October 2007 - Research from Indiana University published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that while we tend to believe that we are capable of forming independent opinions, what other people think can influence our conclusions, with negative attitudes resulting in the biggest changes.
The researchers explained:
"Consumer attitudes toward products and services are frequently influenced by others around them. Social networks, such as those found on Myspace and Facebook suggest that these influences will continue to be significant drivers of individual consumer attitudes as society becomes more inter-connected. Our research seeks to understand the conditions where group influence is strongest."
Adam Duhachek, Shuoyang Zhang, and Shanker Krishnan asked participants for independent evaluations about a new product. As anticipated, some were positive and others negative. The researchers then told them whether other volunteers had evaluated the product negatively or positively. They found that negative opinions had a particularly strong influence on the attitudes of others. Participants who had privately given a positive evaluation were more susceptible to group opinion than those who initially held negative views. The study also found that those with negative opinions tended to become even more negative when participating in a group discussion.
"When consumers expect to interact with other consumers through these forums, learning the views of these other consumers may reinforce and even polarize their opinions, making them more negative."
The researchers concluded:
"This research has several interesting implications. First, given the strong influence of negative information, marketers may need to expend extra resources to counter-act the effects of negative word of mouth in online chatrooms, blogs and in offline media. Conversely, companies could damage the reputations of competitors by disseminating negative information online. Consumers should be aware that these social influence biases exist and are capable of significantly impacting their perceptions."
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