Often, when in a situation and uncertain of the correct way to behave, people tend to look at others for prompts concerning the appropriate behavior. This conformity occurs since many people believe that the majority’s interpretation of an ambiguous situation is more accurate than their own, and thus leads to more fitting course of action. This observation is simply referred to as informational social influence or social proof.
What is social proof?
Also known as ‘herd instinct’ in social psychology, social proof is a psychological phenomenon driven by the assumption that surrounding people in a social context have more and relevant knowledge about the situation. The effect is compliance to choices that are either correct or mistaken. While it reflects a lucid motive to take into consideration knowledge possessed by others, studies show that it makes people to converge too soon upon a single choice, such that decisions that even involve many people are grounded on very little information.
Principles of social proof
Social proof exists because of uncertainty. Not knowing how to react in a given context forces and individual to take cue from others. For instance, when evaluating a product, consumers are more likely to take into account the opinion others through social proof when their own experience of the product is vague.
Social proof also occurs when people have more confidence to ideas stated by multiple sources. This is known as the multiple source effect and works on the policy that the majority rules and is always right.
Additionally, similarity also promotes social proof. When someone considers themselves as similar to those around them, they tend to adopt the behavior of these people and even perceive it as being correct.
Social proof is everywhere and is a vice behind many aspects of life. It exists in management tactics, religion, diets, and hobbies and sadly, even in schools. It can crumple cultures and results to intellectual laziness where people follow rules and adhere to behaviors without questions.