Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovici

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Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovici

Postby admin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:25 pm

by Serge Moscovici
from "Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 13, edited by Leonard Berkowitz
© 1980 by Academic Press, Inc.  




Table of Contents:

• I. Two Types of Social Behavior: Compliance and Conversion
• II. On Conflict of Influences
o A. Assumption I
o B. Assumption II
o C. Assumption III
o D. Assumption IV
o E. Summary
• III. Experimental Studies
o A. Preliminary Results
o B. Direct and Indirect Influence
o C. Conflict and Conversion Behavior
o D. Minority Influence, Majority Influence, and Compliance
• IV. Verbal Responses and/or Perceptual Changes
• V. Final Observations
• References
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Re: Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovi

Postby admin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:40 pm




Pleasure is none, if not diversified.

Neither is society.

I. Two Types of Social Behavior: Compliance and Conversion

Each time I consider the relations between human beings, I am reminded of Orwell's famous paradox, which, by its refreshing irony, offers a safeguard against the arguments of common sense: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. What the majority does is good, because there are many who do it. The influence of the majority is therefore likely to be great. What the minority does is bad, because there are few who do it. Hence the influence of the minority is likely to be small. In short, the more equal will always win out over the less equal. Such arguments are accepted in daily life, as they are in the scholarly literature. For example, ever since I began studying social influence from the point of view of innovation, I have been asked repeatedly to what extent a minority is more or less influential than a majority and why. This question reflects a legitimate desire to measure the relative importance of innovative and conformist phenomena in society and to evaluate their respective chances of success. However, formulating the question in terms of "more" and "less" implies that the two categories of phenomena operate in the same way, that a majority and a minority exert the same type of influence and produce the same kind of social behavior, the difference being purely quantitative. Starting out from this assumption, one need only compare the changes in public responses in order to reach the expected conclusion: The influence of the majority is stronger than that of a minority. That is at least how it seems on the basis of most of the experimental results (Moscovici, 1976) known until now. All that is very plausible and, unfortunately, hardly surprising.

However, the question bears further investigation, for something real has been left out of account in this formulation. To get to the bottom of the matter, we have to ask "What kind of influence is exerted by a majority or a minority" rather than "How great is this influence?" But can we isolate the symptoms of a difference in kind? We surely can if we take as a starting point:

1. A regularity we have observed, to wit, that private individual responses, after social interaction is completed, often show greater change in the face of a minority influence than they do from a majority influence (Moscovici & Lage, 1976), while public responses frequently display an inverse tendency.

2. The existence of contrary tendencies in the two types of influence. The focus of social interaction, it should be noted, is always on contrasting bipolar pairs -- conformity, innovation, nomic, anomic behavior or groups, social control, social change, etc. -- and not as variations of degree or complementary aspects of the same form of interaction. This fact has great theoretical bearing, because these fundamental polarities allow us to describe and explain a large range of social behavior.

As far as influence phenomena are concerned, relations between public and private responses often reveal such a polarity. A majority expressing a judgment shared by a social group has an impact on everybody's public response, either because the judgment corresponds to existing norms or because it corresponds to everybody's definition of reality (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). However, the private response may be quite different. In the former case, resistance is likely to be aroused, a desire to preserve one's own individual response in private. In the latter case, such a resistance may also occur. The resistance arises when the individual's judgment differs from that of the group (Asch, 1956) or when the individual discovers certain aspects of reality that no longer allow him to accept the group judgment as a correct definition of this reality. Such is the case, notably, in scientific, technical communities when new data or predictions that contradict old data or predictions become known. The history of science (Moscovici, 1968) offers ample evidence of such controversies. Last but not least, these resistances manifest themselves in areas where reality is ambiguous or its real structure has not yet been understood.

Conversely, a minority, which by definition expresses a deviant judgment, a judgment contrary to the norms respected by the social group, convinces some members of the group, who may accept its judgment in private. They will be reluctant to do so publicly, however, either for fear of losing face or to avoid the risk of speaking or acting in a deviant fashion in the presence of others. More generally, they are reluctant to transgress a norm that is important in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.

We will see later on how far these very reasonable descriptions correspond to reality. Suffice it to state at this point that they correspond to compliance behavior, on the one hand, and to what I have called (Moscovici, 1976) conversion behavior, on the other. To put it differently, they correspond to influence exerted to create public but not private acceptance, on the one hand, and influence exerted to create private but not public acceptance, on the other. As a limiting case, one can visualize a purely public compliance without any private acceptance, as illustrated, tragically, by concentration camps, and a private acceptance without public manifestation, as witnessed by secret societies and, during certain epochs, Christian heresies. Reciprocal ignorance is an even more common example. Each member of the group has changed his habits or beliefs but conceals this fact for fear of being categorized as a deviant, without realizing that the other members of the group have changed too, and in the same way as he. It takes an act of courage or special circumstances to have it revealed that they have common habits or beliefs.

Since Festinger's (1953) study, we have acquired a thorough knowledge of compliant behavior. However, we know almost nothing about conversion, which has "received less attention in research ... The result is that only a limited picture can be drawn with respect to the psychological factors associated with conversion behavior" (Blake & Mourton, 1961, p. 20). I will therefore try to fill this picture.
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Re: Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovi

Postby admin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:42 pm

II. On Conflict of Influences

There is a difference in kind between majority and minority influence, which can be seen in the asymmetry between compliance and conversion. However, it is not enough to establish this asymmetry. We must understand the underlying processes, sketch the rudiments of a theory, in the hope of grasping the facts that deserve to be taken into consideration and that give one confidence in the value of speculating about them. We know why majority influence mainly, but not exclusively, results in compliance, ever since Festinger (1953) showed how social pressures, the capacity to punish or reward, usually lead to public agreement with the group. Up to a point, moreover, this public agreement will be accompanied by a private acceptance if the individual wishes to be accepted by the group. In this context, liking is a key factor. However, as soon as social pressure relaxes, if the person is not attracted to the group, public agreement will tend to disappear and private acceptance will not take place. These ideas have been verified by Berkowitz (1954), Deutsch and Gerard (1955), Thibaut and Strickland (1956), Raven (1959), in fact, by most scholars who have worked in the field. Their findings are indisputable, and there is no need to come back to them. However, if we wish to understand at the same time compliance and conversion, other assumptions are required. They are as follows.


Both minorities and majorities always exert influence. What I mean by this is that neither one has any a priori advantage with respect to the other and that each one has a privileged field of action: This results, in our societies, from the separation between private and public life, to the existence of a barrier between the two, and to legal rights guaranteeing respect for this separation. Education, language, and institutions justify this split and prepare us to live, on a psychic level, two lives in one. All our relations with others, particularly with individuals and groups that tend to change our judgments, are subject to this same split and therefore differ depending on whether they impinge on our public or on our private universe. Consequently, it is more acceptable for a majority to reinforce norms or for a minority to transgress them, but it is less acceptable when the reinforcement interferes with personal beliefs or the transgression calls for an outward manifestation. I am not implying that the majority makes no effort to interfere with individual convictions and does not try to control people's private lives-totalitarian governments offer us ample illustration-but this involves resorting to exceptional measures (police, severe questioning, etc.) which in the long run produce a split into an official and a real society, a generalized double talking and double thinking (Zinoviev, 1976). We know, however, that deviant behaviors are tolerated by certain societies at predetermined times (carnivals, holidays, etc.) and are permitted in other societies in the religious, political, and intellectual realm, even if they are attacked and considered undesirable.

