Human beings are social creatures and, therefore, their decisions and thinking are highly subjected to social influence. Social influence as a sociological phenomenon is the way human beings sway the beliefs, feeling, thinking, and behaviors of one another (Fabrigar & Norris, 2015). As such, personal thinking and behavior are guided by societal norms and behaviors.
This paper analyses social influence and its effects on personal thinking and behavior. In addition, the essay examines the views of some of the sociological theories such as functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interaction on social influence.
Society influence to personal thinking
Personal thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and behaviors are highly influenced by society. It is worth noting that social groups have established norms, which individuals try to be in line with to avoid dissonance. Therefore, personal views of what is wrong, right, acceptable, or unacceptable are based on what social groups’ norms dictate. For instance, an individual is likely to think that a new model of a gadget is trendy and appropriate, depending on what people say about it.
Areas in personal life that are affected by social influence and how they are affected
Social influence is evident in nearly all aspects of human lives. The phenomenon can be observed in major individuals’ behaviors that replicate group norms and behavior. For instance, social influence can be linked to major political or voting decisions manifested by the public. Some politicians are elected not due to their competency but due to their abilities to manipulate social influence to their advantage. Other common areas where group decision-making is apparent include fashion/style; purchase decisions; investment decisions; reaction to disasters; cultural markets, and many other day-to-day pronouncements.
Before making decisions, people are more likely to observe the people around them. Their decisions are then informed by societal norms and behaviors. In a certain study, for instance, an analysis was carried out to investigate societal influence in individual answers to some factual questions. Each of the participants had an aggregate clue on the responses given by the majority of the test partakers. The findings were interesting since the overall responses were more or less similar (Mavrodiev, Tessone, & Schweitze, 2013).
The social influence works in diverse ways and in different models. A perfect model that can explicitly demonstrate social influence is the dissonance minimization model. In an attempt to avoid dissonance and conflicts, human beings end up behaving in accordance with societal norms (Groeber, Lorenz, & Schweitzer, 2014 ).
The good and the bad of a social influence
Social influence has both negative and positive outcomes (Muchnik, Aral, & Taylor, 2013). As such, social influence can be a good thing or a bad thing. For instance, if in a certain industry, all the firms are tax and legislation compliant, a new firm is likely to follow suit and comply with government regulations. In such a case, social influence will be a good thing. In another instance, women in a certain office who make individual decisions based on group influence may have negative impacts on individuals’ financial statuses in trying to fit in.
Another bad social influence is the use of harmful substances and drugs. For instance, smoking among youth is highly facilitated by negative societal influence (Simons-Morton & Farhat, 2010).
Minimizing social influence
It is evident that social influence plays a vital role in individuals’ decision-making processes. Nonetheless, human beings are autonomous and can make individual decisions and, therefore, minimize the social influence, especially negative effects, and herd mentality. It is imperative for an individual to take time before making decisions. As such, all factors and outcomes pertinent to a decision-making process will be considered.
Functionalism and social influence
Functionalism view society as a system with many elements that are interrelated/interconnected, working in harmony while influencing each other (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2012).As such, parts and element of the society work together to strike an equilibrium in the whole society.
For instance, the family is a vital element of the society that has a mandate to nurture and socialize children. It is evident that children’s way of thinking and overall behaviors are influenced by their parents or care providers.
In addition, education and schools significantly influence youths’ attitudes, thinking, and decision-making processes. Moreover, the political class and policymakers influence legislation and major regulations that guide personal thinking and behaviors. The last part of the society that highly influences personal thinking is religion.
Conflict theory and social influence
Proponents of the conflict theory claim that the society is made up of diverse groups, which always compete for power, opportunities and resources (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2012). As such, individual thinking, attitude, and behavior are influenced by the conflicting elements in the society. A poor person, for instance, argues that the rich hold the wealth and resources of the society. Therefore, their attitudes and thinking will be highly influenced by the phenomenon of the rich and the poor. For instance, Karl Marx, (a key figure and a proponent of the theory) argues that poor people tend to hide under religion due the conflicting realities of life (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2012).
Symbolic interaction and social influence
Symbolic interaction adopts a more comprehensive approach to social influence relative to either functionalism or conflict theory. As such, it is referred to as macro sociology since it explains social influence in advanced (institutional) levels (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2012).
The proponents of symbolic interactionism argue that personal thinking, attitudes, and behaviors are influenced by definitions and meanings generated through social interaction. In addition, people get their identities and definitions of selves through social interaction. As such, an individual’s perspective of self is highly influenced by their society’s perspectives (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2012).
Social influence is evident in all societies around the world. An individual’s decision-making processes are highly influenced by the people around them. The society influences individual’s thinking, attitude, and behavior. Social influence is manifested by herd mentality, which is evident in individuals’ behaviors.
Social influence has both positive and negative effects on individuals’ thinking and decision-making processes. It is prudent to get rid of negative social influence while enhancing positive aspects of social influence. An important technique of minimizing negative social influence is taking time during decision-making. Taking time gives an individual a chance to examine the negative consequences of the herd mentality and, therefore, make autonomous and wise decisions.
Social influence can be illustrated by three sociology theories, functionalism, conflicting, and social interaction theories. Functionalism emphasizes the interconnectivity of societal elements and hence the social influence. The conflicting theory, on the other hand, suggests that the differences in the society highly influences individuals’ thinking and behavior. Lastly, the symbolic interaction theorists suggest that social influence is determined by definitions and meanings obtained from social interactions.
Fabrigar, L. R., & Norris, M. E. (2015). Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience. Oxford Bibliographies in Psychology. Web.
Groeber, P., Lorenz, J., & Schweitzer, F. (2014 ). Dissonance Minimization as a Microfoundation of Social Influence in Models of Opinion Formation. The Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 38(3), 147-174. Web.
Mavrodiev, P., Tessone, C. J., & Schweitze, F. (2013). Quantifying the Effects of Social Influence. Scientific Reports, 3(1360), 1-6. Web.
Mooney, L. A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2012). Understanding Social Problems (8th ed.). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing.
Muchnik, L., Aral, S., & Taylor, S. J. (2013). Social Influence Bias: A Randomized Experiment. Science, 341(6146), 647-651.
Simons-Morton, B., & Farhat, T. (2010). Recent Findings on Peer Group Influences on Adolescent Substance Use. Journal of Primary Prevention, 31(4), 191–208. Web.