Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 9: Minority influence: The value of dissent (pp. 338346)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Successful Minority Influence (pp. 338343)
    1. Offering an alternative consensus
    2. Negotiating similarity and difference
    3. Promoting systematic processing
    4. Minority influence in the courtroom
  2. Processes of Minority and Majority Influence (pp. 344345)
  3. Beyond Minority Influence: Using Norms to Strengthen Consensus (pp. 345346)
Successful Minority Influence

Minority viewpoints can alter a group's consensus when they offer an alternative consensus, remain consistent, have a balance between similarity and difference from the majority, and promote systematic processing.

Offering an alternative consensus

Minority views can exert influence by undermining confidence in the accuracy of the majority consensus, because people expect everyone to agree.

For the minority to be taken seriously (1) the alternative view must be a consensus, because agreement among minority members signals that their view is viable; and (2) they must remain loyal to their consensus, because consistency conveys commitment to the viability of an alternative position.

When the minority viewpoint successfully influences the majority, the effect can go beyond the specific issue.

Negotiating similarity and difference

The minority have to find a balance between offering a consensus that clearly differs from the majority viewpoint, while they themselves are not being perceived as different from the majority.

The minority first have to be part of the in-group to establish credibility before dissenting. This can be done by agreeing on important issues.

The minority lose power if minority group members are thought to share a common bias, if the minority viewpoint is contaminated, and if out-group membership is made salient.

The minority have more influence when they are represented by a diverse group of people.

Promoting systematic processing

Minority dissent promotes systematic processing because plausible alternative views create uncertainty and stimulate majority members to seek additional information, process in greater depth, and make more integrative and considered decisions. Research has supported this empirically (see SP pp. 341342).

Minority views can change majority attitudes in a direct way. However, attitudes concerning indirectly related issues are changed more often than attitudes of the topic under discussion, because (1) group members may systematically process the information that affects other information, but may resist openly agreeing with the dissenters because of mastery and connectedness functions; and (2) people hearing dissenting views may think more broadly, consider alternatives, go beyond the given information, and diverge from the topic, thus becoming more creative.

Minority influence in the courtroom

Although jurors in a real trial may act differently and may be more considerate, it appeared from studies using mock juries (see SP p. 343) that when a decision requires to be supported by the majority, minority influence is weakened, and the quality of decisions is reduced in comparison to the situation where a decision requires unanimity.

Processes of Minority and Majority Influence

Majority and minority views influence others by the same processes; both can be accepted privately and generate public conformity, both can satisfy our needs for mastery and connectedness, and both can encourage superficial or systematic processing.

Beyond Minority Influence: Using Norms to Strengthen Consensus

Consensus is more likely to be accurate when group members are more critical and systematic processors as a group than as individuals, when majority and minority viewpoints are carefully considered, when all information is processed systematically, and when norms supporting dissent are adopted.

So what does this mean?

Minority viewpoints can alter a group's consensus when they offer an alternative consensus, remain consistent, have a balance between similarity and difference from the majority, and promote systematic processing. Consensus is more likely to be accurate when group members are more critical and systematic processors as a group than as individuals, when majority and minority viewpoints are carefully considered, when all information is processed systematically, and when norms supporting dissent are adopted.

Back to chapter 9 introduction

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 9 introduction
  2. Conformity to social norms
  3. The dual functions of conformity to norms: Mastery and connectedness
  4. How groups form norms: Processes of social influence
  5. Conformity pressure:Undermining true consensus
  6. Minority influence: The value of dissent
  7. Chapter overview (PDF)
  8. Fill-in-the-blanks
  9. Multiple-choice questions