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2 minutes reading

We like to conform

We like to conform We like to conform
Source : xavieralopez via Giphy
Nudge
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Nudge
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Humans are not exactly lemmings, but they are easily influenced by the statements and deeds of others. […] If you see a movie scene in which people are smiling, you are more likely to smile yourself (whether or not the movie is funny); yawns are contagious, too. Conventional wisdom has it that if two people live together for a long time, they start to look like each other. This bit of folk wisdom turns out to be true. (For the curious: they grow to look alike partly because of nutrition—shared diets and eating habits—but much of the effect is simple imitation of facial expressions.) In fact couples who end up looking alike also tend to be happier! […]

An understanding of those [social influences] is important in our context for two reasons.

First, most people learn from others. This is usually good, of course. Learning from others is how individuals and societies develop. But many of our biggest misconceptions also come from others. When social influences have caused people to have false or biased beliefs, then some nudging may help. The second reason why this topic is important for our purposes is that one of the most effective ways to nudge (for good or evil) is via social influence. In Jonestown 1, that influence was so strong that an entire population committed suicide. But social influences have also created miracles, large and small. In many cities, including ours, dog owners now carry plastic bags when they walk their dogs, and strolling through the park has become much more pleasant as a result. This has happened even though the risk of being fined for unclean dog walking is essentially zero. [...]

Social influences come in two basic categories. The first involves information. If many people do something or think something, their actions and their thoughts convey information about what might be best for you to do or think. The second involves peer pressure. If you care about what other people think about you (perhaps in the mistaken belief that they are paying some attention to what you are doing—see below), then you might go along with the crowd to avoid their wrath or curry their favor. For a quick glance at the power of social nudges, consider just a few research findings:

  1. Teenage girls who see that other teenagers are having children are more likely to become pregnant themselves.
  2. Obesity is contagious. If your best friends get fat, your risk of gaining weight goes up.
  3. Broadcasters mimic one another, producing otherwise inexplicable fads in programming. (Think reality television, American Idol, and its Siblings, game shows that come and go, the rise and fall and rise of science fiction, and so forth.)
  4. The academic effort of college students is influenced by their peers, so much so that the random assignments of first-year students to dormitories or roommates can have big consequences for their grades and hence on their future prospects. (Maybe parents should worry less about which college their kids go to and more about which roommate they get.)
  5. Federal judges on three-judge panels are affected by the votes of their colleagues. The typical Republican appointee shows pretty liberal voting patterns when sitting with two Democratic appointees, and the typical Democratic appointee shows pretty conservative voting patterns when sitting with two Republican appointees. Both sets of appointees show far more moderate voting patterns when they are sitting with at least one judge appointed by a president of the opposing political party.

The bottom line is that Humans are easily nudged by other Humans.

Why? One reason is that we like to conform.

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