Social Influence: Why We Do What We Do…

Human beings are one  of the most social creatures on the planet. All of the major hallmarks in our lives are marked by a social event, and throughout everyday we are subject to a number of influences. So it is no wonder that even our behavior can and is dictated by our interactions with others, and our need to be social.

A few of these influences take the shape of conformity, compliance, obedience, and the chameleon effect. Any of these influences can occur at any given time and in any combination. They center around making us more appealing in the eyes of others, but not all of them are as simple as, I’m doing this because I want you to like me.


Conformity is: Changing your behavior to match others in response to real or imagined pressure.

If everyone is trying to go against conformity does that make everyone a conformist? Does anyone even know what conformity means, it’s a word tossed around often by teens going through their teenage identity crisis.  For the rest of our lives conformity is what influences us to paint our house a particular color, dress a certain way at work, face the exit door in an elevator.  It’s that invisible pressure that makes sure we behave certain ways, or that nagging, what will everyone else think, whisper that drifts in the backs of our heads.

So does that mean everything I do is conformity? 

No, conformity is only one type of social influence, and is a result of real or imagined pressure, while the rest are not.


Compliance is as the name suggest,  doing what has been asked of you. However, there are factors that influence compliance and help to determine a person’s likelihood to follow through. Most notably is the relationship between the asker and the receiver. If your spouse or significant other were to ask you to get them a glass of water you’ll comply. If, however, a stranger were to ask you to borrow twenty dollars you are extremely unlikely to comply.

In both instances there are a number of factors influencing your decision. Including ingratiating, has the person ‘warmed’ you up first. What groups, if any, are present. Your disposition toward the person, the mood you are in, and even the words used in the request. Our brains processes all of this information and more almost instantaneously which culminates in forming our decision to comply or not.

On a general level someone’s likelihood to comply can be broken down to three things:

1. Cost-how much effort will going along with the request need.

2. Disposition-how does the person feel about you, and how do they feel about themself.

3. Benefit-what does the person get out of this, and is it worth it (ties back to cost).

Being aware of these three things, and catering your request to maximize or minimize each will make those in question much more likely to comply.


Obedience is: Submitting to the will of someone perceived to be more powerful.

When we believe someone is in a higher position than us, an immediate and subconscious decision is made to submit to that person. This decision to submit also limits our ability to properly assess what is being demanded of us, and hampers our moral compass.

Military’s place such a strong emphasis on rank because it allows for efficiency, and for decisions to be made without question by subordinates. While this is good in some cases, such as rapidly mobilizing a response  team to an attack, it can also be harmful when the submissive parties begin to commit crimes under the guise of ‘following orders.’

Chameleon Effect

Chameleon Effect is the term used to describe a subconscious action in which we mimic the manners, expressions, and movements of the people we are interacting with. To put it simply, we become human chameleons.

The next time you and a friend are sitting across a table, pay attention to how both of you are seated. After a while, shift your own seating style to a more relaxed or tensed posture  and note how your friend mimics the posture soon after. This is the chameleon effect at its best.

But why does it happen?

As social creatures we naturally like and are drawn to people who hold similar beliefs and have similar behaviors to our own. The chameleon effect is our mind’s way of giving us a leg up when it comes to making friends, by subtly mimicking their posture of behavior we are enhancing the person’s disposition toward us, and ingratiating ourselves.

These are only a few of the factors that influence our everyday social interactions. Within each one are a number of subtle nuances that  influence how effective they are at any given moment. Being more aware of how you react to the people in your life and figuring out why will give you valuable insight into both your relationships and yourself. You”ll probably be surprised to find that some relationships are structure differently than you first assumed, but that’s part of the fun.