority. There were also two conditions that resulted in no change, and two that resulted in only a partial change. The results showed that those in the first condition saw themselves as quite dissimilar from those who had just changed over to their point of view. In fact, the level of perceived dissimilarity was nearly the same as in the parallel condition that resulted in no change. Participants who started out in the majority, however, showed a decrease in perceived similarity compared to the condition with no change that also had an initial majority.
In other words, when the tables are turned, both sides are unhappy with the resulting group composition. No one really identifies with the majority anymore, members of both the minority and majority leave the group as a whole (Prislin & Christensen, 2005).
“There is an irony in our findings that former minorities react less than enthusiastically towards those whom they successfully convert to their position and towards the entire group in which they become the new majority.” (2005) Then again, ironic as that finding is, considering the way minorities and majorities tend to position themselves against each other, is it any wonder that this happens?
|The don’t follow the herd herd. (2012). [Web Photo].|
And that’s the end of my paper. That’s not all I handed in, though. The assignment also required a letter, hypothetically written to the person putting together the hypothetical textbook. I actually wrote that first, and I wanted to share it last because it talks about this paper in the way I wanted to write it, which is very positive and uplifting but, because I was only focused on finishing the paper, I didn’t actually end up ending it with that kind of tone. Therefore, I want to end with that tone on here, and give a glimpse as to why the subject of minority influence actually is dear to my heart:
Dear Dr. Hypothetical Textbook Person,
I understand that you are putting together a textbook on the topic of social influence, and I am sending you this letter because I have written a section on minority influence which I think would be an invaluable contribution to your book.
A well-rounded education should include subject matter that demonstrates both what could be and what is. Because of the nature of psychology and science in general, that which could be is mostly not in the domain of an undergraduate textbook, in order to make room for a solid grounding in what is. We must know facts before we can infer.
Minority influence is one of those facts. In modern times, with democracy as a prominent idea, influence is generally thought of as in the hand of the majority. They are the ones who have the power to choose the future, and so their power to influence must overwhelm that of a minority. In the past, the influence of a minority was more evident, but only so long as the minority in question included kings and religious leaders. With an understanding of that part of the past and an understanding of the present day, a student’s picture of what is will only tell them that those with power are the ones capable of truly great influence. Even in daily life, with the constance of peer pressure and the presence of hierarchical systems, the conclusion seems to be that only the powerful can wield influence.
What is education, if not a means by which we empower ourselves?
How do we truly empower ourselves, if not by learning that even the smallest and most insignificant of persons holds the capacity to change the world around them?
This chapter section covers such topics as how individual differences affect the processing of minority messages, the effects of group size, and what happens when the positions of a minority and majority are reversed. It will show students that a minority truly can have influence and will perhaps lead them, through the knowledge of what is, to eventually wonder: “What could be?”
Thank you for your time, and I hope you will consider my writing for your upcoming textbook.
Thea van Diepen
Did you know that my book, Dreaming of Her and Other Stories, is on sale this month?
Basically, Amazon finally made the Kindle store available in Canada via Amazon.ca, and I got so darn excited that I put my book on sale at nearly 50% off (usually, it’s $4.99, but now it’s $2.99)!
You can go here to find out more about the book…
…or you could head on over to Amazon and buy it to help support my university habit (my parents would really appreciate it).
May you have a lovely week!
*Because of the use of comics in this week’s post, everything above the dotted lines and not a link or in italics is under a Creative Commons license*