Let us assume that people refuse to become conformist in their innermost selves just as they resist becoming deviant with respect to others, and not just with respect to their own selves or those with whom they are intimate. If this amounts to inconsistency, it is an inconsistency that is legitimate and indispensable to the way society operates. We can therefore understand why reactance (Brehm & Mann, 1975) to majority pressure is inevitable whenever it is necessary to keep one's private life intact, or why minority pressures can be tolerated as long as they do not overflow into public life. We are therefore faced with ambivalent attitudes toward a majority and a minority: The views of the latter are not automatically rejected because they are contrary to the norms, nor are the views of the former accepted without resistance because they agree with the norm. Their impact differs not only on the basis of their respective numerical weight but depending on whether they impinge on our public behaviors and beliefs or on our private realm. As a result, just because a minority has no effect on the first set of behaviors and beliefs, it must not be concluded that it has no effect, because it is very likely that its effect will turn up in a second set of behaviors and beliefs. To put it succinctly, if no change can be observed on a direct, outward level, some alteration may well take place on an indirect, latent level. This is a very strong claim, I realize. However, it not only corresponds to observation but has the heuristic advantage of compelling us to examine influence effects in depth, on both levels at once.


All influence attempts, no matter what their origin, create a conflict, either because they aim to introduce too great an inconsistency between private and public behaviors or judgments on the part of individuals or groups, or because they face individuals or groups with totally different behaviors or judgments with respect to something important. We speak of dissonance in one case and of divergence in the other, but either way a conflict is created. It is characterized by the fact that the alternatives are opposites -- one affirms what the other one denies. Confronted with such a situation, the individual or group seems to have two main preoccupations: (1) to seem consistent and acceptable, socially, to others and himself; and (2) to make sense out of the confusing physical and social environment in which he is plunged. Obviously, the surer the majority or minority seems to be of what it proposes, the more committed it is to the position it is defending and the less disposed it is to yield on this position, showing it wants no compromise, the more severe such a conflict will be. Thus, accepting or rejecting the opposite term of the proposed alternative will be all the more difficult. It is now more or less recognized that behavioral styles, mainly consistency, reflect this sense of confidence, commitment, refusal of compromise. Hence, things proceed as if only the individual or group would have to make concessions in order to restore consistency and to give a meaning to the social or physical environment; only thus can clear understanding be gained and satisfactory social relations with the source of this influence be established. Therefore, the stronger the consistency at one pole of the social interaction, the greater the conflict at the other pole, and the greater the change required to reduce this conflict.


If it is true that neither a majority nor a minority is necessarily completely followed or entirely rejected, then both the majority and the minority can arouse such a conflict. It is nonetheless true that the center of this conflict, its direction, will be different depending on whether it is aroused by the majority or by the minority. This is true for the following reasons. First of all, it may be assumed that the judgments advanced by the former are accepted rather passively, whereas those emitted by the latter can be accepted only in an active way. An analogy may serve to illustrate this point. Let us compare a majority with a credible source and a minority with a source whose credibility is limited. Bauer (1966) has shown in a very careful analysis that in the field of mass communications, audiences, frequently receive the message rather passively and hardly process the information the message contains. Similarly, Cook (1964) noted that subjects produced more cognitive responses when the source had little credibility and was not mentioned than when it was credible. One might say that credibility presented an obstacle to the processing of information. Falk (1970), in contrast, studied the effect on attitudes of the status of the source as well as its effect on the number of connections made by the audience between the point of view presented by the message and its basic values. Reactions were measured immediately and again 3 and 5 weeks after the communication. The results obtained show that the subjects were more inclined to internalize the message from the source with little credibility than the one from the credible source (Kelman, 1958). One might say, mutatis mutandis, that the judgment expressed by a minority is more likely to raise arguments and counterarguments than the one expressed by a majority. The changes induced will, consequently, be stabler and more progressive in the case of a minority.

Now, let us take an individual who is giving an opinion about the properties of an object (its length, color, etc.) and who is confronted with several individuals having an opinion contrary to his own. He will wonder at once "Why do I not see or think like them?" He will not try to solve this dilemma by coming back to the object in question, for in principle the majority response must be correct or legitimate. Are several pairs of eyes not better than one? All he can do is to engage in a comparison process to detect a possible flaw in the alternative judgment with which he is faced or to understand why he made a mistake, why his response has so far, without his knowledge, been mistaken. For lack of a satisfactory solution, he is tempted to make concessions, moved by the urge to correct his mistake and be acceptable to others. This compels him to concentrate all his attention on what others say, so as to fit in with their opinions or judgments, especially when they are unanimous. Such a focusing often occurs even if, privately, he has reservations, as Asch (1956) observed by interviewing the subjects who participated in his well-known experiment. Therefore, his responses change during the social interaction. Once the interaction is over and the social pressure removed, however, when the individual is alone in looking at and judging the property of the object, he sees and judges it as he did before, as it is.
Sherif's experiments of 1930 seem to prove the opposite, since the change observed in them outlasts the end of the social interaction by far. However, as I have explained elsewhere (Moscovici, 1976), we are dealing here with a variety of opinions expressed by a plurality of individuals; hence there is no common norm or judgment that would dispense them or prevent them from associating their responses each time with the stimulus with which they are presented. In short, there is no clear-cut majority in relation to which a member of the group would consider himself a deviant minority.

When one is faced with a minority, in contrast, its answers are from the start considered deviant and require supplementary verification. Each one wonders: "How can it see what it sees, think what it thinks?" If the minority is insistent, seems very sure of what it proposes, then the individuals belonging to the majority undertake a validation process, that is, an examination of the relation between its response and the object or reality just because a single pair of eyes is supposed to see less well than several. One will at the same time examine one's own responses, one's own judgments, in order to confirm and validate them. However, if one looks at the object or the reality in question once one is alone again, one will see and judge it differently, without even being aware of it, just because during the interaction one's main preoccupation was to see what the minority saw, to understand what it understood. It would be an overstatement but not a mistake to say that in the face of a discrepant majority all attention is focused on others, while in the face of a discrepant minority, all attention is focused on reality; that, in the first case, the conflict is primarily a conflict of responses, and in the second case it is a conflict of perceptions. Minorities are most commonly accused of exaggerating (they are making a mountain out of a molehill!), of lacking objectivity, and at first most of their ideas are derided, even in science, as delightful fictions or distorted images of the world as it is. For this reason, the minority point of view is subjected to relentless criticism. However, in the course of these criticisms and discussions, some of the minority's adversaries might be converted, if they do not die beforehand, as Planck once said.


Every resolution of a conflict of influence, irrespective of its origin, follows a path that corresponds to one of the realms that I have mentioned, the public and the private path. The more severe the conflict, the more likely it is to follow the more available path, if the other is blocked. This last assumption is very reasonable and has been repeatedly verified in social and clinical psychology. It is self-evident that it is generally easier and more economical, from a social psychological point of view, to change one's opinion or behavior when one is faced with a "normal" alternative than with a "deviant" one, unless one belongs to a minority with a long-standing record of independence. This was the case, by his own admission, for Freud: "Being Jewish, " he declared at a B 'nai Brith meeting, "I felt exempt from numerous prejudices limiting the others in the use of their intellectual faculties; as a Jew, I was also ready to join the opposition and to give up any agreement with the compact majority. "

Things are far from being that simple. What happens when an external social pressure creates a state of tension, and someone wishes to free himself from it? It all depends on the origin of his tension. In the face of a majority, the best way to lessen this tension is to change one's responses in the public realm; modifying them in the private realm would amount to losing one's self-determination, one's "I" in Mead's (1934/1970) sense, or even to erasing all differences with other people, in short, everything that constitutes one's individuality. In the face of a minority, the converse takes place. The only path for resolving a conflict lies in the private sphere, since it is very difficult to make direct concessions or to change behaviors or judgments in the public sphere. Few people submit to a deviant viewpoint lightheartedly, and they are even less willing to risk becoming deviants in turn, even if they have adopted a deviant point of view.

