The main idea of this book is to present multiple experiments demonstrating how human decisions are influenced by society surrounding individuals and how these individuals often do not understand or recognize this influence. It is also reviews human strive to differentiate self from others, but not too much, so one would find goldilocks’ place in live. Finally it is also to demonstrate how understanding of social influence could improve attempt to change behavior of some individuals, specifically poor so they would become more productive and successful in handling life’s challenges.
It starts with discussion about choices and huge influence of other people on one’s choices. As example author refer to lawyers buying BMW to show off that they belong to the group of people that buy these cars. Author did research and found that people believe that others buy BMW under influence, but not themselves. Another case author discusses is mating, which often occur with somebody close by – coworker high school mate, and so on. Author describes a few experiments that support that: “The idea that mere exposure increases liking may seem strange at first, but it has actually been shown in hundreds of experiments. Whether considering faces in a college yearbook, advertising messages, made-up words, fruit juices, and even buildings, the more people see something, the more they like it. Familiarity leads to liking.” Moreover he demonstrates that people could be reliably influenced without recognizing so. For example a set of words presented before reading personal description could define whether described person perceived positively or negatively, even if the description remains the same. After that author provides a brief description of each chapter.
- Monkey See, Monkey Do
Chapter 1 explores our human tendency to imitate. Why people follow others, even when they know the answer is wrong. Why one man’s soda is another man’s pop. How mimicking others can make us better negotiators. And why social influence makes Harry Potter and other blockbusters hard to predict, even for industry experts.
Author discusses here Ash’s experiments and similar experiments by Sharif demonstrating power of conformity. After that he digs into reasons for conformity, which he defines as need for information from others, need for social cohesiveness, and need to synchronize emotions to increase effectiveness of collective action. From here the discussion moves to negotiations when mimicry improves chances of success. At the end of chapter author makes a very interesting take on popularity noting that it is actually random event when some initial variance makes an item a bit more popular than other similar items, resulting and higher chances of additional attention, which increase popularity, turning it into snowball. He provides an interesting example with cars on empty parking lot. Whatever side of lot the first car use becomes more attractive to the next driver, so cars tend to concentrate around the first one parked. The final important point is that even the lonely dissident could free people from internal need for compliance, which is very well demonstrated in the same Ash experiments.
2 A Horse of a Different Color
Chapter 2 examines the drive for differentiation. Sometimes people jump on the bandwagon and follow others, but just as frequently they jump off once it gets too crowded. We’ll discuss why most sports stars have older siblings, why babies all look the same (unless they’re ours), and why some people want to stand out, while others are happier blending in.
So per author first born get more parents attention so they do better academically, but younger children are better in athletics because they are looking up to older siblings. Author describes a number experiments demonstrating that decision making highly dependent on what other people do. However he also points out to nonconformist behavior and individualism specific to American culture. Finally he discusses how all this used in sales providing people with goods that are unique and similar to everybody’s goods at the same time.
- Not If They’re Doing It
Chapter 3 starts to explain how these competing tendencies combine. Whether we imitate others or do something different depends in part on who those others are. We’ll discuss why expensive products have fewer logos, why companies pay celebrities not to wear their clothes, and why people pay $300,000 for a watch that doesn’t tell time. Why skin tone affects school performance and why small green frogs are the counterfeiters of the animal kingdom.
Here author discusses dog that was not barking, signaling with example of changing business use and people signaling belonging to something like ideology. As example of pure signaling he discusses extremely expensive watch that does not show time.
- Similar but Different
Chapter 4 examines the tension between familiarity and novelty, and the value of being optimally distinct. We’ll learn why prototypical-looking cars sell better, what chickens have in common with the thirtieth president of the United States, and why hurricanes influence the popularity of baby names. Why modern art might seem grating the first time we see it, but why, after looking at a couple Picassos, Kandinsky are more pleasing on the eye.
Here author also discusses goldilocks effect and how to get it exactly right for promoting something new – hide nature of radically new under disguise of something old and familiar so people would feel comfortably to try. If trial is successful, the advantages of the new could attract people to implement this new in their lives.
- Come On Baby, Light My Fire
Chapter 5 illuminates how social influence shapes motivation. Why having other people around makes us faster runners but worse parallel parkers. How our best chance at saving the environment may come from watching our neighbors. What cockroaches can teach us about competition and why losing at halftime makes professional basketball teams more likely to win
It starts with experiment on cockroaches demonstrating that even for them social influence has impact: on simple task performance improves, on complex task performance deteriorates. People are the same. So author describes how he and his team apply it to nudge people to decrease electricity use. After that there is interesting discussion of specificity situation when loosing in the middle of game sometimes increases chances to win the game overall, but in some other cases makes people to give up and then loose catastrophically. Author also discusses a bit visual versus audio perception and how to use this and other discoveries to control people and prompt them to act enthusiastically to achieve objectives of controller.
Conclusion: Putting Social Influence to Work
In conclusion author retells sad story of public housing in USA, which was created to eliminate slums and become slums themselves because they were build in poor areas for poor people, so the nature of social influence led to behavior that makes people poor. However when new approach was tried to move poor people into middle class area with vouchers in small numbers, it worked much better because new social influence was prompted behavior that moves people into middle class.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is one of this books usually written by psychologists and sociologists that seek to understand impact of environment on human behavior, consequently using it to control and direct other people to behave the way controller wants them to. I do not believe that it is possible. The experiments and anecdotes provided in his book are mainly true and they do represent reality. However what is missing is the understanding that reality is very dynamic and so is human perception of reality, making it impossible to control people’s behavior with reliable levels of predictability. As author correctly notes there is mix of needs to conform and to be different making the very fact of interference highly impactful on results. In my opinion it all is pretty good for understanding, but of no use for controlling.