The Mere Consensus Approach

The study of social influence phenomena lies at the very heart of Social Psychology. At times, social influence depends on the number of others who endorse a certain position. Then, social psychologists speak of majority or minority influence. Within in this context, we propose that many phenomena studied in social influence research can be reduced to the operation of a single variable, namely consensus. Thus, our mere consensus approach often provides a more parsimonious explanation than do other models. It builds on the assumption that what most others do is an important variable to human beings, and that such consensus information defines minorities and majorities in any context. In empirical research, we found a number of effects of mere consensus on information processing and judgment formation. Consensus biased the processing of issue-related information, causing more favorable thoughts and judgments under high consensus and less favorable thoughts and judgments under low consensus (Erb et al., 1998). These effects were also found when consensus information was provided in form of the result of a public survey, and we have built a model that explains the antecedents and consequences of survey reception based on the individual use of consensus information (Hellmann & Erb, 2015).

We also study conditions when low consensus appears as particularly attractive to targets of influence. In one line of research, we found that a high Need for Uniqueness fosters the social impact of minorities (low consensus) on individual judgments (Imhoff & Erb, 2009). Another line deals with the question whether minority positions are seen as more risky than majority positions (Erb et al., 2015). Last but not least, the mere consensus approach provides answers to the important question under what conditions minority versus majority messages are processed with higher cognitive effort (Erb et al., 2004).



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