by Saul McLeod

The term ‘minority influence’ refers to a form of social influence that is attributed to exposure to a consistent minority position in a group. Minority influence is generally felt only after a period of time, and tends to produce private acceptance of the views expressed by the minority.

An important real-life example of a minority influencing a majority was the suffragette movement in the early years of the 20th century.  A relatively small group of suffragettes argued strongly for the initially unpopular view that women should be allowed to vote. The hard work of the suffragettes, combined with the justice of their case, finally led the majority to accept their point of view.

In many of the conformity studies described so far it was a minority group who were conforming to the majority.  Moscovici (1976, 1980) argued along different lines.  He claimed that Asch (1951) and others had put too much emphasis on the notion that the majority in a group has a large influence on the minority. In his opinion, it is also possible for a minority to influence the majority.  In fact Asch agreed with Moscovici.  He too felt that minority influence did occur, and that it was potentially a more valuable issue to study - to focus on why some people might follow minority opinion and resist group pressure.

Moscovici made a distinction between compliance and conversion. Compliance is common in conformity studies (e.g. Asch) whereby the participants publicly conform to the group norms but privately reject them.  Conversion involves how a minority can influence the majority. It involves convincing the majority that the minority views are correct. This can be achieved a number of different ways (e.g. consistency, flexibility).  Conversion is different to compliance as it usually involves both public and private acceptance of a new view or behavior (i.e. internalization).


Since majorities are often unconcerned about what minorities think about them, minority influence is rarely based on normative social influence. Instead, it is usually based on informational social influence - providing the majority with new ideas, new information which leads them to re-examine their views. In this respect, minority influence involves private acceptance (i.e. internalization)- converting the majority by convincing them that the minority’s views are right.

Four main factors have been identified as important for a minority to have an influence over a majority.

These are behavioral style, style of thinking, flexibility, and identification.


1. Consistency: The minority must be consistent in their opinion

2. Confidence in the correctness of ideas and views they are presenting

3. Appearing to be unbiased

4. Resisting social pressure and abuse

Moscovici (1969) stated that the most important aspect of behavioral style is the consistency with which people hold their position. Being consistent and unchanging in a view is more likely to influence the majority than if a minority is inconsistent and chops and changes their mind.

Moscovici (1969) investigated behavioral styles (consistent / inconsistent) on minority influence in his blue-green studies. He showed that a consistent minority was more successful than an inconsistent minority in changing the views of the majority.

Consistency may be important because:

• Confronted with a consistent opposition, members of the majority will sit up, take notice, and rethink their position.

• Consistency gives the impression that the minority are convinced they are right and are committed to their viewpoint.

• Also, when the majority is confronted with someone with self-confidence and dedication to take a popular stand and refuses to back own, they may assume that he or she has a point.

• A consistent minority disrupts established norms and creates uncertainty, doubt and conflict. This can lead to the majority taking the minority view seriously. The majority will therefore be more likely to question their own views.

In order to change the majorities view the minority has to propose a clear position and has to defend and advocate its position consistently.

A distinction can be made between two forms of consistency:

(a) Diachronic Consistency – i.e. consistency over time – the majority stocks to its guns, doesn’t modify its views.

(b) Synchronic Consistency – i.e. consistency between its members – all members agree and back each other up.


• Identify three or four minority groups (e.g. asylum seekers, British National Party etc.)

How do you think and respond to each of these minority groups and the views they put forward?

Do you dismiss their views outright or think about what they have to say and discuss their views with other people?

If you dismiss the views of other people without giving them much thought, you would have engaged in superficial thought / processing.

By contrast, if you had thought deeply about the views being put forward, you would have engaged in systematic thinking / processing (Petty et al., 1994).

Research has shown that if a minority can get the majority to think about an issue and think about arguments for and against, then the minority stands a good chance of influencing the majority (Smith et al., 1996).

If the minority can get the majority to discuss and debate the arguments that the minority are putting forward, influence is likely to be stronger (Nemeth, 1995).


Some researchers have gone further and suggested that it is not just the appearance of flexibility and compromise which is important but actual flexibility and compromise.

This possibility was investigated by Nemeth (1986).The experiment was based on a mock jury in which groups of three participants and one confederate had to decide on the amount of compensation to be given to the victim of a ski-lift accident.  When the consistent minority (the confederate) argued for a very low amount and refused to change his position, he had no effect on the majority. However, when he compromised and moved some way towards the majority position, the majority also compromised and changed their view.

This experiment questions the importance of consistency. The minority position changed, it was not consistent, and it was this change that apparently resulted in minority influence.


For example, one study showed that a gay minority arguing for gay rights had less influence on a straight majority than a straight minority arguing for gay rights (Maass et al., 1982). The non-gay majority identified with the non-gay minority. They tended to see the gay minority as different from themselves, as self-interested and concerned with promoting their own particular cause.


Aim: To investigate the effects of a consistent minority on a majority. Moscovici (1969) conducted a re-run of Asch’s experiment, but in reverse. Instead of one subject amongst a majority of confederates, he placed two confederates together with four genuine participants. The participants were first given eye tests to ensure they were not color-blind.

