Social proof: is there always safety in numbers? - Deepstash

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Social proof

Social proof

First coined by Robert Cialdini in 1984, social proof is also known as informational social influence. In his book Influence: Science and Practice, he discusses social proof as one of the influential psychological principles that persuade us to behave in certain ways.

In ambiguous situations, decision-making is made difficult by uncertainty regarding the potential outcomes, which may result in decision anxiety. Social proof (safety in numbers, or reliance on the authority of others) therefore becomes a powerful influencer of decision making if we feel that others are better qualified to decide.

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The power of positive endorsement

Positive public reviews and ratings persuade us that a company or their product is trustworthy. Endorsements from specialists such as doctors or dentists also encourage consumers to choose a recommended product rather than one with no professional testimonial, even if the products are otherwise comparable.

It’s interesting to note that we don’t tend to seek safety in any kind of numbers. When we see ourselves as similar to those around us, we are more likely to view their behavior as correct, and therefore adopt it as our own.

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The dangers of relying on social proof

  • Herd mentality can prevent us from practicing critical thinking and exploring new, innovative ideas.
  • Even if an opinion is held by a large group of people, this does not necessarily make it correct.
  • Following the crowd can lead people to make poor decisions that they would not have made without the encouragement obtained from social proof.
  • In addition, social proof can cause you not only to act, but also to fail to act.

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How to wisely use social proof

  • Be mindful of influencers. Successful influencers are incredibly persuasive. When you see a product or argument being advertised, be aware of the underlying mechanism of influence at play.
  • Interrogate your own beliefs. It can feel easier and quicker to adopt the beliefs of others, rather than interrogating your own opinion on a subject.
  • Know when a decision matters. Moral decisions, choices that will affect your income or career, or expensive purchasing dilemmas should be made with more than just reliance on social proof. 

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