Daily Management Review

Minority Influence and intergroup dynamics


The conforming process is understood as the ability for a majority to modify the behavior of an individual (or group of individuals), in order to bring it into harmony with the behavior or attitude of the majority group of which it is a part. Such a conception of influence therefore aims to consider that a minority has no counter-norms to object or the means to assert its point of view. The phenomenon of conformity can take place: the individual or the group of minority individuals can be inclined to modify their behavior or attitude, in order to bring it into conformity with the behavior or attitude of the majority group which it faces, whatever their initial divergences (Moscovici and Faucheux, 1972). From this perspective, the norms, attitudes and practices in force in a group are analyzed as being the result of an initial majority. Majorities are supposed to have better information and organizational resources and therefore create a system of dependence in their favor (Moscovici et al., 1969). Such a situation therefore tends to favor the exercise of a normative social influence, of a majority nature which would be imposed on the other members (Doise and Moscovici, 1969).

The typology proposed by Moscovici (1996) is distinguishing three other essential modes between a majority and a minority. More precisely, Moscovici seeks here to highlight the potential importance of the minority in the context of intergroup relations.

The first case occurs when there is within a group a lack of consistent responses to a problem posed to it. If no member of the group has a specific point of view or position to defend, there is therefore neither a minority nor a majority. We are therefore dealing with a plurality of standards, judgments and responses which are all considered to be equivalent. Tacit negotiation thus takes place and responses are coordinated to avoid conflict (normalization process). They then converge towards an average value which satisfies all the members of the group (Doise and Moscovici, 1992; Moscovici and Faucheux, 1972). The final consensus then crystallizes around the lowest common denominator in a position of compromise.

The expression of several ideas, opinions in a group, can create a conflict between the majority and the minority which will become social, when each alternative is discussed and defended freely by different people within the group. If we try to resolve these conflicts, tensions will arise. These tensions are measured by the relationships between the agreements and disagreements of individuals who will have to argue and negotiate in order to get closer to a common position. The discussion therefore has the effect of constructing and revealing norms and values, from which minority and majority will develop a new and common approach (Doise and Moscovici, 1992). This response will result in a polarization of the attitudes of the members of the group. This is a movement of the group towards one of the initially preferred poles, the consensus crystallizing a position more extreme than the average of the initial positions. Unlike the compromise, this phenomenon therefore does not have the status quo as its function. It should make it possible to change the rules and norms of collective life. The group will thus change, by modifying the representations and practices which prevailed initially in the group (the change in polarization).

The third case concerns an anomic majority (absence of answers) which faces a nominal minority. This will propose a solution to the problem which is posed to the group. If this position is defended by consistent (persistent) behavior, it is likely to rally the members of the majority who have no specific point of view to oppose it. While initially the group did not have well-defined standards or approaches to solve the problem, the minority will act, introducing new attitudes and/or practices. The group is therefore likely to innovate (Minority innovation).

Social influence is key to managerial effectiveness and an integral part of working in groups and organizations. This typology constitutes a useful tool to better understand the dynamics at work in a change process. Moscovici’s works explain that we are not in a situation of alignment of powers, there is a majority and a minority position and this cannot be decreed: this situation cannot be programmed but depends on several conditions. Minorities are more influential when they are consistent over time as well as in their argumentation. Majority members are more likely to consider the minority point of view when the issue is of great importance, is involving, and has clear personal or organizational consequences (context of urgency, high degree of visibility, risky situation).

Olivier Meier
Full Professor
University of Paris Est (LIPHA)