Procedure: They were then placed in a group consisting of four participants and two confederates. They were shown 36 slides which were clearly different shades of blue and asked to state the color of each slide out loud. In the first part of the experiment the two confederates answered green for each of the 36 slides. They were totally consistent in their responses. In the second part of the experiment they answered green 24 times and blue 12 times. In this case they were inconsistent in their answers. Would the responses of the two confederates influence those of the four participants? In other words, would there be minority influence?

Results: In condition one it was found that the consistent minority had an affect on the majority (8.42%) compared to an inconsistent minority (only 1.25% said green). A third (32%) of all participants judged the slide to be green at least once.

A third (32%) of al participants judged the slide to be green at least once.

Conclusion: Minorities can influence a majority, but not all the time and only when they behave in certain ways (e.g. consistent behavior style).

Criticism: The study used the lab experiments – i.e. are the results true to real life (ecological validity)? Also Moscovici used female students as participants (i.e. unrepresentative sample), so it would be wrong to generalize his result to all people – they only tell us about the behavior of female students.


Most of the research on minority influence is based on experiments conducted in laboratories. This raises the question of ecological validity. Is it possible to generalize from the findings of laboratory research to other settings? Edward Sampson (1991) is particularly critical of laboratory research on minority influence. He makes the following points.

The participants in laboratory experiments are rarely ‘real groups’. More often than not they are a collection of students who do not know each other and will probably never meet again. They are also involved in an artificial task. As such they are very different from minority groups in the wider society who seek to change majority opinion.

For example, members of women’s rights, gay rights and animal rights organizations, members of pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are very different from participants in laboratory experiments.  They operate in different settings with different constraints.  They often face much more determined opposition. They are committed to a cause; they often know each other, provide each other with considerable social support and sometimes devote their lives to changing the views of the majority. Power and status laboratory experiments are largely unable to represent and simulate the wide differences in power and status that often separate minorities and majorities.

Also Moscovici (1969) used female students as participants (i.e. unrepresentative sample), so it would be wrong to generalize his result to all people – they only tell us about the behavior of female students.  Also, females are said to be more conformist than males, therefore there might be a gender difference in the way that males and females respond to minority influence. Another critic could be that four people are not enough for a group and could not be considered as the majority.


Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.

Moscovici, S. and Zavalloni, M. (1969). The group as a polarizer of attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 125-135.

Moscovici, S. (1976). Social influence and social change. London: Academic Press.

Moscovici, S. (1980). Toward a theory of conversion behavior. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 13, (pp. 209–239). New York: Academic Press.

Mugny, G., & Papastamou, S. (1980). When rigidity does not fail: Individualization and psychologization as resistances to the diffusion of minority innovations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 10(1), 43-61.

Nemeth, C. J. (1986). The differential contributions of majority and minority influence. Psychological Review, 93, 23-32.

Sampson, E. (1991). Social worlds, personal lives: An introduction to social psychology. (6th Ed.) San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Smith, C. M., Tindale, R. S., & Dugoni, B. L. (1996). Minority and majority influence in freely interacting groups: Qualitative versus quantitative differences. British Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 137–149.

Trost, M. R., Maass, A., & Kenrick, D. (1992). Minority influence: Personal relevance biases cognitive processes and reverses private acceptance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28,234-254.

Quella voce ormai stridula. Sui giornali del 3 febbraio

Quella voce ormai stridula. Sui giornali del 3 febbraio

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 Se la voce diventa stridula è perché il potere o l’autorevolezza di chi la alza non riesce ad essere efficace. Pretendere di forzare l’orientamento della commissione europea contando solo sulle proprie forze, senza aver costruito prima con la diplomazia che purtroppo non ha la rete di alleanze necessaria allo scopo, non può offrire al premier alcuna  garanzia di successo.  Meno ancora ne offre…

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I read this quote today from Serge Moscovici and it made me think of Sam Harris and The Moral Landscape: ‘New and unexpected ideas in a science are not only due to the inspiration and the genius of an individual but also to his readiness to upset the conceptions which are current in his time.’

Serge Moscovici, 1972

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A Study on Minority Influence - Moscovici (1969)

(AO2)Aim: to determine whether a minority can influence a majority and reverse the usual direction of social influence.

Method:Pre-tested to check for colour-blindness. Laboratory experiment, participants were randomly allocated to inconsistent, consistent or controlled condition. Each condition contained 6 P’s being present at the same time. (4 naïve participants, 2 stooges (minority)). P’s were asked to describe the colour of 36 slides all of which were blue but varied in brightness.
Consistent: 2 stooges described them as green.
Inconsistent: 2 stooges described 24/36 as green 12/36 as blue.
Control: no stooges.
Minority Influence was measured by % of P’s who said green.

Findings: Consistent 8.42% answered green 32% conformed once. Inconsistent 1.25% answered green. Controlled 0.25% answered green.

