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Social references and self-evaluation : considerations in a therory of social influence Simmons, Alan Burtham

Abstract

Three main research traditions have been associated with developments in social influence theory in recent years: (1) the study of social influence through persuasive communications, often "mass communications"; (2) the study of social influence through pressures to uniformity in small groups; and (3) the study of social influence through cognitive processes. Each of these research traditions has tended to develop its own rather distinctive perspective on the nature of social influence, but each has had difficulty in explaining one aspect of social influence—in a situation where there are a variety of accessible sources of influence (different reference groups) why does an individual adopt the perspective of one accessible group rather than another? In response to this problem, and several other problems, a conceptual and theoretical framework for social influence is set forth. From this framework several empirically testable hypotheses are developed, to form a partial explanation of social influence. This theory focuses on social norms, and how these become shared. Norms are viewed as performance expectations—ideals to be lived up to. Following level of aspiration studies, deviance from social norms is perceived as non-achievement of an ideal level of performance and, under certain conditions, capable of provoking feelings of failure. Conformity to social norms, on the other hand, is perceived as tantamount to achievement of an ideal level of performance and capable of promoting feelings of adequacy. The individual in an attempt to minimize feelings of failure does two things: (1) he strives to perform at the ideal level of performance that he has adopted, and/or (2) he tends to be attracted to, and hence internalize the norms of, action systems whose standards allow a favourable self-evaluation. The Cooley-Mead suggestion that self-evaluation is a function of one's evaluation by others is examined under specified conditions. Homans' suggestion that the evaluations one receives in a system are related to his conformity are also examined, as part of this theory. A study to test the theory developed was carried out among secondary school teachers in a large metropolitan school. The teachers were interviewed to find out how much they conformed to norms that they perceived to exist within the profession, and whether the degree of conformity in each case could be predicted by the theory. The results of conformity in each case could be predicted by the theory. The results of this study do not confirm the theory, but there is evidence to indicate that this may have been partially due to inadequacies of procedure in addition to inadequacies in certain theoretical assumptions.

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