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Kelman's Process of Opinion Change


Techniques General persuasion > Using repetition > Kelman's Process of Opinion Change

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Kelman (1958) described three types of 'opinion change': compliance, identification and internalization.


When a person complies, they apparently agree with the request as they act upon it. In fact, they do not really agree and internally may well feel the tension of cognitive dissonance as their actions are inconsistent with their beliefs.


A second major form of persuasion is where the person identifies with the speaker or originator of the idea in some way, and so accepts and believes their argument without further question or challenge.


Internalization is full internal acceptance and adoption of an idea or belief by the individual. This is done at the personal level, without coercion from others and not driven by any need to associate with others.


A soldier complies with his colonel's command. He identifies with comrades as they share common values. He internalizes the army training and so believes that armed force is necessary.


Herbert Kelman was an early social psychologist who investigated how people influenced one another, particularly within situations of conflict or stress. He noted the difference between external compliance and internal agreement.


Compliance happens with simple acts where we feel no need to challenge the request or where there is no emotional investment required, for example where a person asks you to pass the salt at the dinner table.

People comply when they feel they must, and that the alternative to compliance would be greater discomfort than the dissonance of compliance. For example people at work obey commands as the alternative may be dismissal or disciplinary action.

Compliance is largely driven by thoughts of pain and please and so may also be given in pursuit of a reward, including intangible benefits such as approval.


Identification happens for a number of reasons. When the other person is a social leader we may well want to associate with them and so accept their arguments (there may be some degree of compliance in this). Our sense of identity is important here as we bond with the person through acceptance of their ideas. Similarly, as we identify with a group we accept their rules and values. It is also common between individual friends.

Identification also happens when we accept the teachings of individuals in lieu of learning through practice. Once we have identified with them, then we accept everything they say (at least in the domain of trust we cede to them).

In a more extreme form of identification, the individual wants to be like or even be the identified other person. This can be seen in such as the following of pop idols. It is also a goal of brainwashing.


Internalization often requires significant cognitive processing as we think about what is said and fit the ideas into our existing beliefs, values and schema (or adjust them as needed). An internalized idea has to make sense and Petty and Cacciopo's Elaboration Likelihood Model describes how this requires the 'central route' of conscious persuasion rather than any short-cut methods.

For internalization to works, the persuasive argument is usually rational and make sense to the listener. Other methods may also work, such as when the persuader is passionate and stimulates the emotions of the listener (although there is a risk here of creating identification rather than internalization).

Persuaders often want to create internalization but if they use methods of compliance or identification then they may not truly persuade.

See also

Consistency principle, Bonding principle, Elaboration Likelihood Model, Logic principle


Kelman, H. (1958). Compliance, identification, and internalization: Three processes of attitude change. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1, 51-60

Kelman, H. (1961). . Journal of Public Opinion, 25, Spring 1961, 57-78


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