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So a guy is into you – whether you are a person or a brand – and then he isn’t. What’s going on?

Solomon Asch (1907-1996), one of the pioneers of social psychology ran some ground-breaking experiments into why men change their mind, and it’s very relevant to social media, and it’s all about conforming to group norms.

So on the back of insights last week from Kurt Lewin on the potential of discovery in unlocking the commercial potential of social media, today let’s turn to Polish psychologist Professor Solomon Asch.

Asch, with a PhD from Columbia University who worked at Swarthorne, MIT, Harvard and Penn, was famous for asking men to take a simple visual test; view pairs of cards, one showing three straight lines, and the other a single line – and identify which line on the first cards matched the length of the line on the second cards. Unlike similar visual tests, like those run by fellow psychologist Muzafer Sherif, the correct answers to Asch’s test were self-evident and blatantly clear. In 720 trials, only three mistakes were made. But then Asch re-ran the tests, this time putting 123 male test subjects into groups of 6-8 before asking them to identify matching lines. This time 75% of test subjects gave the wrong answer!

Why? Because Asch had manipulated the test, putting ‘stooges’ (‘confederates’) into the groups who were instructed to publicly give the same wrong answer before the real test subjects gave theirs. Either doubting their own judgement, or not wanting to be seen as wrong, test subjects conformed to the fake group view nearly a third of the time (32%).

So men, it would appear, change their minds to conform with a group majority or unanimity. But what was particularly interesting about Asch tests is that that some men, about one in four (24%) appear to be immune from the psychological pressure to conform, and that for most men the pressure to conform evaporates once there is dissent voice in the group. Men are influenced by group pressure when there is group unanimity, or at least a sizeable majority. Break the unanimity, then you break the pressure.

The commercial – and indeed political – implications for social media are clear; first think of people in terms of groups, not individuals – identify groups where conformity is already high and use social media to sell products that build on that conformity. Or, if conformity is standing in the way of selling what you have to sell, use social media to show a wide divergence of existing opinion and behaviour – and you’ll break the pressure to conform and open up the possibility of making the sale.

Oh and if you want to get your guy back, break the unanimity of dissent that exists about you among his friends.

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  • Reply
    Author
    Tom Murdoch

    Great post; pretty heady for me, but I’ll go along with whatever you say.

  • Reply
    Author
    Jennifer Silverberg

    Has this research been done with women? Would be interesting to see if the same effect occurs, or whether it’s different.

  • Reply
    Author
    Mark A Carbone

    Paul,
    When are you going to finish this series? These first 2 posts were great!

    • Reply
      Author
      Paul Marsden

      Hi Mark, thanks for the message – it’s coming, we’re updating our focus to digital marketing innovations – and will continue this series – stay tuned!

  • Reply
    Author
    Natasja Uys

    Very interesting read.

    Social Group Interaction vs Individualistic Individualism:-

    I have personally analyzed these types of interactions, and the what is sad at the end of the day, the Individuals that have to stand on their own, cannot do so.

    There interaction is nothing short of being weak and easily intimidated, and therefore there goal to achieve is not achieved, creating doubt and self disbelief in themselves.

    Long and short: They would have to re-invent the Wheel>

  • Reply
    Author
    Gemma Laming

    Interesting – he says “Because Asch had manipulated the test, putting ‘stooges’ (‘confederates’) into the groups who were instructed to publicly give the same wrong answer before the real test subjects gave theirs. Either doubting their own judgement, or not wanting to be seen as wrong, test subjects conformed to the fake group view nearly a third of the time (32%).”

    The question isn’t that this happens, it’s why. Why do these men lack the confidence of their own ideas when confronted with their own “compulsion to conform”. I know that in a situation as described my feelings would be of puzzlement that these guys believed something so obviously wrong. I’d start thinking about the causes for this, not the answer!

    Building that self confidence to buck the trend is no easy matter. Taking time, being patient and tolerant are the best ways to start.

    Bear in mind that this kind of self confidence is extremely powerful in a world on “yes” sayers. It can be dangerous too.