Although all this may not conform to ethical principles or throw a very happy light on mankind, we can draw some useful conclusions from this analysis. These are that the conflict of influence with a majority is resolved in its presence as long as the social pressure persists, whereas the conflict with the minority is resolved in its absence, when this pressure is relaxed. The more intense the pressure, the greater the effects obtained by the former on the direct, overt level, in short, on the level of the most superficial acceptance, and by the latter on the indirect, latent level, leading on the whole to an acceptance that may be so deep that the subject is not even aware of it.


The four assumptions give us a general picture in which we see that a consistent minority can exert an influence to the same extent as a consistent majority, and that the former will generally have a greater effect on a deeper level, while the latter often has less, or none, at that level. In short, the minority creates a conversion behavior -- measured grosso modo by the greater change in private than in public responses -- and the majority creates a compliant behavior. Irrespective of their current limitations, these assumptions allow us to formulate some interesting and verifiable predictions:

1. Conversion is produced by a minority's consistent behavior.

2. The conversion produced by a minority implies a real change of judgments or opinions, not just an individual's assuming in private a response he has given in public. This is why we are often unaware of the profound modification in our perceptions or our ideas from contact with deviants.

3. The more intense the conflict generated by the minority, the more radical is the conversion. In other words, the more rigid the minority, the less is its direct effect on judgments or opinions, and the greater is its indirect effect on them.

4. At least where perceptions are involved, conversion is more pronounced when the influence source is absent. This conjecture is based on the idea that once a conflict is set in motion, the presence of the deviant minority prevents acceptance of its position, to avoid both losing face and recognizing oneself as deviant.

I shall now present a certain number of facts that substantiate these predictions and make them more plausible. I see no harm in their being considered too speculative even then, as long as their relevance to the question presented here is recognized. It is as impossible to assuage the demands of relentless positivists as it is to appease an avenging deity, and so it will always be.
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Re: Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovi

Postby admin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:46 pm

III. Experimental Studies

Here one counsel is valid: Trust the inadequate and act on it; then it will become a fact.

"If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries .... International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal moulds. Eight years later it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy."
-- Colonel Daniel Reisner, former head of the Israeli Defense Force Legal Department, from "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control," by Medea Benjamin


Studies on minority influence have predicted from the very start that the minority's impact on subjects' private responses would be equal to or greater than its impact on their public responses. I know of no experiment where this did not hold and where different results were obtained. It is also evident that the discrepancy between the public and private reactions is more marked where the conflict of influence is sharpest-that is, when a factual judgment is involved -- and less marked where a value judgment or preferences are at stake. This is apparent in several experiments, three of which I shall present here.

In one experiment (Moscovici, Lage, & Naffrechoux, 1969), groups of four naive subjects and two experimental confederates were asked to make a series of color perception judgments. The stimulus slides were blue. The subjects were asked to report aloud the name of the simple color they saw and to estimate the light intensity in numerical terms. Of course, on every trial, the confederates said that the slides were green. Upon completing this procedure, the subjects were asked to take part in a second, ostensibly unrelated, experiment concerning the effects of training upon vision. The subjects, tested individually, were exposed to a number of disks in the blue-green zone of the Farnsworth Perception Test. For each disk, the subjects were asked to name the simple color they saw.

The results of this second experiment indicated that the Perceptual threshold of subjects who had previously been exposed to the consistent minority shifted. They saw as green disks that are usually perceived as closer to blue. (I shall come back later to this proposition, which requires a stronger foundation). Furthermore, subjects who did not give any "green" responses during the social interaction phase of the experiment were even more likely than those who did join the minority position at least once to call the disks green. The results are satisfactory enough to enable us to conclude that (a) the change in response was stronger in the private than in the public situation; and (b) subjects who felt completely blocked, incapable of adopting the minority judgment in the presence of the others, solved their conflict by adopting the judgment even more, probably without being aware of it, once they were alone. Nothing of the kind was observed when the minority was inconsistent or when the source of influence was a consistent majority (Moscovici & Lage, 1976). This suggests that the consistent majority produced compliance rather than conversion, public without private change.

The experiment by Nemeth and Wachtler (1973) yielded different and more typical results, that is, responses given under social pressure remained the same after this pressure was withdrawn. Subjects, run in small groups, expressed a preference for one of a pair of paintings on each of 19 trials. An experimental confederate consistently expressed a preference for either German or Italian paintings, himself being allegedly German or Italian. Irrespective of his seeming bias or minority position, he exerted a strong influence on the group. A group discussion ensued and, in its wake, the subjects were again asked to state their preferences for each of the 19 pairs of paintings. This time, however, they indicated their choices anonymously in writing instead of giving them aloud. No differences were found between public and private responses, which suggests that subjects had not merely complied but had in fact undergone a real change.

Common to both of these experiments is the fact that they both utilized a direct index, the very same response, to measure the transfer of influence from one situation to another. It was therefore important to see whether this transfer or generalization would occur when more unobtrusive measures were employed, measures associated indirectly with the message received or with the subject matter discussed in the group. An experiment by Wolf (1977) demonstrated that this was in fact the case.

Female subjects, run in groups of four, were led to believe that they were interacting as members of a jury. Their task was to decide upon an amount of compensation to be awarded to the plaintiff in a civil suit. The facts of the case were weighted so as to encourage subjects to award between $20, 000 and $30, 000. The influence agent, ostensibly one of the group members, advocated the minority position of $3000 throughout their interaction. Three variables were manipulated: the cohesiveness of the group (high or low), the behavioral style of the influence agent (high consistency or low consistency), and the opportunity for rejection of the influence agent from the group (rejection possible or not possible).

The primary dependent measure determined the change in private judgment concerning the compensation award from pre- to postdeliberation. Change in the direction of a decreased award reflected the minority's influence. The results showed that subjects in the high-cohesive conditions reduced their awards to a greater extent than subjects in the low-cohesive conditions. Furthermore, within the high-cohesive conditions, the strongest minority influence was found in the high-consistency/no possibility and the low-consistency/possibility conditions.

Four measures of latent influence examined the cognitive-perceptual effects of the minority influence attempt on subjects' judgments. In an ostensibly unrelated task, the subjects responded anonymously to a series of questions concerning the severity of different prison terms and fines and the usefulness to a plaintiff of different compensation awards. Four measures of latent influence were embedded in the items. On 21-point scales, subjects rated the penalty value of a $3000 and a $20, 000 fine and the utility value of a $3000 and a $20, 000 compensation award. The questions concerning $3000 measured subjects' perceptions of the critical stimulus value employed in the social influence situation. The questions concerning $20, 000 measured the generalization of the effect to a different value. The $20, 000 reflected a normative initial judgment in the original influence situation. Subjects whose perceptual codes were influenced by the minority should have viewed the fines as more severe and the awards as more useful than subjects who were not so influenced.

