Thursday, 23 May 2013

Social Influence

Humans are social beings. We are also curious about other people. What we sometimes don't realise is how much we are influenced by the people around us. Here is a link to a study I ran back in 1996. I filmed a group of people staring up at a building. I counted the number of passersby who stopped or looked up as they walked by in the space of minute. I varied the size of the group and also the location. One of my stooges asked me what he should say if anyone asked what they were looking at. I suggested that they should answer that they were looking at what the other people were looking at. See if you can spot the people who stop and ask the question.

People are also sometimes unaware that they have conformed to the majority. In another study I got psychology students, unwittingly, to copy an unusual behaviour. Later, as in any psychology experiment, I explained to the students that they had taken part in an experiment (debriefing). Some people missed the debriefing and continued to produce the rare behaviour (placing their keyboard covers on top of their computers) and they told me that was the 'best place to put them'! This is despite no students ever having put their keyboard covers on top of their computer before the experiment. The cause of the behaviour was that these students had observed a number of stooges and had copied them. We often rationalise our behaviour rather than acknowledge that we are influenced by other people.

In another study on opinions I approached people 'in the wild' (in shopping malls) and asked them whether they thought that they were influenced by the majority or the minority. 75% told me that they were not influenced by other people's opinions.