Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity

Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity

The reading shows various different developments in studies with regards to social influence theory on compliance and conformity between 1997 and 2002. The authors showed how a target’s susceptibility to outside influences are emphasized in three core motivations, accuracy, affiliation and the maintenance of a positive self-concept. These motivations provide the bases for a target’s responses to influence attempts. The authors show how these goals are affected by external forces to affect the social influence processes unknowingly, indirectly or subtlety. The article shows several different concepts and theories that are introduced in each of the three core motivations.

This post will talk about one of the techniques that is employed in compliance under the accuracy core motivation, the That’s-Not-All Technique.


Compliance is a request which maybe explicit, for example, a request for donations in a charity drive. It can also be implicit, as in an advertisement asking us to purchase something by promoting to us the qualities of the product. An individual recognizes that he or she is being asked to respond in a desired manner.


That’s-Not-All Technique (TNA)

Individuals are in these situations made to understand, evaluate and respond to a request in a short time and thus are not able to make a good and rational decision. People who employ this kind of technique is mentioned to give a request to the target and then either sweeten the deal by reducing the cost or by increasing the benefits of accepting that request. Studies shown in 1999 by Burger have shown that initial request changes the anchor point that individuals use when deciding how to respond to the better deal. By first elevating an anchor point of a customer, a salesman increases that chances that the better deal will be accepted based on this higher initial request although a request that is too excessively high will be rejected outright. Another study by Pollock in 1998, mentioned that the TNA technique works because customers mindlessly act on counterfactuals which appears to be a bargain to them. The technique’s success may be due to the mindless consideration of the deal.

My view

Although much of the studies have contributed to the social influence research, some of the research are outdated and may not apply well in this day and age. In today’s age of improved technology, people are able to research, for example via the internet in the purchase of an item, for the best prices and places to buy and make an informed purchase or deal without falling victims to such techniques. What is your opinion and have you sub-consciously became victims of such social influences?


Cialdini Robert B & Goldstein Noah J (2004) ‘Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity’, Annual Review of Psychology, 55, ProQuest, pp. 591-621. Available at: (accessed 16 Oct 2012)



3 comments so far

  1. tefaifoxhunter on

    Although I agree with your assessment that people are “smarter” now as there are more information at our fingertips, I would like to disagree with you on your point that this “smartness” is proof against compliance. I actually believe that being slaved to our mobile devices are diluting our free will and believes and is slowly melding everyone in the world together. There isnt even a hegemony anymore. Everyone thinks the same, and everyone likes generally the same things.

    Compliance is a base mentality. Sheep will follow a shepherd where ever he may take them. But regardless, there is always a black sheep who refuses to follow. That black sheep, outside of the constraints of the flock, has no choice but to innovate, to become stronger, because he is alone and independent. Thus, things improve because there are those of us who refuse to follow the current.

    But the technology that we hold are slowly embedding a global culture into the people of the world, in the phillipines, in Brazil, in Zimbabwe, everyone is using Facebook or holding one version of the iphone. And who sets the culture? Who sets the trends that are so powerful that the whole world is following?

    Who is the shepherd?

  2. durianshells on

    Thanks for the reply, Tefaifoxhunter. I agree with you that these corporations are setting the trends and are changing our culture. Technology such as mobile phones and Facebook are double edged swords, there are advantages and disadvantages. But ultimately it gives us convenience, entertainment and connvectivity with others. In a profitable market, where there are many competitors and fickle as consumers are, people will constantly compare. These companies do not have it easy, having to constantly innovate to stay afloat.
    As mentioned by Dr Cialdini, very often we fall to the automatic process of compliance which happens when people lack the ability to analyze, when we feel uncertain about a situation, we believe in authority and to avoid being different in our group. Bringing this in the context of the consumer world, many people just believe what they see in an advertisement without analyzing it. The internet with its wealth of information, take for example this, (, helps us to circumvent that.
    This can be relatively harmless in a setting like a purchase or believing simply in an advertisement but however can be devasting in political propaganda or terrorist or cult group with their ideologies.

  3. rururu143 on

    In response to the questions posted, I believe many of us have fallen prey to the social norm of compliance that was executed by business-minded salespeople / retailers – in my case, more often than I like to admit, sadly. Insurance agents, for example, like to use the TNA technique you mentioned to close a deal, and somehow I tend to succumb to that. To term these salespeople as scheming would be overly harsh and unfair, as these classic influence technique used is after all, well-researched and widely used to target and manipulate the weakness of human behaviour. Persuasion and the gaining of compliance are particularly significant types of social influence since they utilize the respective effect’s power to attain the submission of others. (Wiki, 2012) These techniques are used because they effectively make it hard for their ‘victims’ to say no.

    As above commenter pointed out, in this day where technology is prevalent empowering us with knowledge and making it possible to override social compliance, there is now another ‘shepherd’ where we subconsciously fell prey to without knowing.

    Compliance-gaining is a complex arena, and involves complicated cognitive dynamics as well as ethical issues and interpersonal persuasion. Randy Stein conducted a study focused on how cognitive resources are necessary to override social influence. In one of his research paper, he used the example of the 9/11 incident to theorise:

    As the first of the New York twin towers collapsed on of September 11, 2001, 20 workers in the second tower began to evacuate. However, security officers instructed them to return upstairs, and 19 out of 20 complied. Of these, 18 subsequently perished in the collapse of the second tower (9/11 Commission Report, 2004). Why, despite the life-threatening circumstances, did those 19 workers comply with these instructions to return to their offices, instead of saving themselves when they had the chance? The current research suggests that this shocking event might have occurred because the stress of the event led those workers to comply with authority, rather than do what seemed emotionally and situationally correct. Thus, though we theorize that the tendency to comply reflects the inter-connectedness and essential sociality of humans, it can have unfortunate consequences, as demonstrated with this example from 9/11. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that resistance against the overly costly influence attempts of others was also clearly demonstrated by some participants in both of the present studies so that resistance, like assimilation, also appears to be a natural human reaction – but one that, unlike assimilation, resistance is dependent on the availability of effortful cognitive processing.


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