The results of the latent influence measures paralleled those obtained on the judgment-change measure. A major effect for cohesiveness was found on the two utility-value measures. Subjects in high-cohesive conditions perceived both $3000 and $20, 000 as more useful to a plaintiff than subjects in low-cohesive conditions. Interactions were revealed on the two penalty-value measures. On both measures, the strongest minority influence was found in the high-cohesive/ high consistency/no possibility and the high-cohesive/low-consistency/possibility conditions. The latent influence data, then, replicated both the major effect and the more subtle interaction produced on the judgment-change measure. The results of these unobtrusive measures show that subjects' perceptions of the critical stimulus were altered as a function of the influence situation to which they had been exposed and that this effect generalized to a novel but similar stimulus value. Thus, the minority influence attempt succeeded not only in changing subjects' overt responses but in changing the context or cognitive code underlying those responses as well.

The preliminary outcome of these experiments is clear. A consistent minority produces at least as much, if not more, change in private than in public situations. The public-private difference reflects both the intensity of the conflict and the nature of the stimulus around which the influence attempt revolves.


"One cannot break the chains where there are none visible." This statement by Kafka to one of his young admirers is indicative of the kind of incapacity one experiences, unwittingly, when trying to escape from the insistent pressure of a minority. The mere advocacy of a deviant point of view arouses strong feelings in us and binds us by creating an unexpected complexity and ambiguity in a situation that is usually clear and banal. This is enough to stimulate interest, to gain a hearing, and to trigger strongly favorable or adverse reactions.

Any minority that wishes to have an impact must be consistent, but it can be so in two ways. Consistency can be achieved, on the one hand, by speaking and acting in a rigid manner. This unconciliatory behavioral style heightens the threatening and anxiety-producing aspects of the conflict with the majority. A fair behavioral style can be achieved, on the other hand, by consistently manifesting a combination of firmness and flexibility in word and deed, in which the strength of one's own opinions does not preclude taking the opinions and ideas of others into account. This behavioral style provides a way of circumventing the conflict with the minority.

"Rigid" minorities, as a matter of course, block any solution that precludes a wholesale adoption of the deviant position. "Fair" minorities, on the contrary, leave the door open to reciprocal concessions and remove an all-or-nothing character from the adoption of a deviant point of view. The first type of minority creates a more intensive conflict and hence blocks public expression of agreement more completely than the second. It follows that the former will generally produce more conversions, that is, indirect influence, than the latter.

To put it differently, a "fair" minority, exemplified at times by the Socialists, will gain acceptance for the judgments or opinions explicitly contained in its message, whereas a "rigid" minority, such as the extreme left, will on the contrary gain acceptance for judgments or opinions that are implied or derived from the content of its message. A remarkable series of experiments by Mugny (1974) and Papastamou (1979) shed light on the meaning of these suggestions. They were conceived along the same lines as the usual experiments on communication and generally dealt with the topic of pollution. At the same time they presented three special features:

1. The messages were attributed to a minority group or institution.

2. The message style was either "rigid, " that is, expressing dogmatic and extreme points of view, or "fair, " that is, expressing a consistent point of view but with some "conciliatory" overtones. A slogan of the rigid message, for instance, stated: "Let us close down the factories that do not abide by the rules, " whereas the slogan of the fair message expressed its position in these terms: "Let us force the automobile producers to supply their vehicles equipped with antipollution filters."

3. The questionnaire filled out by .the subjects before and after reading the message consisted of an equal number of direct and indirect items. The direct items were nearly identical with those contained in the message, whereas the indirect items related to the topic but were not explicitly contained in the message. A change obtained in the latter items would reflect more than a simple adoption of minority positions; it would imply a certain "generalization" produced by connections with or inferences from the opinions upheld in the latter's statement. Conversion is reflected here in the difference between direct and indirect influence. It is the outcome of each person's own deliberation.

Let us now proceed to review this series of experiments, without going into great detail.

At the outset of the first experiment, the subjects responded in the usual fashion to a questionnaire concerning the causes of and responsibilities for pollution. They were subsequently divided up into four groups, each group receiving a message in either a "rigid" or a "fair" style and with either a "dissonant" or a "consonant" content in terms of the general beliefs of the population. (This constituted four communication conditions: rigid-dissonant, rigid-consonant, fair-dissonant, and fair-consonant.) After reading the appropriate text, each subject responded once more to the same questionnaire.

What was observed? Changes in responses to the indirect items were proportionately greater than changes in responses to the direct items, that is, to those actually contained in the message (F = 5.75, p < .005). However, the details are much more interesting. The minority whose style was fair and whose image was more flexible and less threatening produced an equally great change in responses regardless of the nature of the items. The rigid minority, in contrast, had little influence on responses to the direct items, but its influence was far greater on the responses to the indirect items. The change produced by the rigid minority therefore manifested itself not with respect to the views it upheld but with respect to other, related points. This difference was even more marked when the minority message was dissonant, in other words, when it contrasted sharply with majority beliefs (F = 4.02, p < .05). The results are self-explanatory. Wherever a minority exerts a weak pressure and its opinions do not clash head-on with the convictions of the population, the conflict is less intense and the influence effect is direct. However, as soon as the minority's pressure increases and its opinions begin to clash with the subjects' convictions, the influence observed is largely indirect. There is a lesson to be learned here with respect to our measures and the need to determine in advance, in a theoretical manner, which ones are appropriate. Had Mugny been content to use only direct items, the conclusions drawn from this experiment would have been entirely different and would have confirmed the commonsense notion that a fair minority is more effective than a rigid one.

In a second experiment along the same lines, subjects received a communication whose content was either consonant or dissonant with the attitudes of the general population toward foreigners. Some subjects, however, received a message in a consistent style, that is, a consistently structured text, while others received a message in an inconsistent style. The aim of the experiment was to show that only minorities that appear consistent exert true influence. The results showed that this is in fact the case. It was also found that when the content of the communication was consonant with the subjects' opinion, it exerted a greater influence than when it was dissonant. To avoid misunderstanding, I repeat that this applied only in the consistent conditions. Moreover, the consonant communication produced response changes primarily for the direct items, while the dissonant communication produced response changes primarily for items related to but not actually contained in the text (F = 3.16, p < .10).

The stronger the ideological "opposition," or the greater the resistance to minority pressure, therefore, the stronger the reluctance to accept its message, and the greater the likelihood that its point of view will be accepted in an indirect manner; the contrary occurs when this opposition is less pronounced. This phenomenon is analogous to one that was observed a number of years ago by Schonbar (1945), to wit, that the longer people resist changing their position under conditions of social pressure, the more persistently will they maintain a modified position in the situation that follows.

In a third experiment, the subjects received either a "rigid" or a "fair" message on the topic of pollution. They were advised at the outset that after reading it, they would respond once more to the questionnaire they had just filled out. The authors of the message, they were told, had asked the experimenters to try to find out whether the subjects had been influenced by the message. This instruction was delivered explicitly to produce resistance, to block the process of coming to terms with the minority. It was assumed, additionally, that this blockage would be intensified by the fact that the subjects were asked to cooperate in one way or another with the source and thus identify publicly with a deviant and extreme point of view. In order to verify this assumption, conditions of unilateral and bilateral influence were created. Subjects in the unilateral influence condition were told: "Your responses are of interest to the authors insofar as they want to take your opinions into account in modifying the message."

