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Influence is the potential or effective impact of a subject or interest group on a target person or group. A distinction must be made between having influence (passive, possibly unconscious) and exerting influence (active, conscious). Outside sociological-psychological considerations, the term is used to name relevant effects on any system, such as ecosystems or physical processes.

When influence is consciously exercised in the sociological-psychological sense, it aims at changing attitudes or correcting beliefs ; some definitions include the induction of a particular decision or desired social behavior among the possible objectives of the exercise of influence; In this case, influence can hardly be distinguished from power . The conscious exercise of influence necessarily presupposes a personal relationship between the influencer and the influenced; The foundations of successful influence are often the personal charisma of the influencer or (psychological or material) dependence of the person influenced.

Religious, political and economic influence are of particular social relevance. Manipulation is a related term, but it is often given negative connotations. The demarcation to “power” is difficult and controversial.

Influence and power

The sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) already distinguished the terms “ power ” and “influence” in his research into forms of “ rule ”. He emphasized that "every kind of opportunity to exercise 'power' and 'influence' on other people" cannot be described as domination. Weber did not use the terms influence and power synonymously, but did not provide a definition of “influence”. The semantics of the term influence should therefore be distinguished from its definition of power. For Weber, “power” means “every chance within a social relationship to enforce one's own will against resistance, regardless of what this chance is based on”. Based on this classic definition of power, the concept of power was subsequently further developed by scientists, with different relationships between “power” and “influence” being established. In 2002 Ronald Nagy summarized what he called the “flood of definitions” as follows: “In addition to the synonymous use of the terms, on the one hand influence is presented as a generic term and power is presented as a special characteristic and, on the other hand, a strict ( analytical ) separation is proposed”.

Influencing factors

In 1994, Alfred Meier and Tilman Slembeck differentiated the following "influencing factors" in the sense of a causal social model:

  1. Exercise of rights and exercise of competencies ;
  2. Gratuity ( reward with money, attention or other valued inducement);
  3. persuasive communication (convincing through better arguments or personal characteristics; knowledge advantage and persuasion);
  4. Manipulation (obscuring effective intentions);
  5. Identification offers of the (apparently) “stronger” target group and
  6. Confrontation . However, it is by no means undisputed whether it is actually appropriate to regard all of these as “influencing factors”, or whether they are not rather terms that are to be analytically differentiated from influence (some of them possibly representing special forms of influence).

Social influence

The social influence of society on its members arises e.g. B. the desire of the individual to belong to a community . About preferences and values of a community to shape social norms of what the players adapt.

By adapting one's own values ​​to group preferences, an individual adjustment to like-minded groups takes place. Within the groups, the conformity of the group members is promoted through peer pressure. The cohesion of the group (see cohesion ) requires a minimum of conformity.

In this respect, social norms are often contagious and can lead to adjustments in values ​​and behavior. Group membership often works through identification, which is partly influenced by a shared history. The mechanisms can be established both via the collective historicity mentioned and via symbolic location-relatedness, generation (fate) or the like. An approximation comprises a collective space of experience that leads to the same (collectively developed) normal ideas. Other people can also share it. Usually there are initiation rites for this, enthronements within key situations or processes or also occasions that are specific to the framework (e.g. going to school together). This increases the reliability and predictability of the behavior of the group members within the group, which promotes interaction in the group. This pressure to conform can lead to uniformity , hasty obedience , obedience to the authorities and decreasing tolerance .

However, this type of conformity leads to the public fulfillment of the behavioral expectations of the group, but not necessarily to the private acceptance of its behavior and assumptions (according to P. D. Allison 1992).

The adaptation to conformity requirements of the social environment is a widespread and in many situations hardly avoidable achievement. But the reaction to such social pressure can also be resistance ; As a countermovement, pressure to conform can trigger independence strivings. The desire for uniqueness and individuality is z. B. in contrast to the desire to belong to a group (after K. J. Gergen and M. M. Gergen 1986). Resistance and independence movements (of individuals or groups) can also be based on social influence.

The existence of social influence does not therefore depend on the person influenced performing a development desired by the person influencing : This is an essential difference between the exercise of influence and the exercise of power. Social influence can also take place without the influencer being aware of it. The reason for this often lies in non-verbal influence, be it through material status symbols such as clothing, possessions or physical status symbols such as body language, physiology, facial expressions and gestures.

It is even possible that someone has influence against their will . The pop star z. B., who would like to dress exclusively, but who are robbed of his exclusivity by his fans by imitating him in their clothing a million times over, has an undesirable influence on a large group of people - but without actively exercising influence or power over them. The different ways in which social influence and social power work can also be seen in the fact that the dead can reasonably be said to have influence, but not that they have power. Conceptually, power is linked to the intentions of the ruler, whereas influence is not to the intentions of the influential.

See also


  • Kenneth J. Gergen, Mary M. Gergen: Social Psychology. Springer-Verlag, New York 1986, ISBN 3-540-96252-2 .
  • PD Allison: The Cultural Evolution of Beneficial Norms. In: Social Forces. 71 (1992), pp. 279-301.
  • Ahlfeld, Benedikt: manipulation methods. Successful conversation, means of rhetoric and protection against targeted influence. 1st edition. Vienna 2012, ISBN 978-3-842-35551-4 .
  • Alfred Meier, Tilmann Slembeck: Economic Policy. A cognitive-evolutionary approach. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-486-22952-4 .
  • Ruth Zimmerling: Influence and Power. Variations on a Messy Theme. Springer-Verlag, Dordrecht 2005, ISBN 1-4020-2986-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Influence  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Nicole J. Saam : Principals, Agents and Power . A power-theoretical extension of agency theory and its application to interaction structures in organizational consulting. Tübingen 2002, ISBN 3-16-147832-0 , p. 141. (Adaptation of the quotation to the ref. German jurisprudence .; Source: Max Weber: Collected political writings . Ed. By Johannes Winckelmann. 4th edition. Tübingen 1980 , P. 129.)
  2. a b c Ronald Nagy: Corporate governance in corporate practice . Actors, instruments and organization of the supervisory board. Wiesbaden 2002, ISBN 3-8244-0668-3 , p. 32. (Adaptation of the quotation to the ref. German law .; Source: Weber, Gesellschaft, p. 28.)
  3. ^ Alfred Meier, Tilman Slembeck: Economic Policy . A cognitive-evolutionary approach. Munich / Vienna / Oldenbourg 1994, ISBN 3-486-22952-4 .