Changing and Helping Others

What is conformity? Conformity is group influence in action. Social influence is common and it consists of people’s efforts to change other people’s behaviors.

Most people follow social norms, or conform, most of the times. Solomon Asch’s research shows that most people yield or surrender to social pressure from a unanimous or common group. Conformity is caused by cohesiveness, which is the attraction of a person towards a group, by the group size and by the kind of social norm in the circumstance (descriptive or injunctive).

Norms influence behaviors when they are important to the person. Situational norms can influence behaviors unconsciously. People tend to conform for two reasons. One reason for conformity is the want to be liked, and the other reason is the want to be right or accurate. These two reasons form two kinds of social influence: normative and informational.

The few people, who resist conformity, do so because of wanting to retain individuality and because of wanting to control their own life. Homosexual and physically challenged individuals cannot conform even if they wish to do so, due to laws and physical barriers. Even minority can influence majorities. Minorities often underestimate how many people share their same convictions.

Popular strategies to get people to comply or say “yes” are the “foot in the door” (asking for something small and make bigger requests until the goal is reached, such as giving out samples, to get people to buy the whole item) and the “lowball procedure”. Cialdini explains that the low ball procedure is used by car salespeople, who offer an irresistible deal and, later, they get the manager to reject the deal. The perspective customer then, instead of leaving, accepts the modified, worse deal. Another example of this strategy is to ask for a small donation for a cause in exchange with a coupon for something free. Once the donor accepts, the donor is informed that there are no more coupons, and the donor tends to donate anyway. Both tactics, “foot in the door” and lowball, use commitment and consistency. The “door in the face” (asking for something big and then de-escalating to the small desired item) and the “that’s not all” (the offer is followed by something else that build the value of the initial offer, such as an extra bonus, or a reduction in price) strategies use reciprocity. The “playing hard to get” (the offered item is limited) and the “deadline” (offer is valid only for a short, specific amount of time) strategies use scarcity, which means valuable. Cialdini’s “social validation” conformity strategy uses informational social influence and conformity, by saying “this is what people in this group/field/industry do”. Flattery, liking, praise and ingratiation are persuasion strategies. Flattery is making oneself attractive; flattery is based on friendship.

Symbolic social influence is when people influence others without being present, due to their relationship and their goals. These goals can be reminded by thoughts or mental representations that cause behaviors (Baron, Byrne, & Branscombe, 2005). Obedience is a type of social influence. Stanley Milgram showed how unfortunately people obey from low power authorities, even to harm an innocent stranger. This destructive influence can cause real atrocities, such as the Holocaust. This type of influence is caused by the ingrained norm that says that people are supposed to obey authorities, or the norm related to the “foot in the door” strategy. To avoid destructive obedience, it is important to remind people that some obedience, especially the obedience involving harm, is inappropriate and it is important to questions the motives of authorities

Most people use influence tactics at work. Occasionally, bust still used, are coercive tactics, such as pressure (threats and intimidation, often use by debt collectors) and legitimating (pointing to the law, even if inaccurately). Other tactics are: inspirational appeal (arousing joy by targeting strong ideals and values), consultation (asking for the perspective customer’s participation in decision making), exchange (promising something for complying), personal appeal (appeal to friendship and loyalty), and coalition building (looking for others’ support).

In a social setting, in case of an emergency, people may respond in a variety of ways, from heroism to apathy. Examples are passing by a glass window and seeing two people interacting with each other in an unusual way. Could one be a thief, are they angry or not? Another example could be seeing someone on the boarder of a roof top of a 14 story building and when asked what he’s doing, he replies that it is the designated smoking area. Is he to be believed? Due to the diffusion of responsibility, the more the people are in a group, the less likely individuals are to intervene in an emergency, such as someone hurting (in a possible life or death situation, such as stranded on the highway) and the greater is the reaction or response delay (bystander effect). Whether or not a bystander helps depends on a 5 step decision process. First, the witness has to be aware of what is going on. Second, the witness has to realize an emergency is happening. Third, the bystander has to assume responsibility. Fourth, the witness must know what to do. Last, the witness or bystander has to make a decision to take action. In other words, a responsible by stander pays attention, considers alternate explanations, thinks of herself or himself as being as responsible as any other bystander and takes the risk of making a fool of himself or herself.

Emotional states can also either enhance or inhibit a pro-social behavior. The individual’s degree of empathy determines altruism. Empathy is in dogs and dolphins as well. Examples are dogs that have made news by saving a human out of water or a fire. Empathy of course derives from a combination of DNA and learning experiences. Altruistic people are empathetic, just, socially responsible, lowly egocentric and believe in an internal locus of control.

Volunteer workers are motivated by both selfish and selfless reasons. Surprisingly, long-term volunteers are motivated by selfish reasons. When faced with moral issues, such as integrity, hypocrisy and self-interest, people rely on their main motives. When the party being helped and the helper are similar, the helped one reacts negatively, feeling incompetent and unworthy and resenting the helper, but, later, seeking self-help. When the two parties are different, the helped one reacts positively but is not motivated to seek self-help later.

The empathy altruism hypothesis hypothesizes that empathy makes people help other people who need help, just because it feels good to help. The negative state relief model hypothesizes that people help others to feel better about their own emotional stress. The empathetic joy hypothesis hypothesizes that the helper is motivated by accomplishing to have a beneficial impact on the helped one. The genetic determinism model hypothesizes that altruism is genetic because reciprocal altruism and inclusive fitness are part of the evolution. In summary, pro-social behavior is most likely an evolved genetic trait that can be enhanced or hindered by situations, cognition and affects.

Altruism can be selective, in the case only one person, such as a kid, in a group of people in need, gets help. Helping can be as joyful as eating dessert. Generativity is the people’s interest in helping generations to come, such as efforts in being “green” to keep a safe and clean world for future youth. To conclude, both males and females can be equally altruistic with slightly different motives.

References
Baron, R. A., Byrne, D. R., & Branscombe, N. R. (2005) Social Psychology. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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