Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Destructive Influence of Imaginary Peers

We humans irrationally think we’re rational. We think that we decide how to behave by weighing the pros and cons. In reality, the strongest influence on our decisions is the example of the people around us — even, oddly enough, when they are imaginary.


 Bad behavior is usually more visible than good.  It’s what people talk about, it’s what the news media report on, it’s what experts focus on.  Experts are always trying to change bad behavior by warning of how widespread it is, and they take any opportunity to label it a crisis.  “The field loves talking about the problems because it generates political and economic support,” said Perkins.

This strategy might feel effective, but it’s not — it simply communicates that bad behavior is the social norm. Telling people to go against their peer group never works.  A better strategy is the reverse:  give people credible evidence that among their peers, good behavior is the social norm.
With social norming, you don’t tell anybody what to do.  You just tell them what people like them are doing. It’s a bit like the positive deviance approach I wrote about in February:  your focus is on spreading the word about what a community is doing right.
One of the most important keys to making social norming work is salience. “We can only hold one thing in consciousness at a time – and it is that thing that drives behavior,” said Cialdini, who is writing his next book about the topic. Success is more likely if the social norming message hits people just when they are about to make that behavioral decision.


No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails