The following essay was written by Jesse D, in timed conditions. This essay is a beautiful example of how to structure an essay on social change, a particularly difficult topic, within social psychology.
Social change is the process by which a society develops over time, replacing old, outdated beliefs with new ones as a result of minority influence. According to research, a minority must be committed, consistent and yet flexible in their approach in order to be effective. The minority aims to draw the attention of the majority to the need for change, thus encouraging deeper processing, where the majority is encouraged to question the norm. This is especially effective when combined with the augmentation principle, where the minority gives personal sacrifices in order to make a bigger impact on the majority. This then leads to the snowball effect, where more and more members of the majority are convinced by the minority, giving the movement momentum. Eventually, so many people have joined the cause that the minority has become the new majority. This then leads to majority influence and normative social influence (NSI) as a result, as people now change their behaviour in order to conform to the majority. Once the majority view has been widely accepted, this may cause it to become law which must be obeyed regardless of personal beliefs, for example the law banning smoking in public places.
Evidence in support of the theory that a minority must be consistent comes from a study carried out by Moscovici, who tested the colour perception of 172 American women in order to see whether a consistent minority is more effective than an inconsistent one. Six participants at a time were shown 36 slides, all of the colour blue. In the consistent condition, the two out of the six participants who were confederates claimed that the slides were green 100% of the time. In the inconsistent condition, they claimed that 24 of the slides were green compared to 12 blue. Results showed that in the consistent condition, the minority was able to influence the majority to call the slides green 8.4% of the time, compared to only 1.3% in the inconsistent condition. This shows that in order to be able to bring about social change in the majority, a minority must be consistent in their approach.
Also, a minority must be committed, which can be demonstrated through the augmentation principle. For example, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white man, which was at that time a criminal offence. Parks was willing to serve time in prison because she was so dedicated to her cause, which helped to trigger the civil rights movement in America, ending racial segregation laws. This therefore shows that a committed minority, especially when using the augmentation principle, is able to draw attention for the need to change, which is effective at encouraging majority influence and social change.
A factor of social change is majority influence, which causes normative social influence, as is supported by a study carried out by Nolan et al. He placed message on people’s doors encouraging them to reduce their energy consumption. For one experimental group, he claimed that others in their neighbourhood were also doing this. For those in this condition, energy consumption was significantly lowered compared to the control group, thus suggesting that normative social influence and the need to conform to the majority is a contributing factor to encouraging social change.