In a provocative new book called Invisible Influence, Wharton professor Jonah Berger explains that we are not the independent thinkers making well-informed decisions and choices that we might think we are. The reason is that many of our decisions and choices are made based on what others are doing. This is called social influence, and in Invisible Influence, Berger demonstrates, through scores of stories and academic research, the power of others on our decisions.
What Makes a Hit
For example, Berger describes an experiment by Princeton sociologist Matthew Salganik based on a website where people could download free music (actual but obscure music that no one knew). Salganik provided a list of songs to choose from, and included in the list how many other people had downloaded the song. Eventually certain songs began to attract more and more downloads, while other songs elicited much less interest. Over time, the chasm between the popular and unpopular songs grew wider and wider. Most people were attracted to the songs that most people had already downloaded.
However, the most surprising stage of Salganik’s experiment was yet to come. Salganik, writes Berger, decided to create eight different websites but with exactly the same list of songs and the same rules. Only the listeners were different. Over time, the same chasm between popular and unpopular songs appeared. The popular and unpopular songs, however, were different for each of the eight websites. Salganik thus demonstrated that if any song started to gain momentum, the mimicry gene kicked in: People decided that was the song they liked best. (Quality plays a role, but smaller than we might think).
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