Moscovicis Research on Minority Influence

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Sergei Moscovici is a French Romanian-born social psychologist.  He conducted a famous experiment in minority influence, the results of which are published in a book.  These results are analyzed and dissected in several other research papers and books.

In his first experiment, Moscovici introduced four groups of rather naïve female subjects to women, presenting blue and green colored slides against a dull white background.  The first person was said to represent the majority and stated the slides were the colors as presented.  The second person was said to represent the minority and insisted that the blue colored slides were actually green.  While the majority agreed that the blue slides were indeed blue during conversation, when privately asked to name the color of the slides, the majority were even more likely to change their opinions to match those of the minority.   This means that people unconsciously mimic others' choices in their interactions with others.

The researchers believed that minorities produce such a conversion because they represent a challenge to the majority viewpoint in that they are unyielding, committed to their view, and have a clear view of reality.  This produces a challenge to the target influence's own judgment, as the person tries to reconcile a previously held view with the insistence that view is wrong.

When the source of the influence makes an unexpected judgment, the experience of the target influence is weighed against that of the source's judgment, without necessarily reconsidering the object to which that judgment refers.

In previous experiments, individuals have been observed as being primarily concerned with why they do not see the blue slide as green.  They try to resolve this problem by concentrating on the conversation rather than the object itself.  Once the conversation is over, and the individuals are asked to make a private judgment on the slide color, their subjective (personal) responses remain undisturbed because what was talked about is only loosely connected to what was seen.

As a result of trying to see and understand what the minority saw and understood, the majority begin to see and understand as the minority would.  This occurs during the verification process, where the majority tries to verify or falsify what was being said.  According to Moscovici and his colleagues, these are the main reasons why minorities are generally more influential to the private rather than public response.

To help eliminate doubt that the viewers of the slides had only changed their opinions verbally, without actually changing their perceptions, a second experiment was conducted.  In this experiment, the subjects were asked to indicate which color they saw on the white screen after either a blue or green color was flashed on it for a brief time.

The subjects saw a complimentary color in the color scheme of the color shown, with yellow-orange for a blue slide and red-purple for a green slide.  If the subjects were only changing their verbal responses in the previous experiment, without changing their perceptions, then the results would be reversed.

More about this author: Toni Macdonald

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