Social Proof

Monday, March 18
Ellie, Sarah, Susan, and Michael

If lots of people say it’s good, it must be good. Social proof is the tendency to adopt the most popular behavior because its social clout seemingly suggests that it is the “correct” or “best” behavior. Social proof is evident in “liking” on Facebook, foot traffic patterns across campus, and a certain sports rivalry between Duke and a school down the road. This week’s readings will explore four dimensions of social proof: (1) critical social consequences, (2) the tendency to follow others (i.e., “herd mentality”), (3) the role of social proof in value and belief creation, and (4) the failure to detect social proof.


(1) Critical social consequences:

  • Pulp Fiction (check your email for a clip from the movie)

(2) Herd mentality:

(3) Value and belief creation:

(4) Failure to detect social proof:


After completing the readings and watching the videos, include in your blog post responses to the following questions.

(1a) For Category 1:

  • Describe your reaction to the video clip.

(1b) For Categories 2, 3, and 4:

  • Discuss any insights, objections, parallels, or connections that you gained from these readings (DO NOT include summaries of the readings).
  • What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions on?

(2) As an overall response:

  • Having now completed these readings, where do you see social proof in your own life?

Post your response to the blog by 11:59 pm on Friday, March 8. Then, reply to a peer’s response after class by 11:59 pm on Monday, March 18. Note that no work will be required over Spring Break! Enjoy.

195 responses to “Social Proof

  1. Regarding the due date of this Friday the 8th – the conclusion of midterm week when many of us have 2-3 large exams – not very kind of you (to say the least)…That being said, I’m Gordon Gekko and sleep is for wimps.

    Category 1:
    My reaction to the clip:

    So I’ll admit I’ve never seen Pulp Fiction, so I am not familiar with the overarching plot. That being said, this tiny clip does offer a very traumatic and graphic representation of social proof. Travolta, who “accidentally” shoots the passenger of the car, has the audacity to defer his responsibility in the crime, and assert that Samuel L. Jackson assist him in the clean up of the mess. Incredibly, Travolta’s reaction to blowing Marvin’s head off is very nonchalant, as if it were a minor setback in the daily routine that he just ended a man’s life. Clearly, Travolta’s character has many layers of psychological issues – one of which is his lack of ownership of his wrongdoings. This manifests in the form of social proof in that he assumes that shooting Marvin was the result of a bump in the road, or Samuel L. Jackson’s driving. He exhibits no guilt or remorse, which is both shocking, and in the context of the film, comical to the viewer.

    Category 2: “A Tent City…” Bill Morris
    Discuss any insights, objections, parallels, or connections that you gained from these readings (DO NOT include summaries):

    One of the most aggravating things for me as a Duke student is when a colleague at work, a family friend at an event, or a person I’ve just met finds out I go to Duke and says something to the effect of, “Oh that’s a great basketball school”. Not only is this comment offensive to me, given the fact that I turned down other prestigious academic institutions to go here (for better or worse), but also because the academics here are what I came for. Duke is a top 10 research institution, and yet, the public perception of the school groups it with the likes of state schools, de facto its athletic program.
    Clearly the athletic department brings in money, but if we consider schools that are purely academically focused – Harvard, Stanford, Yale – that have endowments 5 times bigger than our own, it is clear that the “sports as an financial booster” argument doesn’t hold. What is more, for better or worse, the actions of some sports members of this school have made our institution famous (or infamous, I should say) for all the wrong reasons.
    Ultimately, I could care less about the strength of the Duke basketball program, and quite frankly would benefit more if it were not the focus of the public’s perception of Duke, and instead academics were what Duke is recognized for.

    What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions?

    Do you think cutting funding to the athletic programs would have positive or negative consequences for the academic prestige of Duke as an institution?

