French and Raven’s Source of Power

T. Florence Spring 2002

According to French and Raven social power and social influence are found in psychology, sociology, and political science.  French and Raven state that “The phenomena of power and influence involve a dyadic relation between two agents which may be viewed from two points of view: (a) What determines the behavior of the agent who exerts power? (b) What determines the reactions of the recipient of this behavior?” (French and Raven 150).  There are also different types of work, which have been done on small groups which demonstrate the necessity of distinguishing different types of power in order to show that there are different effects found in with studies of social influence.  Their theories are a hope to define basic concepts of power, which will make it adequate to explain phenomena of social influence.

The first theory that French and Raven talk about is Psychological Change.  They define change at a level of generality, which includes changes in behavior, opinions, attitudes, goals, needs, and values.  French and Raven define psychological change as “any alteration of the state of some system over time.” (French and Raven 151)  Change in any psychological system is in terms the psychological forces; it is the change that must be coordinated to the resultant force of all the forces operating at the moment.  For example, a change in someone’s opinion may be the affect of someone else persuading that person to accept the opinion of him or herself.  This can have affects in groups, because the members driving their opinions onto the others, makes for discussion, which helps the group, come up with great ideas.

French and Raven’s idea of social influence and power is that “social influence and power is limited to influence on the person, P, produced by a social agent, O, where O can be either another person, a role, a norm, a group of a part of a group.  We do not consider social influence exerted on a group.” (French and Raven 151)  This means that all groups are interdependent, which means the group depends on its members in order to function.  This means that a change in one may produce a change in others.  This theory focuses on the primary changes in a group, which are produced directly with social influence, not on other changes, which are not secondary changes.

Social Power is the amount of powers that O is capable of because of some more or less enduring relation to P.  This defines the range of power as the set of all systems within which a person has power of strength greater than zero.  The example that French and Raven gave us was, “A husband may have a broad range of power over his wife, but a narrow range of power over his employer.  We shall use the term “magnitude of power” to denote the summation of O’s power over P in all systems of his range.”(French and Raven 153)

A change in a system is produced by a change in something that the system is dependent on, the change maybe internal or external.  The maintenance of the same state can be kept by stability or lack of change in internal or external factors.

The basis of power is the relationship between O and P.  Normally, the relationship between O and P will have many different variables; usually power is not limited to one source.  Five bases of power which French and Raven give us are reward power, which is to think that one has the ability to mediate rewards for him.  The second is coercive power, which is based on the ability for one to punish him.  Legitimate power, which states that one person, has a legitimate right to prescribe behavior for him.  The fourth is referent power, which is based on identification with the group or leader.  And the last is expert power, which is to feel that someone has special knowledge or expertise, which he can benefit from. 

Reward power increases with the magnitude of the reward, the bigger and better the award, the more that P perceives O can mediate for him.  Reward power depends on the ability of the giver to administer positive feedback and remove negative outcomes and responses.  Coercive Power is the same as reward power, only it uses negative cohesion instead of positive, it uses punishment instead of rewards.  French and Raven say that “the strength of coercive power depends on the magnitude of the negative valence of the threatened punishment multiplied by the perceived probability that P can avoid the punishment by conformity, i.e., the probability of punishment for nonconformity minus the probability of punishment for conformity.” (French and Raven, 157)  Legitimate power is the most complex of the different types, legitimate power is the valence in a region, which is induced by some internalized norm or value.  It is stemmed form internalized values in one which indicates that another has a legitimate right to influence one who is obligated to accept this influence.  The main basis for this power is the cultural values that one individual has over another.   Referent Power is a feeling of oneness of one with another, or the desire to want this identity.  If someone is attracted to something about someone else, that person will want to become closely associated with that person.  Expert Power is the strength that knowledge and perception which one person attributes to another within a given area.  Expert power results in primary social influence on one’s cognitive structure and probably not on other types of systems.

I think that all of these powers are very important in small group communications because they all work in varying types of situations.  They all can have major affects on how people cooperate in a group.  The different types of power will work for almost everyone; different types may work better in different situations, or with different people.  Working in small groups can cause problems sometimes because people come from different backgrounds and have different ideas, these sources of power help to make the members of a group see more eye to eye, because they will form more united ideas and work better together because of it.

The ideas that French and Raven came up with are excellent.  The five types of power are very precise and anyone who has been in a small group, marriage, or just daily interacts with others, should be able to relate to these five types of power.  The five are very normal in interactions of small groups, they happen, even without individuals meaning to.  It is human nature for all of these sources of power to work in coercing people into different behaviors.  I think that their views are very precise and make perfect sense.

 Works Cited

French, John R.P. and Bertram Raven. “Bases of Social Power.” Studies in Social Power. Ed. Dorwin Cartwright.  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,1959.

Power in Relationships. Scott <>.