The Persuasive Power of Social Proof

Why we find it difficult not to follow the crowd.

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Human beings are innately social creatures and will do anything to conform to the group.

In one famous experiment the psychologist Stanley Milgram ventured out onto the busy streets of New York with a group of his colleagues.

When they found a suitable spot, he asked one of his research assistants to stop and gaze skyward for 60 seconds.

Most people simply passed by the researcher without even glancing to see what he what he was staring at.

However, when four more of his colleagues joined the first to form a group of sky gazers, the number of passersby who stopped to join them more than quadrupled.

What’s going on here then?

Social proof is the idea that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behaviour.

We do this because of the historical importance of group conformity.

In the earliest days of man, being separated or ostracised from the group was effectively a death sentence so it became an evolutionary adaptive trait to keep in line with whatever it was everyone else was doing.

Marketing experts use this to their advantage by including evidence of social proof when advertising their products and services.

They’ll make statements like ‘Join over 10,000 satisfied customers’ or ‘Trusted by industry experts.’

Product reviews are also another effective way to signal group approval (assuming they are mostly positive ones of course).

Another classic is bars and nightclubs creating artificial queues outside their venues to signal their popularity and therefore something ‘the group’ approves of.

It seems we find it difficult not to follow the herd.

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