The prediction was straightforward: Changes with respect to the indirect items would be greater when the message was rigid and the influence bilateral than when the message was fair and the influence unilateral. For lack of an adequate number of subjects, it was possible to complete only three of the four conditions: fair style-unilateral influence, rigid style-unilateral influence, and rigid style-bilateral influence. The results were as predicted: Greater opinion change was found on the indirect than on the direct items (F = 34.19, p < .001). With respect to the three conditions, it may be noted that the difference between response changes to the direct and the indirect items was practically nil in the first condition (fair style-unilateral influence), that it increased perceptibly in the second condition (rigid style-unilateral influence; F = 8.06, p < .05), and that it became quite large in the third (rigid style-bilateral influence; F = 37.81, p < .001). The data, which are presented in Table I, clearly confirm our conjectures: There is in all cases an influence effect.

If the minority is perceived as fair, it produces as great a modification in responses, as much agreement, in short, on items contained in its message as on items that are only related to it. If the minority is perceived as rigid, however, it has less or even no impact on the items reflecting its position and relatively more impact on other items that it does not mention but that are related to its message. The more rigid the minority appears and the more subjects are asked to cooperate with it, the greater this indirect impact. This should not come as a surprise to us. We have observed, over the last several years, how militant minorities and extremists in political and cultural circles have affected our outlook, changed our manner of behaving, dressing, speaking, etc., without at the same time leading most of us to accept their positions or making us act as they would wish.


The greater the conflict produced by the minority, by virtue of its rigidity or consistency, therefore, the greater the extent to which the change taking place will be the outcome of the subjects' own inference. This outcome is far less affected by the specific content of the message than by the global view that this content expresses. Consequently, a seeming lack of influence at any given moment may be misleading. What has been left out of account is the fact that while the persons may have refused to comply publicly and to identify themselves as deviants, they may have been privately converted to the thinking of the minority.


All experiments of this kind demonstrate that minority influence is greater on indirect items than on the direct items contained in the message, and that this applies even more to rigid than to flexible messages. It would follow logically that if this difference in impact results from a conflict between the opinions held by the source and those of the audience, it should be more marked if the deviant character of the source is highlighted and its pressure increases. The simplest way to create such a situation is to strengthen the minority numerically: If several deviants express the same point of view, it becomes much more difficult to reject it by attributing it to "subjective" factors; hence one must concede that something "objective" must also be involved. In this case the conflict between two judgments of fact rather than two judgments of value. In a first experiment based on exactly the same principle as the ones I have just described, Papastamou (1979) has created two conditions: In one condition the subjects read a text that expresses minority positions on pollution, while in another condition they read the two halves of this text, in slightly revised form, but with the first half of the text attributed to minority group X and the second half to minority group Y. The order in which the text segments are presented as well as the attribution to group X and Y is of course neutralized. As was the case in the previous experiments, the message style is either rigid or fair, so that the following communication situations arise: a "fair" source-a "rigid" source-two "fair" sources-two "rigid" sources. On the basis of what we have found out so far, we expect the indirect influence to be greater both in the situation where the source is perceived as rigid and where the two sources are similar. The results support these conjectures. It can be noted, first of all, that while the two messages from the two flexible sources do not exert more influence than one message from a single flexible source, two messages stemming from two rigid sources exert significantly more influence (F 1/68 = 5.709, p < .05) than a message from a single rigid source. However, as was to be expected, this influence is not identical on the direct and the indirect items. It is first of all far lower for the former than for the latter (F 1/68 = 44.186, p < .0005). In addition, on closer inspection it becomes apparent that the difference between the situations with a single source and with two minority sources is not at all significant for the direct items; it becomes significant only for the indirect items (F 1/68 = 4.151, p < .05). In other words, by increasing the intensity of the conflict by means of attributing the message to two sources instead of a single source, a significantly higher conversion rate is obtained than would otherwise be the case.

In a second experiment, which was analogous to the previous one, the subjects were asked to read two texts attributed to different groups expressing minority opinions on the pollution problem. Before reading their texts, however, they were faced with an introductory page in their booklet informing them that in the following section there would be two notorious minority groups expressing their stands with respect to this problem. The relation between these groups was not presented in the same way in all the situations, however. In one situation, as a matter of fact, the groups in question are said to be in a minority position within the general framework of the antipollution campaign, but coordinating their efforts to fight efficiently against pollution. In the other situation, it is stated that these groups are competing for influence, each one trying to outstrip the other in its campaign against existing pollution. Therefore, there are minorities appearing 'to be cooperative, on the one hand, and minorities appearing to be competitive, on the other. In addition, they are either flexible and fair or rigid and extremist. It might have been reasonable to expect that cooperative minorities, generally speaking, would have greater influence than competitive minorities and that their direct influence would be greater. Nevertheless, in keeping with the points I have just presented, this is not the case. On the whole, the relation between the minorities seems to have no impact, since no difference between the cooperative and the competitive situation can be observed. However, the nature of the message makes a difference, because rigid minorities have greater influence than flexible minorities (F 1/68 = 4.222, P < .05). The customary effect does not manifest itself here; in fact, it is reversed. It therefore seems that when there are two minority sources, a firm position has a greater payoff, while flexibility is more productive for a single source. This conclusion must be qualified, however. A breakdown of the effect of the message style on the cooperative and the competitive level reveals the following: Although the two styles have a more or less equal impact for the competitive situation, the same is not true where the two minorities are supposed to cooperate. There a rigid message produces a much stronger impact than a flexible message (F 1/68 = 6.183, p < .01). Let us now compare the responses to the direct and the indirect items (Table II). The nature of the message makes no difference as far as the direct items are concerned. For the indirect items, however, the rigid minorities have a greater positive influence than the flexible minorities. In the light of these results, as a whole, one may say that cooperative relations between minorities, especially rigid minorities, emphasize their deviant character. If they thereby have an impact on the audience, this impact manifests itself more strongly on the indirect than on the direct level, that is, by conversion rather than by compliance.



Minorities are not the only ones to seek and secure conversions. It is probable, though, that they are the ones who most often produce such an effect. To compare their influence with majority influence, I carried out the following experiment in collaboration with Mugny and Papastamou. Although it was similar to the previous experiments in that the communication dealt with pollution and the message read by the subjects were either "rigid" or "fair, " it differed from the others in two important respects:

(a). The same messages were attributed either to a majority source or to a minority source.

(b). The effectiveness of the messages was measured immediately after and after a certain period of time had elapsed, as was done in the experiments on the "sleeper" effect.

The experimental procedure consists of three phases. During a first phase (pretest), the subjects responded to a 20-item questionnaire by circling the number expressing the extent of their agreement or disagreement with each statement. The second phase, the actual experimental phase, took place a week later. The subjects were informed of the positions attributed either to a majority or to a minority group, depending on the conditions, and they read a text on the pollution problem. There are altogether four conditions: rigid-majority, fair-majority, rigid-minority, fair-minority. Right after the perusal of the text, the subjects answered the usual opinion questionnaire. Three weeks later, during the third phase, the subjects once more filled out the questionnaire on pollution problems. They then answered a series of complementary questions intended to measure how accurately they remembered the exact nature of the influence source and the opinions it had expressed. In this case the subjects were Swiss adolescents, about 15 years of age and living in a suburb of Geneva. Like many young people in Europe, they were personally concerned about ecological questions, so one can say that the content of the messages mattered to them.

What were their responses right after reading the text? The results we obtained show that, irrespective of the nature of the source or of the message, there is practically no influence. However. slight as this influence is, a significant difference appears: The subjects let themselves be influenced a little more on the direct than on the indirect items (F 1/80 = 4.876, P < .05). There was, therefore, a slight compliance effect that was reinforced by our instruction. The results obtained 3 weeks later present a different picture. To begin with, the minority appeared somewhat more influential than the majority (F 1/80 = 3.85, p < .10). As expected, the influence exerted was not the same for the two groups (Table III). On the direct items, the majority and the minority did in fact have a similar effect. On the indirect items, conversely, the majority obtained a negative effect, the subjects returning to the opinion that they held prior to reading the messages, whereas the minority obtained a positive effect, the subjects accepting the point of view upheld in the message to a greater extent at the later time than immediately after having read it (F 1/80 = 7.88, p < .01).

That is not all. The message style does seem to playa certain role. The breakdown of the interaction between the source factor and the style factor of the message provides us with interesting results. With respect to the majority, it made no difference, on the whole, whether the style was rigid or fair, whereas it made a difference with respect to the minority. The fair minority actually lost some of its influence on both the direct and the indirect items, although less, on the whole, than the fair majority. The rigid minority, on the contrary, lost much of its influence on the direct items but gained considerable influence on the indirect items (F = 5.36, p < .05). This was the minority that won the greatest acceptance for its point of view by the audience 3 weeks later, on opinions that it had not explicitly advocated.


Before I draw any conclusions from this experiment, I would like to mention some other interesting results. When the subjects were asked about the source of the messages after completing the questionnaire 3 weeks later, they recalled the identity of the minority source more accurately than that of the majority source (30 out of 41 as against 13 out of 41). Irrespective of its rigid or fair style, it seems, the minority had a stronger impact than the majority. Similarly, subjects confronted by the minority remembered the content of the message more accurately than those confronted by the majority (F = 17.434, p < .001). The message style seems to have a slight effect in that, on the whole, people remember "fair" messages less clearly than "rigid" messages (F = 3.015, p < .10).

The conclusions of this experiment were very clear indications that a majority produces compliance, which disappears over time, whereas a minority produces conversions -- indirect conversions, that is -- especially if it is rigid. Curiously enough, the "rhetoric, " in other words, the behavioral style, is relevant only for the latter and not the former. The question arises why the identity and the content of a majority message are more easily forgotten than those of a minority. There is one plausible explanation: The majority message is treated more passively than the minority message. Whatever the validity of this explanation, the fact remains that there is no clear-cut relationship between accuracy of recall of the source and the opinion change observed. Thus, subjects confronted with a deviant source remember it equally well whether it is rigid or fair, and yet they do react differently in each case. One finding persistently runs through all these results: These effects obtained by a minority have a specific character and are not, as a rule, obtained by a majority.

This experiment has some implications for the body of research on the "sleeper effect." As is well known, this effect consists of a delayed message influence on the opinions of an audience. This delayed influence is explained by dissociating the source from the message: Once the source is forgotten, the content alone continues to act on individuals' opinions. In our experiment, it was rather the opposite that was observed: The delayed influence went hand in hand with a greater recall of the source. If that is the case, the usual explanation could not be applicable. The' 'sleeper effect" seems to occur, moreover, only when the source is deviant, even extremely deviant. When this source is conformist, it is more likely to cause a resumption of the individuals' original opinion. It would be more accurate to say: The sleeper effect is associated with a deviant or minority message. Among the minority messages, moreover, those whose content people are more likely to have forgotten are the ones that are the most effective. Actually, subjects confronted with rigid minority remember its exact opinions less accurately than subjects confronted with a fair minority (F = 7.58, p < .05); and yet those subjects show the greatest change. In short, to the extent that forgetfulness plays a part at all, the opposite of what has been asserted takes place, since it affects the content rather than the source of the message.

How can the results we have obtained be reconciled with those hitherto obtained? There is no clear-cut answer to this question. I would only like to make these observations as a contribution to a possible future discussion.

The sleeper effect was demonstrated, not surprisingly, in earlier studies with a typically counterattitudinal message, that is, a message clashing with the norms and beliefs of the audience. The delayed attitude change was explained by saying that once the identity of the source, which had interfered with the acceptance of the content, had been erased from memory, its opinions could be accepted because the content could now be judged on its own merit. A negative message, however, may have two meanings, depending on the context: On the one hand, it is in opposition to something and, on the other hand, it is deviant in relation to something. It is conceivable that in the earlier experiments it had its impact not so much because of its association with a negative source as because of its expressing a deviant position that upset some widely held beliefs or attitudes, in other words, because it was counternormative and not because it was counterattitudinal. The reason we have obtained such striking effects is that we have, on the one hand, emphasized this counternormative aspect by associating it with a minority and, on the other hand, deemphasized it by associating it with a majority. It is likely that the contradictory results and contradictions of the "sleeper effect" analyzed by Gillig and Greenwald (1974) are attributable to the fact that these two aspects of the message have not until now been distinguished and that experimenters have failed to control this variable, although individuals sometimes react to one aspect and sometimes to the other. If this is the case, it follows that a large part of the attitude change attributed hitherto to the "pro" and "con" character of the message, to the positive or negative content of the communication, could be attributed to its deviant or nondeviant meaning. This calls for a reevaluation of an entire body of generally accepted data and ideas that would benefit from being viewed in a new light. Even dissonance theory might be reevaluated in order to determine whether dissonance results from opposition between two opinions, opposition between a deviant and a nondeviant opinion (Nuttin, 1975), or opposition between a deviant behavior that one is obliged to assume publicly and the norms and beliefs to which one privately subscribes.

Another question now arises. In our experiment, the majority failed to obtain conversion, but why did it fail to obtain compliance? Was this because of the message content or because of some other factor? If it was caused by the content, then the results obtained by us and the conclusions drawn from them are valueless. However, it is much more likely that we failed to obtain compliance because one of the causes of this behavior was missing, to wit, the existence of an external compulsion, that is, social control. Papastamou (1979) confirmed this supposition. His experiment used the same kind of materials involving the struggle against pollution, but he attributed it to a majority source. This experiment consisted of three phases. In the first phase, the subjects gave individual answers to the pollution questionnaire as well as to some supplementary questions. Ten days later, the second phase took place. At this point a majority communication was read and the subjects were asked to draw up their own arguments justifying their stand on the pollution problem. At the same time the subjects were informed that the group that had drawn up the message asked in exchange to be acquainted with the opinions of part of the persons involved, and to be given their names and addresses so as to be able to contact the various people for a later discussion. This introduced the notion of social control. The experimenters then pretended to draw lots in order to respond to this request. They thereby created four conditions:

(a) In the individual control condition, the subjects were informed that they were among those whose names and replies would be communicated to the authors of the texts they were about to read.

(b) In the collective control condition, the subjects were informed that they were among those whose discussion group and replies of their group would be communicated to the authors of the text they were about to read.

(c) In the individual noncontrol condition, the subjects were informed that they were among those whose replies would be communicated to the authors of the text, but nothing else.

(d) In the collective noncontrol condition, the subjects were informed that they were among those whose names and replies would not be communicated to the authors of the text they were about to read and that only the numbers of the discussion groups would be given to these authors.

