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Intro to Social Influence

This portion of the Working Psychology website offers a brief introduction to a big topic: social influence, the modern, scientific study of persuasion, compliance, propaganda, "brainwashing," and the ethics that surround these issues. Although these topics aren't always simple (it is, after all, science), I've done my best to make this introduction interesting.

Since Aristotle recorded his principles of persuasion in Rhetoric, humans have attempted to define and refine the principles of successful influence. Persuasion has been studied as an art for most of human history. Eyegear

The comparatively young science of social influence, however, can trace its roots to the second world war, when a social psychologist named Carl Hovland was contracted by the U.S. Armed Forces to bolster the morale of soldiers. President Roosevelt was concerned that Americans would lose the will to fight after winning victory in Europe. It was Hovland's job to motivate soldiers to continue fighting against Japan. Since World War II, social influence has become a vastly expanding field of study devoted to discovering the principles that determine our beliefs, create our attitudes, and move us to action.

In this introduction, I approach the topic of influence from a scientific viewpoint--you won't hear me talking about my hunches, fabricating entertaining distinctions, constructing pseudo-scientific systems, or offering anecdotes as substitutes for hard evidence.

Social scientists attempt to support any assertion with facts. As empiricists, we don't guess, we test-- and the result of decades of testing, by thousands of scientists who study human behavior, has yielded a rich body of knowledge--facts!--on how and why people are persuaded by another person's arguments, or decide to comply with another person's request. This website presents a very small fraction of what is known about influence by today's influence experts.

Want a few examples of how social influence works in the real world before you continue? Please proceed . . .

Copyright © 2002 by Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.


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