Invisible Influence — Summary

Become aware of how other people influence you without you even noticing it

Your decisions are influenced from the outside, while you are unaware of it

We tend to be influenced by other people and our surroundings, at least whenever we are unconscious of those influences. Let’s look at a study to understand why.

Richard Moreland of the University of Pittsburgh instructed four women who were considered equally attractive, to attend a large college class in different intervals. The four woman were to attend 0, 5, 10, and 15 sessions respectively.

After one semester Moreland handed photographs to the students and made them rate the woman based on their attractiveness. What is interesting is that the majority rated the woman who had attended the class 15 times, even though they weren’t aware of having seen her.

These results seem to suggest that people prefer familiar people. This influence, however, may only have an effect while we are not conscious of it.

Have you ever been influenced by the prejudices of your peers? For example, a child who grows up with other kids who constantly say that doing a certain thing is something only losers do. You might have automatically accepted that judgment until you learned that in reality the thing they judged, is something which successful people do. You might then make a decision that you’d rather be like successful people and ignore the prejudices of your ignorant peers.

Usually our surroundings have an influence on us while we are not conscious of it.

Imitating or mirroring other people

We tend to mirror other people’s emotions, for example, if someone smiles at us, we tend to smile back. This correspondence is called emotional mimicry and is caused by mirror neurons in our brains.

We also often make more complex decisions based on social influence or pressure. There are several reasons for doing so. It could be simply because we don’t have enough time to evaluate something for ourselves and thus we chose what the majority chooses, trusting that other people did a good job in filtering out the good stuff.

Take for example suppose that you search for a good book about economics. Clearly, there are hundreds if not thousands of books available, making it virtually impossible for you to sort out the best. So you just look up the bestsellers on Amazon or Goodreads and pick the book most people rated as good. That would be an example of saving time.

In a study, teens were asked to download to songs they liked. The first group made their decisions without outside influence while the second group could see the number of previous downloads within their group.

The second group tended to gravitate towards songs which had been downloaded by their peers. However, the songs which had been rated popular by the independent group, also did experience some popularity in the second group, indicating that quality also played a role.

Blindly following other people can also lead us to make clearly wrong decisions, as one study of psychologist Solomon Asch in 1951 found. He asked a group of people to match the length of a line with one of three other lines drawn on individual cards. The correct answer was obvious, but 6 of the 7 participants were actors and matched the wrong line intentionally. The real participant was called at the end, and in one-third of the cases, that individual gave in to the group pressure and matched the line which was clearly the wrong one.

The snob effect, when people want to stand out from the rest

Have you ever heard or made the statement “that is too mindstream”? Well, it turns out that many people want to differentiate themselves from the rest. And if something is mainstream, for example, a band, then liking that band would be imitating most people and therefore not being unique.

Two important factors in economic theory are quality and price. With those two factors, outside forces have an effect on what choices we make, but there is also the snob effect. The snob effect is a principle which states that the more the general population likes something, the less interested many of us become.

This principle may explain why many successful athletes have at least one older sibling. If the first born succeeds in academic achievement, the second may attempt to differentiate himself through sports.

But the snob effect is dependent on our background. In general, Americans feel a stronger need to differentiate themselves while Asians care more about social harmony. Furthermore, class lines are another factor. People from the middle-class tend to be eager to set themselves apart while working class people tend to like something if many of their peers do too.

Trying to prove something, can be harmful

Many brands try to keep their names clean by not associating themselves with certain things. Abercrombie & Fitch, for instance, paid Mike Sorrentino not to wear their clothes because the brand thought that he didn’t conform to the desired preppy image.

Burberry, a luxury brand removed their characteristic Burberry pattern from their product line because groups of soccer hooligans integrated the pattern in their uniform.

Sometimes trying not to be something or someone can be harmful, though. Studies found that certain young African-Americans with a lighter skin tone damage their career by intentionally underperforming at school because they don’t want to be identified or act as white.

Competition can be motivating or not, depending on the situation

Depending on the situation, entering a group can be motivating or hold you back. Many people benefit from joining a group to stick to a simple task like sticking to a diet. Because other people can hold you accountable or spectators will motivate you to perform better in sport.

If the task is complicated, however, the presence of others can hold us back for example through distraction or morale. To solve a difficult problem, for example, you might be better of in a quiet room than with a noisy peer group.

If a student is far behind his schoolwork, he will probably prefer to avoid competition and because it would be detrimental to his morale. A high performing student, in contrast, might benefit from the competition with other students.

How this book will help you

This book will help you to spot those hidden forces which shape people’s behavior so that you become conscious of, and even take advantage of them.

Get the book

Karl Niebuhr

Karl Niebuhr

I'm Karl! I like to read, learn and self-improve.
Karl Niebuhr

Latest posts by Karl Niebuhr (see all)

Also published on Medium.