In a third phase, which followed immediately, the subjects once more answered individually the pollution questionnaire and some complementary questions. The results show that the majority source has a strong influence and that this influence bears more strongly on the direct than on the indirect items (F = 20.77, p <.001). In contrast to the changes in response produced by a minority, changes in response produced by a majority are limited to the opinions advocated by the majority; there is no impact at all on the items when inferences would have to be drawn from its messages. This connotes a passive acceptance. What are the effects of external compulsion? It can be observed that where social control is "weak, " the degree of influence is the same in the individual and in the collective conditions. In contrast, where it is "strong, " the majority exerts considerable influence in the collective control condition and very little influence in the individual control condition (F = 6.55, p < .05). In other words, an isolated individual tends to offer resistance, while individuals explicitly belonging to a group tend to conform. If one takes into account the fact that the response changes occur only for the direct items and that they are more pronounced for subjects belonging to a group, it follows that compliance takes place and that it is maximized where external compulsion is maximized. This agrees with Festinger's (1953) and Deutsch and Gerard's (1955) hypotheses. Additional results confirm our conclusion. In the postexperimental questionnaire, the subjects' compliance in a potential discussion with the authors of the message is measured by asking them whether they would try to reach a consensus. As was to be expected, the subjects in the control conditions assert that they would want such a consensus (F = 3.66, p < .10) and this desire is stronger in the collective control than in the individual control condition (F = 4.03, p < .05). Furthermore, as I mentioned at the beginning of this study, such a control on the individual is bound to provoke resistance, as results show. In his experiment, Papastamou proceeded to analyze the arguments written by the subjects to justify their stand, categorizing the arguments as either "majority" or "minority" with respect to their content on the pollution struggle. The score shows that the subjects in the individual control condition produce more minority arguments than the subjects in the collective control condition (F = 2.842, p < .10) and those in the weak social control conditions (F = 3.942, p < .05). In short, they not only refuse to adopt majority opinions but even start adopting minority opinions and thus become deviants. The results obtained seem to me to display great coherence. Majority influence in combination with social control, even weak social control, leads to compliance, which is maximized when there is strong collective control and minimized when there is strong individual control. The absence of this compliance in the previous experiment therefore makes sense and the interpretations concerning conversion and the "sleeper effect" remain plausible.

These results taken as a whole refine our understanding of minority influence. As predicted, fair minorities have their strongest impact on the specific responses of individuals belonging to the majority. Rigid minorities seem to have their greatest impact on the cognitive code underlying these responses. In this sense one may say that the former have a direct effect and the latter an indirect one.
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Re: Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovi

Postby admin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:49 pm

IV. Verbal Responses and/or Perceptual Changes

One of the few books referring to conversion behavior defined it as follows: "Conversion is a change process in which a person gives up one ordered view of the world and one philosophical perspective for another" (Zimbardo, Ebbesen, & Maslach, 1977, p. 182). What is notable in this definition is the stress it places on the global character of changes in perception and knowledge. At first glance, we obtained such changes in the Moscovici el al. (1969) experiment, described in Section III, A, in which most of the subjects said that the slides were blue, although they had started to see them as green. These results seem to indicate a generalization of the verbal response from the social to the individual level. The subjects who heard the novel and strange "green" response to all of the slides in the first phase of the experiment, having been reluctant to adopt it in the presence of others, might have employed it as their own response in the second phase without their perception of the color having been truly modified. That would mean that what we observed was a manifest conversion, of which each individual was more or less aware, A latent conversion certainly occurred, however, al least partially, a modification which escaped the subjects' consciousness and was manifested by a perceptual modification. Verbal change without perceptual change or verbal change with perceptual change, that is our question. In order to confirm this second intriguing possibility -- and prediction of the theory -- we (Moscovici & Personnaz, 1978) conducted the following experiment.

As was the case in our previous research, the subjects were shown a series of blue slides, which a confederate consistently designated as being green. However, instead of using a color test to measure the perceptual modification following the social interaction, we used the chromatic afterimage. As we know, if one fixates on a white screen after having fixated on a color for several seconds, one perceives its complementary color. In our case, this would be yellow-orange for the blue slides and red-purple for the green. Several series of observations suggest that afterimages result from peripheral processes of the visual apparatus, but these processes are not yet well understood. From what is already known, it may be assumed that if (a) subjects simply modify their verbal responses, the afterimage perceived following the blue slide would be found in the yellow-orange zone of the spectrum; (b) subjects really changed their perceptual code, even without changing their verbal responses, the afterimage perceived would be the complementary color of green, which is closer to red-purple.

Let us return to the details of the experiment. The material was the same as that used in the previous experiments, i.e., blue slides. The subjects were invited to participate, in pairs, in an experiment on color perception. The pairs of course consisted of a naive subject and a confederate. The experiment consisted of four phases. The first phase comprised five trials; the answers were private. The subjects and the confederate wrote down their judgment of (a) the color of the slide and (b) the color of the afterimage on a 9-point scale ranging from yellow (1) to purple (9). The experimenter then collected the response sheets and informed the subjects that he had the results previously obtained with respect to the color of slides in other studies, in which a large number of people had participated. He then handed the subjects a sheet on which the percentage of persons having seen the color of the slide as green was marked:

1. Majority source condition

a. 18.2% saw the color as it was indicated by the naive subject

b. 81.8% saw the color as it was indicated by the confederate.

2. Minority source condition

a. 81.8% saw the color as it was indicated by the naive subject

b. 18.2% saw the color as it was indicated by the confederate.

Prior to the interaction, therefore, each subject knew, depending upon the condition, whether the confederate's response was deviant or not. Over the course of the next 15 trials, the judgments were made publicly and related solely to the color of the slide. The confederate was the first to respond orally on each trial. Her judgment remained consistent in that she always responded "green." This response was different from the one given by the subject in the first phase of the experiment. After this second social-interaction phase there followed a third phase of 15 trials during which the subject and the confederate noted their judgment in private with respect to (a) the color of the slide and (b) the color of the afterimage, perceived by fixating on the white screen after the slide was removed. At the end of this phase, the confederate said that she had an urgent appointment and left the room. Alone now, the naive subject responded privately to another five trials by reporting both the color of the slide and the complementary color. At the end of this fourth phase, each subject was interviewed about the experiment and debriefed.

What were the results observed during the interaction? The number of green responses given by the subjects during the social interaction (second phase) was about 5% and did not vary significantly according to whether the confederate was presented as expressing a majority or a minority judgment. The perceptual modification was measured by the change in the individual's judgment of the complementary color before and after the social interaction.


In order to take into account the fact that the phases involved differing numbers of trials, the subjects' chromatic afterimage scores were standardized across conditions, separately for each phase, prior to analysis. It should be noted that in Table IV a movement toward a higher score indicates a shift toward the complementary color of green (red-purple), while movement toward a lower score indicates a shift toward the complementary color of blue (yellow-orange). The data were analyzed by means of a 3 (Conditions) x 3 (Phase) unweighted means analysis of variance, with repeated measures on the Phase factor. The analysis yielded a significant Conditions x Phase interaction (F = 2.58, p < .05). Inspection of the means indicates that the subjects' judgment in the minority influence condition shifted toward the complement of green from the pre- to the postinteraction situations. A series of a priori comparisons revealed that this shift was significant from the first to the third phase, with t (102) = 2.17 and p < .05, and that it became even greater when the influence source was absent, with t (102) = 2.49 and p < .02. No such effect was obtained in the other conditions. In fact, there was a tendency for majority influence subjects to shift in the opposite direction, that is, toward the complement of blue, from the first to the fourth phase, t (102) = 1.75, p < .10.

A consistent minority obviously produced a change in perceptual responses, and this change was even more pronounced when the minority was no longer present, a phenomenon we observed in an earlier study (Moscovici & Neve, 1971). The consistent majority, in contrast, failed to produce such a change or, if it did produce any change, it was in the opposite direction. A replication of this experiment by a student experimenter led to the same results.

