Minority Influence Definition
Many tasks and decisions are completed by groups of people instead of by a single person. One challenge of group tasks and decisions is that members of groups are not always in agreement with each other; some members of the group might hold that one view or behavior is preferable, whereas other group members might hold that an opposing view or behavior is preferable. For example, work groups may disagree on business plans, medical teams may disagree on patient diagnoses, and trial juries may disagree on a defendant’s guilt or innocence.
In many situations in which group members disagree, opposing views are not equally represented in the group. For example, 4 jurors in a 12-person jury may believe the defendant to be not guilty, whereas the remaining 8 believe the defendant to be guilty. One view is expressed by a numerical minority (e.g., 4 jurors who claim not guilty) and an opposing view is expressed by a numerical majority (e.g., 8 jurors who claim guilty). Although subgroups may differ in aspects such as power, status, or individual characteristics, the terms majority and minority refer to the number of people who support each view. Both the majority and minority groups may strive to change the opposing views of the other group members.
Minority influence refers to the minority group’s influence on the majority group members’ views or behavior. Although minority and majority members may share the goal of influencing group members who hold opposing views, they differ in their underlying motivations, the strategies to achieve influence, and the outcomes of those strategies.
Motivations for Minority Influence
Although a majority is typically thought of as more influential than a minority, minority group members may be particularly motivated to influence the group’s views and behaviors in certain situations, such as when minority members are highly invested in the outcome of the group task or decision. This is especially likely if the outcome of the task or decision has direct implications for the minority group members. For example, a work group may decide that an effective way to save money is to eliminate departments. The minority members of the work group who would lose their jobs as a result of this decision have a strong interest in lobbying for an alternative plan that would not eliminate their departments.
Sometimes members of the minority may be motivated to influence majority members because the minority members have more knowledge or expertise than the majority members do. For example, the minority of a medical team might include the most experienced doctors of the group. If the team of doctors is in disagreement about a diagnosis, the experts in the minority may be especially motivated to guide the decision that the group makes. The minority of experts may attempt to convince the majority members to trust the minority’s knowledge and expertise.
Personal characteristics of the members of minority groups also might encourage them to influence the outcome of a group task or decision. For example, minority members who are very outgoing or have high self-esteem are more likely to speak up if they disagree with the majority. Some minority members may feel threatened because the majority outnumbers them. This feeling of threat might encourage minority members to increase their number of supporters to be equal to or exceed the majority in size. Also, minority group members may feel a personal responsibility to defend their views if their views are very strong or very important to them. Although it is often easier to side with the majority to bring the group to an agreement, the minority might be motivated to take a stand and attempt to influence the majority view or behavior for many reasons.
Strategies for Minority Influence
The strategies that minority groups use to influence the majority group are fundamentally different from the strategies majority groups use to influence the minority group. In general, majority group members seek to maintain the status quo, or current majority view and behavior within the group, whereas minority members seek to change the status quo. Stated another way, minority group members work to change the way the group generally believes or acts. In contrast, majority group members tend to play a more defensive role to keep the group view and behavior the way it is. To preserve the status quo, majority members focus on inducing compliance in group members to influence them to publicly endorse the majority position, regardless of their private beliefs. Minority members, on the other hand, try to induce conversion in group members to change what group members privately believe. Ultimately, minority members hope that the changed private belief will lead to a change in public behavior (e.g., voting) that coincides with the private belief.
To induce conversion, minority members must engage the attention of majority members. Next, minority members should coherently express their alternative view and provide a strong rationale for it. The goal is to cast doubt or uncertainty on the majority view and present the minority’s view as the best alternative. After the initial presentation of their position, members of the minority must be consistent in their support for their position over time. In this way, the minority demonstrates that the alternative position is credible and that the minority is committed to the view. Finally, minority members should emphasize that the only way to restore stability and agreement in the group is by majority members changing their views.
Although these general strategies increase the chances that the minority will successfully influence the majority to adopt its position, they might not be effective in all situations. For instance, a particularly powerful majority group might be extremely resistant to the minority view no matter how strong the minority case might be. However, the minority may still influence the majority through indirect routes. For instance, minority members may continuously remind the majority of the importance or implications of the group’s task or decision, which may encourage members of the majority to think more critically about their views or delay a final decision until they seek more information. If majority members are willing to collect more information, they may be more willing to consider the details of the minority’s viewpoint.
Another important factor in minority social influence is the relationship between the minority and majority in the group at the time that a disagreement occurs. If the members of the minority have established relationships or shared experiences with members of the majority, then attempts at minority influence may be more successful. For example, the minority members might have agreed with majority members in previous tasks or decisions. As a result, majority members might be more welcoming of an opposing view from minority members who have established a positive relationship with the majority in the past.
Outcomes of Minority Influence
In general, minority social influence may differ from majority influence in both the degree and kind of outcomes of their strategies. The social influence that is elicited by a minority group is usually more private and indirect than is influence by a majority group. In addition, the effects of minority influence may not appear immediately. However, minority influence may change majority group members’ private beliefs, which can lead to changes in outward behavior later.
Minority social influence also may alter the group’s general view on issues that are indirectly related to the task or decision at hand. Minority influence may stimulate divergent thinking among majority members, thus encouraging the majority to consider multiple perspectives on an issue. This increased flexibility in majority members’ thinking may lead to changes in some different but related views. For example, a majority group that opposes abortion rights may face a minority that supports abortion rights. Although the majority may refuse to change its view on abortion, it may be willing to consider changing views on related issues such as contraception use. Even if divergent thinking does not change the view that the majority holds on the disagreement at hand (e.g., abortion), flexible thinking may be the first step toward change in the future.
- De Drue, C. K. W., & De Vries, N. K. (2001). Group consensus and minority influence: Implications for innovation. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
- Nemeth, C. J., & Goncalo, J. A. (2005). Influence and persuasion in small groups. In T. C. Brock & M. C. Green (Eds.), Persuasion: Psychological insights and perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 171-194). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- White, E., & Davis, J. H. (Eds.). (1996). Understanding group behavior: Consensual action by small groups. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.