Social Proof/Herd Mentality
Social Proof is a cognitive bias that describes how we tend to be heavily influenced by what others around us are doing.
Sometimes referred to as Herd Mentality, Social Proof is a heuristic (or shortcut) where we rely heavily on the thoughts and actions of our peers when making decisions. This tendency is even stronger when we are feeling uncertain.
The key idea is that in any given situation, and especially when we are confused or under stress, our choices will lean towards following the crowd.
- People instinctively queuing up in a line to wait for something
- The peer pressure felt by teens when their friends are doing something
- The tendency for people to stop and look at something when other people are already looking at it
- How articles or images on the Internet that have many likes or shares tend to get even more
- The tendency to outwardly agree with something we actually disagree with when in a group setting
Why It Is Useful
Social Proof is one of the major cognitive biases and can be used by salespeople and other persuaders to heavily influence our decisions.
Case 1: The canned laughter you hear in some TV comedies is designed to make you think the show is funnier than it otherwise might be.
As annoying as it is, many studies have shown that simply adding canned laughter can increase the perceived funniness of a show.
Case 2: Automobile commercials that say things like "The number one selling car" are using Social Proof to make you think more favorably about that particular car.
I mean, all those people couldn't have chosen poorly, right?
Case 3: Product testimonials are another example of Social Proof in advertising.
Ideally, you will be presented with an ad that lists people just like you that the product has already helped.
Case 4: You can use Social Proof to influence those around you.
A simple 'trick' is to stop on a busy sidewalk and look up. Just keep looking up, and eventually another person will look, just to see what you are looking at, then another person will, and another. If you get the timing and location right, you can have a whole group of people looking at nothing.
A better (?) use of this is to persuade someone to change their behavior because it is different than what everyone else is doing. I've done this at work when I wanted one person to stop doing X. Simply talking to them about doing Y instead didn't really make a difference, but when I pointed out that every other person on the team was doing Y, that person magically started doing Y.
How It Fits Into The Latticework
Social Proof is one of the Mental Models Charlie has specifically mentioned:
Seventh, now this is a lollapalooza, and Henry Kaufman wisely talked about this: bias from over-influence by social proof -- that is, the conclusions of others, particularly under conditions of natural uncertainty and stress.
Social Proof can interact with a wide range of other Mental Models.
For example, it can be combined with Authority to become even more powerful. How likely would you be to disagree with a single doctor vs a roomful of five doctors that all agree on your diagnosis?
It can also be combined with Scarcity to generate crazy behavior such as bank runs and stock market sell-offs. What do you do when the financial system is unstable and you see everyone around you trying to get their cash out of the system? It's really tough to ignore people at that point and not be pulled along with the tide.
Watch the behavior of other people when you are in a group setting. Does everyone seem to agree on things a little too easy? Or are people queuing up in a line in a way that makes no sense? Or is everyone with you at the restaurant ordering appetizers simply because the first person did?
Now, try to do something different than what everyone else is doing. For example, skip the appetizer or drink so that you're the only one and see what happens.
Please share your thoughts on this Mental Model or the post itself in the comments below!