Psychology of Consumer Behaviour |

Friday, October 10, 2008

Follow the leader or follow the follower? Kool-Aid, anyone?

In the 50's Solomon Asch created an interesting experiment that showed that people would deny what they see and possibly know and conform to the group. Only one person was the real subject; the others were confederates who lied about what they saw on the instructions of Asch.

The task was simple. You have 3 lines of different lengths on the right. Which line matches the line on the left. There's no trick to it. To any normal person there is a clear answer, yet when everyone else is picking the wrong answer, how confident are you to say something different? 75% of the participants gave at least one wrong answer. Clearly subjects were influenced by the group even though it's quite possible they knew the group was wrong.

Now if you happened to watch the debate the other night between Obama and McCain on CNN. Exactly what were you watching?
Were you watching the candidates or were you transfixed by the immediate squiggly line at the bottom of the screen that was moving in reaction to what a select audience felt about what the candidates were saying?
It was hard to ignore that little line.

In our world today we have the luxury of seeing a live debate, watching an instant by instant poll of what others are thinking or feeling, or receiving twitter comments of what is going on from the debate itself.

What exactly does that mean?

Well, if we listen to Solomon Asch what we see may not actually be what we see. If we happen to be for a particular candidate, we are probably watching to see that he or she is getting a positive spike; but if we happen to be undecided are we going to follow the spikes? As long as the spikes are trending to the one least likely to blow up the world, maybe we are safe.

But what if they aren't?

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