Individuals are influenced and mimic what others around them are doing — monkey see, monkey do.
That effect becomes more pronounced when folks are uncertain, stressed, or confused.
Why Use It
Regardless of how individualistic people believe themself to be, most folks have an innate desire to conform. Humans assume others understand the situation better than they do and tend to exhibit a herd mentality as a result.
The behavior stems from a natural disposition to behave correctly and fit in. Interestingly, people are affected by this principle, whether they are with others or alone.
When to Use It
Social proof leads us to make fewer errors and has real-world utility: when you look at user reviews or consider seller ratings on a shopping site before buying something, you rely on others’ decisions to make your own.
How to Use It
Look at how you act in a group, and notice when people agree with each other too quickly. Are you or individuals using social queues to influence how you act or react in a situation? Being conscious of the invisible ways our mind naturally works can be enough to know whether to maintain or modify a behavior.
Marketers and salespeople take advantage of social proof to get individuals to take a specific action or convert them into customers. When someone credible evangelizes a product or service, it becomes desirable because you imagine yourself as them subconsciously.
How to Misuse It
Being unaware of this tendency makes you vulnerable to being manipulated, and people or entities can take advantage if you’re not careful.
While herd mentality and deliberate manipulation are two ways the problem manifests itself, it is not usually dangerous until the stakes are high. In these cases, social proof can give people a license to act violently or show antisocial behavior.
Before buying the next thing you need or agreeing with someone else’s thoughts, or mimicking a group behavior, take time to pause and reflect. Ask yourself where that action or need to act originated from and gut check whether it’s something you want to do.
Where it Came From
While there are many examples of social proof throughout history, the term was coined by Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book, Influence.
What Are Mental Models?
Mental models are thinking tools that help guide and shape our perceptions of the world. They simplify complexity so we can understand life better, make decisions confidently, and solve problems.