Informational Influence Definition
Informational influence refers to new information or arguments provided in a group discussion that change a group member’s attitudes, beliefs, or behavior. Informational influence is likely to be stronger when a person is uncertain about the correct interpretation of reality and/or the correct behavior in a given context and therefore looks to other group members for guidance.
Informational Influence History and Usage
The concept of informational influence was originally proposed by Morton Deutsch and Harold B. Gerard, who were trying to understand why group members holding a minority view tended to adopt the group majority’s view. They argued that there were two ways that groups can affect individuals. Deutsch and Gerard sought to clarify earlier research that failed to distinguish between these two ways and the related types of motivation that people may have for “going along with the group majority.” One motivation is the desire to have an accurate view of reality: When the group majority provides information to a person about reality that is not consistent with that person’s view, the person may change his or her view to be correct. This change can be said to result from informational influence.
The second motivation is the desire to be liked by the group. Here, influence occurs when a person changes an attitude, belief, or behavior to be more similar to the group’s attitude, belief, or behavior to be accepted by that group. This second form of group influence is often called normative influence because the individual follows the group norm—which is what the group believes the individual ought to do—regardless of whether it reflects that individual’s attitudes or beliefs.
The effects of informational influence have been clearly demonstrated in social psychological research. The leading explanation for these effects is known as the persuasive arguments theory, which states that the persuasive argument or information the majority uses to influence a person must be perceived by the person to be both novel (new to the person) and valid.
Informational influence has often been examined in the context of group decision making. For instance, a jury may be divided as to the guilt or innocence of a defendant. The group majority will attempt to convince members of the minority to change their votes to match the majority’s vote. The majority will be better able to exert informational influence over the minority if it offers new arguments that the minority perceives to be valid or correct. Simply stating the same old arguments again and again or making arguments that the minority views as incorrect will not typically produce informational influence.
One issue that has been raised with regard to informational influence is whether it is truly distinct from normative influence. The question boils down to how people decide if the information or argument provided by the group majority that is designed to influence the minority is itself true. The group majority has already decided that the information or argument is true, and it expects the minority to agree. Since the information provided by the majority also represents what it wants the minority to accept, that information acts like a group norm. Influence stemming from this informational norm reflects both informational and normative influence.
- Deutsch, M., & Gerard, H. B. (1955). A study of normative and informational social influences upon individual judgment. Abnormal Psychology, 51(3), 629-636.
- Turner, J. C. (1991). .Socialinfluence. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.