In a classic psychological test, a researcher meets one-on-one with an individual to show two charts. On the left is one line. On the right are three. The test is simple: Which line in the second grouping matches the first, A, B or C.
The answer is obvious — at least to anyone with normal vision and intelligence. It is “C”.
Then the individual is brought into a group setting, and one by one, others are asked the answer. The others in the room are actually part of the research test — and they each answer confidently and assuredly, “B”.
What happens when your turn comes up to express your observations about exactly the same question?
Jonrobert Tartaglione in the Neuropsychology of Influence and Decision-Making writes:
While we’d all like to believe we’d eschew social pressure and stick with our original answer, in reality we’d likely waver. Though people tend to almost always get 100% of the 12 line judgements correct when doing so privately (i.e. one-on one with the researcher), approximately one-third of all responses succumb to social pressure in the group setting and conform to the wrong answer. Not only that, but 50% — a full half of all participants — conform to the erroneous majority at least six (out of 12) times.
There is a reason for this behaviour change — “Humans are hyper-social creatures,” he writes.
Why would we develop this innate reaction to social exclusion? Because as creatures who rely so heavily on others for co-operation, companionship, and ultimately survival, our brains have evolved to treat the threat of ostracism and social isolation as seriously as that of physical danger.
I think you can see where this is going. It has relevance in today’s fractured US political environment, where “fake news” is defined differently depending on whether you are to to the right or the left and truth has a way of being distorted to incredible levels. And these forces are compounded by the increasing power and influence of social media, where people see and refer to what their friends and like-minded peers express.
From a marketing perspective, this information helps because we can see how what we do is seen in perspective of the larger group dynamic. Even if we are right, if we are pushing against the prevailing social winds among our potential clients, we’re wrong.