Do You Know the Social Impact Theory?

· October 1, 2018

Social impact theory tries to assess how individuals can be sources or objects of social influence. The social impact theory includes any influence on people’s feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. Therefore, the social impact theory helps us understand in which social situations we produce a greater influence.

Thus, the social impact will depend on the social forces, which are what causes the changes, the immediacy of the event, and the number of sources that produce the impact. The application of social impact varies from the diffusion of responsibility to social laziness, stage fright, or persuasive communication. 

The social impact theory

The value of relationships is based on costs and rewards. While costs subtract points from a relationship, the rewards add points. On one hand, rewards give us pleasure or satisfaction that we enjoy, while the costs include any factor that takes away from our happiness.

For example, imagine that we’re studying for an exam that we have tomorrow. Suddenly, a friend calls us and end up wasting all afternoon talking on the phone. The call costs us because it kept us from studying. Therefore, in this case, that relationship is considered negative. Our friend influenced us, and that influence is a social impact.


The social impact theory.

Factors of the social impact theory

We can explain the social impact theory using three factors. These factors are:

  • Strength: Many individual factors make a person influential. This covers individual factors such as scope, intelligence, and wealth. It also includes factors related to relationships, such as belonging to the same group. For example, the relationships we have with a friend.
  • Immediacy: It takes into account the recent occurrence of the event and if there were other factors that could have impacted the outcome. In the example we used earlier, the event was the exam we had to take the next day. However, our friend kept us from studying. The immediacy in that example was the time we had until the exam.
  • The number of sources: The number of sources refers to the number of sources of influence. In the previous example, the only source of influence was our friend’s call.

Laws of the social impact theory

The three factors produce three social impact laws. The first law pertains to social forces. This law establishes that social impact depends on how the three factors in the previous section interact with one another. If any of the factors increases, that increase will greatly increase our social impact. On the other hand, a zero or very low value would mean that there would practically be no social impact.

The second law is a psychosocial one. According to this law, the greatest social impact occurs when a single source appears. This happens when there’s no source and one suddenly appears. However, when one or more sources appear and there’s already an existing source, the sources will have less and less impact. In one study, several people stayed in the street staring at the sky. The results showed that more people looking at the sky meant more onlookers were curious. However, that change became increasingly insignificant as more people showed up.

The third and last law is the multiplication and divisions of impact. According to this law, strength, immediacy, and the number of sources all play a role in social impact. In other words, the more force and immediacy, and the greater number of sources there are in a given social situation, the more social impact will be divided among the sources. This law explains phenomena such as the diffusion of responsibility, where people feel less responsible when the number of people around them increases.

Dynamic social impact theory

The rules that guide the social impact theory describe people as recipients who passively accept social impact. It doesn’t completely compensate for the dynamics involved in social interactions. The social impact theory tried to discover those unknown factors.

According to this dynamic theory, force determines social influence, immediacy, and the number of sources, as in the previous theory. However, these groups are complex systems that change constantly and are never static. The dynamic social impact theory reorganized the groups into four basic patterns: consolidation, clustering, correlation, and continuing diversity. These patterns allow group dynamics to operate and ideas to spread throughout the group.

  • Consolidation: When people interact with each other, their actions, attitudes, and opinions become standardized to one another over time.
  • Clustering: People tend to interact with group members with similar opinions.
  • Correlation: Over time, the individual group members’ opinions on a variety of topics begin to converge and correlate with one another.
  • Continuing diversity: If members of a minority group communicate with the members of a majority but resist their influence, there may be some degree of adversity.

These theories help us understand the influence that other people or groups can have on each other. Social impact theory states that sources can affect us in our daily lives. Thanks to this theory, we can measure just how much they impact us. We can know what factors are going to affect us the most and how to avoid social impact if necessary.