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Thursday, March 28, 2013

You and I are too cool to care about what our peers think, right? Wrong!

There's a great piece in the NY Times today summarizing research about the effect on our behavior of social norms - i.e., our peers do X, so we're more likely to do X as well. We don't think this happens because we're indepedent-minded Americans who go our own way (insert other cliches here), but "social norming" has been shown to be extremely effective at stopping bad behavior and increasing good behavior.

The key is to tell people what others are doing right, so we'll unconsciously imitate it; don't scold us about people doing things wrong, because we'll imitate that.

Why isn’t this idea more widely used? One reason is that it can be controversial. Telling college students “most of you drink moderately” is very different than saying “don’t drink.” The approach angers people who lobby for a strong, unmuddied message of disapproval — even though, of course, disapproval doesn’t reduce bad behavior, and social norming does.

Cialdini thinks that the idea hasn’t caught on more widely because it works underneath our conscious radar. “People don’t see themselves as easily influenced by those around them,” he said. When he asks people what would make them change, they rank “what my peers are doing” dead last. But when he tests what really works, it comes in first. Following the crowd is primal.

Food for thought: Read the whole thing here.<