Conclusion: • A minority can have an influence over a majority which is more effective if it’s consistent.
• Minorities are more persuasive when consistent can effect leaders who hope to influence the majority.

Evaluation: • Lacked experimental realism – not believable. Slides were artificial which may have encouraged an influence. Lacked internal validity.
• Lacked mundane realism – no relevance to real life. Task not representational of minority influence in real life. (describing colours is trivial) Controlled environment.
• Findings have low external validity – can’t be generalise to real-life.
• Showed that a minority has to be consistent in its behaviour to influence the majority.

Agency in a consensually reified world


 This essay is an attempt to critically evaluate the contemporary relevance of one aspect of the theory of social representations, the study of how ideas spread in public spheres. After a succinct reconstruction of the Durkheimian and Moscovician stages of elaboration of the concept, this essay suggests the need for a new stage of elaboration, given the complex and disjunctive nature of contemporary public spheres. In a Kantian sense, a critique is not a negative evaluation. It is, more precisely, an act of demarcation, the definition of the limits of a concept. Durkheim and Moscovici have critiqued the individualistic conceptual legacy of modernity and its limited capacity to understand the social worlds in which they lived. New directions for this critical orientation are suggested.

 From Collective to Social Representations.

 Durkheim’s concept of “collective representations” is one of the most important precedents in the theoretical endeavour of Serge Moscovici. Against the subjective epistemological tradition of the enlightenment, in particular the Kantian subject with its transcendental framework of categories (Kant, Wood, & Guyer, 1998), for Durkheim the structure of human cognition is a product of culture and society (Durkheim, Mauss, & Needham, 1970; Jovchelovitch, 2007).

 In Durkheim, the social nature of knowledge accomplished a moral function. In this sense, collective representations are the cognitive product of society and, by being shared by each of one of its members, are the conditions of possibility of cohesion and solidarity and therefore, of society itself.

 Durkheim’s major goal was to set the ground for sociology to become an autonomous science of an autonomous object (Durkheim & Lukes, 1982). To do so, he needed an abstract concept of society without much sensitivity for variation and specificity. Every societal formation depends on the presence of shared mental contents. The link between the collective and the representation is absolute, permanent and monadic (Jovchelovitch, 2007).

 Based on an empirical research on the dissemination of psychoanalysis in the French public, Moscovici was able to take the concept and adapt it to observe new complex societal conditions (Moscovici & Duveen, 2007). In this new approximation, society meant a plurality of groups contesting and producing representations in a dynamic and creative way. Far from being just passive reflects of an external object, social representations are active processes of reception and socialization of objects, transformed “by relating them to a system of values, notions and practices that enables individuals to orient themselves within the social and material environment and to master it” (Moscovici & Duveen, 2007, p. xxxi).

 The way in which a community transforms external knowledge is expressive of its own history and identity. Moscovici looks specifically at 3 such groups inside his contemporary France. The variation in the way that psychoanalysis was absorbed and re-presented by these groups allowed Moscovici to go from collectively bounded representations to socially dynamic representations.

 A third stage

 For Moscovici, the starting point, at least methodologically, was that “every group inhabits its own world of opinion” (Moscovici & Duveen, 2007, p. xxxv). Only on the basis of that assumption the idea of multiple socio-cognitive frames operating inside one group or individual is relevant. In this sense, Polyphasia, more than a individual or collective state of plural rationality (Jovchelovitch, 2002), represents a medium to cognitively deal with an hyper complex society, and is a manifestation of two important things: first, the capacity of the individual to assume a third position in front of divergent social logics that he needs to master, and second, the capacity of social logics (and their “worlds of opinion”) to respond to their own structures over time, with increasing levels of autonomy in front of human groups or communities.

 Cognitive Polyphasia is needed when the social logics that groups and individuals need to master are so plural and disjunctive, that no single cognitive system is enough. This means that the consensual world (Moscovici, 2001) loses its centrality in the organization of experiences.  Increasing numbers of groups and people adopting a polyphasic cognitive scheme is a signal that the distinction between consensual and reified worlds it’s not operative. Under this perspective, social representations, more than “consensual worlds”, are specific positions across the social spectrum, cognitively open to different individuals and groups to assume or contest them.

 Cited Works

 Durkheim, É., & Lukes, S. (1982). The rules of sociological method : and selected texts on sociology and its method. London: Macmillan.

Durkheim, É., Mauss, M., & Needham, R. (1970). Primitive classification (2nd ed.). London: Cohen and West.

Jovchelovitch, S. (2002). Re-thinking the diversity of knowledge: cognitive polyphasia, belief and representation. LSE Research Online. Retrieved from

Jovchelovitch, S. (2007). Knowledge in context representations, community, and culturepp. xii, 211 p.). Available from

Kant, I., Wood, A. W., & Guyer, P. (1998). Critique of pure reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moscovici, S. (2001). Social representations : explorations in social psychology. New York: New York University Press.

Moscovici, S., & Duveen, G. (2007). Psychoanalysis: its image and its public. Cambridge: Polity.