Carrying the analysis of this phenomenon one step further, Doms (1978) raised the question whether the effect should be attributed to the fact that the two individuals symbolized a majority and a minority, respectively, or whether it should be ascribed to the simultaneous physical presence of two individuals, one of whom said green and the other, blue. In other words, was the effect truly produced by the deviant character of the green response or simply by the conflict in responses, the former being contrary to or different from the latter? Doms settled this question by placing a naive subject in the presence of a confederate who was identified neither with a majority nor with a minority. In other respects, the experiment was carried out in a manner identical to the previous one. In this critical condition, no influence effects were produced with respect to the chromatic afterimage. Conversion behavior therefore takes place only if the influence source has a social meaning, which the mere simultaneous presence of two individuals fails to provide.

These studies demonstrate, surprisingly enough, the existence of a much greater latent and apparently subconscious change than the one that takes place on the manifest and conscious level, that is to say, a conversion phenomenon. They confirm Mead's observation:

There is, then, a process by means of which the individual in interaction with others inevitably becomes like them in doing the same thing, without that process appearing in what we term consciousness: we become conscious of the process when we definitely take the altitude of others, and this situation must be distinguished from the previous one. (Mead. 1934/1970, p. 193)

I know that many people would be tempted to dismiss the afterimage effect by saying that it is a sort of cognitive generalization. However, this would be both a trivializing and a purely "verbal" explanation, given the facts (a) that the response to the stimulus and the response to the afterimage were different (green-blue in the first case, a mark on a scale in the second); (b) that only the response to the stimulus was given in public, the response to the afterimage remaining private, so that the subject never heard the words yellow, orange, purple, etc., uttered; (c) that the subject was not aware of the relationship that existed between a color and its complement; and (d) that even if the conflict had actually been produced on the verbal level, it was resolved on a level that must be characterized as perceptual.

I realize that this conclusion is hard to believe, since I myself experienced the same difficulties until I was forced to reconcile myself with the evidence. This actually makes it all the more interesting, if not as a final result, then as a starting point for a series of studies in a little-explored field, which could benefit from the use of even more rigorous experimental procedures. Nevertheless, a mystery remains: How can one see a color whose name one fails to give and give the name of a color one no longer sees? This antinomy undermines our belief that verbal changes are easy to produce, while perceptual changes are indeed exceptional. When people say: "This is only verbal," they have in mind a malleable and labile behavior. When they say: "This is not only verbal," they have in mind a firm and stable behavior. The behaviorist's equivalent of Hamlet's "Words, words, words, " is likely to lead to error. In fact, the currently accepted behavioral hierarchy in terms of proneness to change may be reversed. There is reason to believe that whatever belongs to the verbal realm is under permanent social control and is therefore more rigid and more resistant to change than anything of a nonverbal nature; and that makes the latter less susceptible to the surveillance of others as well as to that of one's own consciousness. In line with the proposed interpretation, we can observe every day how contagious intonations, gestures, emotions, etc., may be. To come back to our experiment, it shows us that although minorities may have only a weak impact on the verbal level, on the perceptual level their impact is strong indeed. They transform the way the majority of individuals perceives an object and are thereby unwittingly turned into deviants, in short, are converted to a different way of seeing.
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Re: Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovi

Postby admin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:50 pm

V. Final Observations

There is a visible convergence between the elements of the proposed theory and the experimental illustrations of conversion behavior. I am reluctant to say that the theory has been verified, knowing full well how heedlessly this word, which assumes the weight of authority, is bandied about, as though what mattered were not the interest of what was verified but rather the fact of its having been verified. Before closing this contribution, however, I should like to add some supplementary remarks.

I imagine that all of the observed effects can be explained in some other manner. Contrary to general belief, it rarely happens that one really eliminates all alternative interpretations, without engaging in' scholasticism. I do feel compelled to point out two factors that cannot serve as starting points for these alternative theories, namely, competence and attraction. It has been said (Festinger, 1953) that if one disregards external pressures, the greater a person's attraction toward the source of influence, the more he or she will come to accept privately the responses given in public. This may well hold for compliance, but conversion cannot be a sheer effect of attraction or competence. We know from several studies (Moscovici, 1976) that minorities tend to be disliked. Therefore, liking the source cannot account for one's accepting deviant positions, unless one likes what one can dislike, which is not exceptional. Neither does the competence of the minority account for the influence it exerts, because minorities are generally regarded as relatively incompetent. In fact, the problem is to understand why competence and attraction do not play the role in the case of minority influence that they do in the case of majority influence.

If one were to take a simplified view of things, as often happens despite all our precautions, one might be tempted to say from the preceding experiments that minority influence alone results in private or latent change, that majority influence does not have such effects. That would be contrary to observation. Studies have shown that the opinions of individuals can remain close to those of the group, following interaction with it (Allen, 1965, Doms, 1978, Hardy, 1957). Moreover, history teaches us that religions and political parties try to control private beliefs as well as public expression and that they succeed. I therefore do not mean to imply in the least that there is an exclusive link between minority influence and conversion behavior, on the one hand, and majority influence and compliance on the other. On the basis of the theoretical reasons I have explained, however, which seem to be confirmed by a considerable number of experiments, an asymmetry does exist. Actually, in a conformity situation compliance seems to be the rule and conversion the exception, whereas in an innovation situation the opposite holds. This in itself is a remarkable social fact. It authorizes us in any case to say that while there is no exclusive association between the nature of a source and the effect it produces, nevertheless there does exist a privileged association, which is not without significance. Consequently it is logical to relate majority influence more closely with compliance and minority influence more closely with conversion and to treat them as if they expressed independent ways of interacting and behaving in society, each corresponding to specific psychological processes.

We must also address the problem of how a deviant response that is accepted privately, in a latent manner, is transformed into a public and outward response. To put it differently, what induces a person (or group) to become aware of and express openly what he accepts in his innermost self? Having established that conformity produces compliance, open, and public change, researchers have studied how this change becomes individual and private, in short, internalized (Kelman, 1958). All theories of attitude change have tried to explain this phenomenon, primarily dissonance theory. To the extent that innovation produces conversion, we are faced with the opposite phenomenon, that of externalization. This may amount to asking what incites an individual to behave freely, to transgress the norms in which he no longer believes, to defy the prejudices of his society, and to say simply what he sees, even if it belies the fact, for example, say green when the object is blue or vice versa.

Last, but not least, I believe that the ideas and facts presented here are deeply and nontrivially related to what is usually called social learning. An overview of research in this area (Bandura & Walters, 1967) shows that interest has been limited exclusively to the way children imitate acceptable models. This is ultimately considered the aim of a good education. However, all one needs to do is to leave the classrooms and go to the play areas, the street, or the athletic fields to see how children are attracted to and taught by the "bad examples," the deviant personalities and peers. Surreptitiously and unintentionally, they acquire ways of talking, thinking, and behaving against which adults often contend without much success. The more adults fight against them, moreover, the greater the resistance they arouse in their children, accelerating the very learning they seek to prevent. The acquisition of anomic responses and the conversion to the many minicountercultures prevailing in each school and district are forms of social learning that deserves to be attentively studied. We should know more about how this happens and what mechanisms are at work, if not for practical reasons, then at least to understand better our psychological makeup.

I would be tempted to draw the conclusion at the end of this contribution that minorities are more influential than majorities in the usual sense of the term, since they produce more genuine change. This conclusion is paradoxical, contrary to everyday experience and solid common sense. Taken as a starting point, such a paradox, as is true of every paradox, can be a fruitful way of looking at phenomena.
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Re: Toward a Theory of Conversion Behavior, by Serge Moscovi

Postby admin » Fri Apr 10, 2015 7:50 pm


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