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Minority Influence

 

Explanations > Theories > Minority Influence

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

Minorities can have disproportionate influence. One person has little influence on a larger group (other than in the position they hold relative to others), and so a stranger will have very little influence. However if that lone voice is joined by one other, they now form a minority group and their confidence and ability to influence jumps significantly, provided that they are in clear agreement.

The social cost of holding a view that is different from that of the majority is relatively high, which means minorities often hold their views more strongly. Their passion often leads them to acquire significant expertise in their areas of interest, thereby increasing their ability to persuade from a position of authority.

Although groups seek to normalize their members’ behaviors, they also will often tolerate minorities. Sometimes this is unavoidable, when the group is a coalition where the minority holds a disproportionate power, such as in coalition governments or where the minority controls key resources, such as a oil supply.

Many people in majorities are only there because they do not hold strong views and are generally conservative in nature and are willing to flex their views to fit in with others. This accepting position also makes them vulnerable to influence and, when faced with a strongly-held minority view, they may be shocked into considering the arguments.

For minorities to be taken seriously, they must be very tight knit, expressing the same viewpoint over a period of time. If they do not do this, they will be ignored as a bunch of individual eccentrics. Given their size, there is more likely to be dissenting voices within any majority. A consistent minority exerts as much influence as a non-unanimous majority, particularly if they can 'divide and conquer'.

Minorities can strengthen their social validity by claiming the ethical high ground in particular areas of interest, such as human rights, and so position themselves in the moral right. They can also leverage and express the views of external, but influential groups, such as when a single person of a given racial background can threaten anti-racial adverse publicity.

Majorities tend to exert normative social influence, whilst minorities tend to use informational social influence.

Example

Trade Unions for specific professions have had disproportionate effect for example through in crippling strikes. Some companies have countered by closing down and then restarting as a non-union employer.

So what?

Using it

If you disagree with norms of groups in which you work or socialize, start a minority group. If possible, ensure the minority group controls a critical resource or other form of effective blackmail which can be used to prevent rejection or punishment.

An effective approach is to accumulate ‘brownie points’ by first supporting the majority, and then branching out. With luck and skill, you may take a number of others with you.

You can also remain in the main group and quietly support minority groups who can be used to do things you could not otherwise perform.

Defending

Where you are in the main group and have an influential minority, seek ways of either accommodating or circumventing them. You can also seek to divide and conquer, sowing seeds of discontent within the minority group.

See also

Conversion, Normative Social Influence, Social Impact Theory, Social Norms, Spiral of Silence Theory, Informational Social Influence, The Power of Minorities

References

Moscovici (1984, 1994), Moscovici and Nemeth (1974), Tanford and Penrod (1984), Asch (1966)

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