Influence refers to the ability to affect or shape the behaviors, attitudes, or decisions of others, either directly or indirectly, through actions, words, or presence. It is synonymous with the word “persuasiveness.”
In today’s interconnected world, influence plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion and driving consumer behavior. As a result, brands are often pairing up with “social influencers” who can motivate hard-to-reach potential customers.
But in a more traditional sense, other people have influence on our lives – parents, teachers, religious leaders, friends and so on, all influence our tastes, beliefs, and thought processes.
To explore the people and groups who influence our lives, I’ll use Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems model which sees influence as a series of concentric circles moving out from you in the center.
This model argues that the most influential people on our lives are our inner circle, e.g. immediate family.
Following family, we may have friends, teachers, and coworkers who are next most influential. Then, perhaps, media or distant relatives, and so on.
To Bronfenbrenner, the less intimately connected to us people are, the less they are able to influence us.
He demonstrates this in a concentric circle model, shown below:
Let’s Explore the influences at each level.
Influential people in our Microsystem
Definition: The microsystem pertains to influences that are in the closest direct contact with the person. These encompass entities like the family, school, religion, and immediate social circles of the individual such as friends.
- Parents or Guardians: Often regarded as the primary influencers in a person’s life, parents or guardians shape an individual’s values, behaviors, and attitudes from a young age.
- Siblings: Siblings can significantly influence a person’s social and emotional development, especially during formative years.
- Teachers: By imparting knowledge and nurturing curiosity, teachers can significantly impact a person’s interests, academic achievements, and future career paths.
- Mentors: Mentors provide invaluable guidance, support, and serve as role models in both professional and personal capacities, helping individuals navigate complex situations and achieve their goals.
- Supervisors or Managers: Through setting performance expectations and providing feedback, supervisors or managers influence the work environment and play a pivotal role in an individual’s career development.
- Close Friends: Close friends influence personal choices, behaviors, and provide essential social support, often shaping an individual’s experiences and outlook on life.
- Coaches: By fostering teamwork, promoting discipline, and providing training in sports or other activities, coaches can build character and promote physical fitness, impacting an individual’s lifestyle and well-being.
- Colleagues: Colleagues can influence an individual’s work ethic, professional relationships, and attitudes towards the workplace.
- Community Leaders: Community leaders, through their actions and decisions, shape the local environment and influence community attitudes, providing a sense of belonging and shaping local culture.
- Spiritual Leaders: Spiritual leaders provide moral guidance and spiritual support, influencing an individual’s beliefs, values, and practices, which can have a lasting impact on their life.
Influences in our Mesosystem
Definition: The mesosystem is the level where the individual’s various microsystems interconnect and subsequently influence the individual. For instance, the interplay between the school and the family, two microsystems, as when teachers give parents feedback about a child, contributes to molding a child’s character.
- Parent-Teacher Interactions: The communication between parents and teachers can significantly impact a child’s academic performance and well-being.
- Workplace-Family Dynamics: The balance or conflict between work responsibilities and family life can shape an individual’s stress levels and overall happiness.
- Community-School Engagement: Active involvement of community members in local schools can enrich educational experiences and foster a supportive learning environment.
- Healthcare-Community Collaboration: Collaborations between healthcare institutions and community organizations can promote public health and well-being.
- Professional Networking: Interactions within professional networks can influence career opportunities and professional development.
- Interagency Collaboration: Different agencies working together can enhance service delivery and address complex issues more effectively.
- Peer Influence in Academic Settings: The dynamics between peer groups in schools or colleges can impact academic motivation and social development.
- Social Support Systems: The interplay between various social support systems like friends, family, and support groups can influence an individual’s mental health and resilience.
- Employer-employee Relations: The quality of relationships between employers and employees can significantly influence job satisfaction and organizational culture.
- Cross-organizational Partnerships: Partnerships between different organizations or institutions can foster innovation, resource sharing, and collective problem-solving, impacting broader community outcomes.
