Which Couch, the Blue or White? Stubbornness and Social Pressure

Counterintuitive results show that we are more likely to resist changing our minds when more people tell us where are wrong. A team of researchers from HP’s Social Computing Research Group found that humans are more likely to change their minds when fewer, rather than more, people disagree with them.

[div class=attrib]From HP:[end-div]

The research has practical applications for businesses, especially in marketing, suggests co-author Bernardo Huberman,  Senior HP Fellow and director of HP’s Social Computing Research Group.

“What this implies,” he says, “is that rather than overwhelming consumers with strident messages about an alternative product or service, in social media, gentle reporting of a few people having chosen that product or service can be more persuasive.”

The experiment – devised by Huberman along with Haiyi Zhu, an HP labs summer intern from Carnegie Mellon University, and Yarun Luon of HP Labs – reveals several other factors that determine whether choices can be reversed though social influence, too. It’s the latest product of HP Lab’s pioneering program in social computing, which is dedicated to creating software and algorithms that provide meaningful context to huge sets of unstructured data.

Study results: the power of opinion
Opinions and product ratings are everywhere online. But when do they actually influence our own choices?

To find out, the HP team asked several hundred people to make a series of choices between two different pieces of furniture.  After varying amounts of time, they were asked to choose again between the same items, but this time they were told that a certain number of other people had preferred the opposite item.  (Separately, the experiment also asked subjects to choose between two different baby pictures, to control for variance in subject matter).

Analysis of the resulting choices showed that receiving a small amount of social pressure to reverse one’s opinion (by being told that a just few people had chosen differently) was more likely to produce a reversed vote than when the pressure felt was much greater (i.e. where an overwhelming number of people were shown as having made a different choice).

The team also discovered:

– People were more likely to be influenced if they weren’t prompted to change their mind immediately after they had expressed their original preference.
– The more time that people spent on their choice, the more likely they were to reverse that choice and conform to the opinion of others later on.

[div class=attrib]More of this fascinating article here.[end-div]