This conversation from Big Brother 7 features Nikki Grahame persuading Pete Bennett to steal and drink some wine which belongs to the whole house. Nikki uses several tactics to convince Pete to go along with her plan. Firstly, she puts him into a social trap (Cross & Guyer, 1980) as she emphasises the short-term benefits of drinking the wine (fun), without considering the long-term repercussions of their actions, such as the risk of arguments and social exclusion. The altercasting of the situation increases Nikki’s persuasive influence, as being Pete’s friend and lover, she indirectly pressurises Pete to please her and put her needs before his own. This is known as the intimates altercast (Roloff, Janiszewski, McGRath, Burns & Manrai, 1988). She also adopts the role of an authority figure by raising her voice and giving orders to Pete (e.g. “Let’s hide behind the sofa”; “You can drink out of the bottle”) which induces obedience (Bickman, 1974).
However, perhaps the most prominent technique utilised by Nikki is the social consensus that she conveys. She repeatedly implies that stealing alcohol is the ‘done thing’ in the Big Brother house (e.g. “Me and Imogen did this the other night”, “Me and Grace done this”, “Ashleigne does it- she nicks everyone’s ciders and beer’”) which reassures him that stealing alcohol is an ingroup norm, making his actions socially acceptable. This puts social pressure on Pete to act similarly, and increases the likelihood that he will obey her requests in order to conform with the perceived ‘majority’.
Social consensus is an extremely powerful tool due to our inherent motive to ‘belong’ to an ingroup, and has been demonstrated in several studies. Stangor, Sechrist and Jost (2001) examined the influence of perceived ingroup members’ beliefs on racial stereotypes and attitudes. European American participants first stated their beliefs about positive and negative stereotypes of African Americans and estimated the beliefs of fellow ingroup members. A week later, participants received false information stating that other ingroup members were either more or less positive about African Americans than the participants had originally believed. After hearing this information, the participants then indicated their own racial beliefs again. It was found that participants’ racial attitudes changed according the information which they learnt about other peoples’ beliefs (i.e. became more positive when they heard that other people held more favourable stereotypes than they had originally estimated, and vice versa). Other classic examples of social proof can be found in Latané and Darley’s ‘bystander apathy’ experiments (1968) and Asch’s conformity study (1951).
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.) Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
Bickman, L. (1974). The Social Power of a Uniform. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 4, 47-61.
Cross, J. G., & Guyer, M. J. (1980). Social traps. Ann Arbor (MI): University of Michigan Press.
Latané, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 215-221.
Roloff, M. E., Janiszewski, C. A., McGrath, M. A., Burns, C. S., & Manrai, L. A. (1988). Acquiring resources from intimates when obligation substitutes for persuasion, Human Communication Research, 14, 364 - 96.
Stangor, C., Sechrist, G. B., & Jost, J. T. (2001). Changing racial beliefs by providing consensus information.Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin, 27, 484-494.