Influences in our Exosystem
Definition: Derived from ‘exo’ meaning external, the exosystem constitutes elements not directly linked to the individual but still exert an influence. For example, mass media and economic conditions aren’t in a direct relationship with you, but they influence you.
- Government Policies: Governmental decisions and policies can shape the legal and economic framework within which individuals operate.
- Economic Conditions: The overall economic climate, including job availability and cost of living, can influence individuals’ financial stability and opportunities.
- Media Representation: The way groups or issues are portrayed in the media can influence societal attitudes and individual perceptions.
- Industry Trends: Shifts in industry trends can impact job prospects and the stability of certain sectors.
- Technological Advances: Innovations in technology can change the way individuals work, communicate, and interact with their world.
- Educational Systems: The structure and policies of educational systems can impact access to education and the quality of learning experiences.
- Healthcare Systems: The availability and quality of healthcare services can significantly impact individuals’ health outcomes.
- Community Resources: The presence or absence of community resources like parks, libraries, or social services can influence quality of life.
- Social Movements: Social movements can shift societal norms and impact public discourse on various issues.
- Natural Disasters and Climate Change: Environmental factors and events can have wide-reaching impacts on communities and individuals’ daily lives.
Influences in our Macrosystem
Definition: The macrosystem represents the broader societal, cultural, and political context in which the individual exists. The culture and societal norms of different communities can shape a person’s development and worldviews. For instance, a child raised in a tribal society in sub-Saharan Africa would be influenced by a different macrosystem compared to another child growing up in an urban setting in Scandinavia.
- Cultural Norms and Values: The prevailing cultural norms and values shape individuals’ behaviors, attitudes, and expectations (see also: a list of cultural influences).
- Legal Framework: The legal system establishes the rules and regulations that govern behavior and relationships within society.
- Economic Systems: The broader economic structure impacts wealth distribution, employment rates, and opportunities for financial growth.
- Political Ideologies: Political ideologies influence governmental policies, social programs, and public discourse.
- Historical Events: Significant historical events can shape societal attitudes, inter-group relations, and national identity.
- Globalization: Global interconnectedness influences cultural exchanges, economic opportunities, and exposure to diverse perspectives.
- Technological Innovations: Broad technological advancements shape societal functioning, communication, and access to information (see more: technological innovation examples).
- Education Policies: National education policies impact the accessibility and quality of education available to individuals.
- Healthcare Policies: National healthcare policies affect the availability, quality, and affordability of healthcare services.
- Environmental Policies: Policies regarding environmental protection and natural resource management impact the sustainability of communities and the natural world.
Influences in our Chronosystem
Definition: Drawing from ‘Chronos’, the Greek word for time, the chronosystem refers to changes that transpire in a person’s life over time. These changes can be personal, such as parental divorce or the loss of a loved one, or external, such as wars or natural disasters. Any of these factors may influence us, to a greater or lesser extent.
- Personal Life Events: Significant life events like marriage, childbirth, or loss of a loved one can profoundly impact an individual’s development and outlook on life.
- Historical Changes: Major historical events or changes can alter societal structures and individual life trajectories.
- Technological Advancements: Over time, technological advancements can drastically change lifestyles, communication, and work environments.
- Economic Fluctuations: Economic downturns or booms can impact job security, financial stability, and opportunities for economic advancement.
- Legislative Changes: Changes in laws and regulations over time can influence societal norms and individual rights.
- Cultural Shifts: Evolving cultural attitudes and norms can impact individuals’ beliefs, behaviors, and identities.
- Educational Opportunities: Changes in educational policies and opportunities over time can affect career paths and social mobility.
- Healthcare Developments: Advances in medical technology and healthcare policies over time can influence individuals’ health outcomes and longevity.
- Environmental Changes: Long-term environmental changes or natural disasters can significantly impact communities and individual lifestyles.
- Global Events: Events on the global stage, such as wars, pandemics, or international agreements, can have far-reaching effects on individuals and societies.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]