    Category 3: Mean Girl Clips
    Discuss any insights, objections, parallels, or connections that you gained from these readings (DO NOT include summaries):

    Mean Girls is another movie I have not had the pleasure of seeing, but found to be entertaining from this short clip. I think everyone can relate to having met a “Regina George” to some capacity, in high school or even college. The reality is that the social dimensions of the college and high school worlds are completely removed from the real world and people tend to ascribe value or significance to otherwise meaningless and empty qualities. As a result, women like Regina George – who offer no real purpose to society – are emulated for their four short years on campuses, only to be laughed at and served a healthy reality check upon graduating (though indeed, many of the Regina George type girls tend to linger on campuses even after then).
    The interesting parallel for me, is considering how this concept of “queen bee” plays out in the male dynamic. As a male, I can say that we tend to ascribe value to other men who are successful (career-wise, with women, academically) and athletic. Yet these dimensions are often worthy of praise, and the men who are generally in positions of social power or stature have more to offer than just looks or “exclusive friend circles” as is the case with mean girls. Ultimately, I think that this problem is therefore more salient in women, and manifests in many of the eating disorder, self-worth, and self-esteem issues that tend to be much more frequent in women than men.

    What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions?

    Do men and women value the “popularity” with equal weight, and along the same dimensions? How do these differences (if any) manifest problematically in the respective genders?

    Category 4: Brave New World
    Discuss any insights, objections, parallels, or connections that you gained from these readings (DO NOT include summaries):

    I read Brave New World almost five years ago, but had since forgotten what a tremendously influential book it was to me. I think that Huxley masterfully imbeds within his plot a subplot that is extremely critical of our current society and its many hierarchies. Considering these themes in the context during which Huxley was writing this piece – during the 1930s – it becomes clear that his influences are clearly that of the assembly line, and the mechanization and industrialization of society.
    The most interesting concept for me in this work is that of soma and self medicated happiness. My interpretation of the reading, and book, was that soma was meant to replace religion, and spirituality. That it should offer introspection and happiness in a dosage and that people will self-medicate as they deem appropriate. In this sense, soma is a drug that can be seen as a metaphor for conformity, which is one of the key tenets of social proof. By establishing that everyone must take this drug, and that all the diversity of religion and spirituality should be reduced to one pill, Huxley is proposing a massive experiment in social proof. Because everyone believes that soma is the answer, then people start to believe this individually as well (or at least in theory, for as we see there are those who are not so thoroughly convinced).
    While I never before examined Brave New World for its commentaries on social proof, it is clear that this is one of the major topics of the novel. The conformity that is alluded to with the hierarchical division of classes, and soma is clearly a representation and commentary on the contextual paradigms of industrialism and the dehumanization of the creation process that was brought about with the assembly line. Huxley leaves us to consider whether or not industrialism, at the expense of human singularity, is in fact an ideal worth aspiring to at all.

    What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions?

    Would we be better off in a society like Huxley’s than we are today? If not, what aspects of Huxley’s world are flawed?

    Overall Response:
    Social proof is a concept that clearly permeates every aspect of our lives. To say that we are not influenced by it would be an obvious delusion. That being said, we are often unaware of the extent to which it influences us. For instance, my brother may approach me and complain that he needs the “best” new headphones to replace those “common, everyday” iphone headphones, to which I would reply he is foolish and doesn’t need new headphones as his are brand new. I might reflect on his desire for those headphones as being immature, and reflective of his social malleability as a 12 year old eighth grader. That being said, I may not realize that wanting to live in a trendy neighborhood in New York, like TriBeca or SoHo simply because it is cooler than living (more pragmatically) close to my office, is not too dissimilar. This is just an example of how we can identify the influences of social proof in others, but without strong self-introspection often fail to do the same when it comes to ourselves.
    As long as you are in touch with the general trends, desires, and ideals of a community at large, you will always be at risk to be influenced by the principle of social proof. For ultimately, social proof is just a manifestation of our desire to fit in, and belong – we need validation of our existence by seeking the approval of others, and we cannot change that.

    • I’ve thought about the whole girl vs. guy relationships thing, especially in middle school, when there’d be so much girl drama about she said this, she said that, whatever, but among the guys, we just played a lot of computer games and basketball together. And then, to be honest, I was really thankful to be a guy. It seemed a lot easier.

      I honestly can’t say why the girls just couldn’t get along. And it went into high school, too. I do think there’s quite the element of defense, to protect yourself, but it’s sad that there’s a feeling that you need to defend yourself in the first place. Ostracize first before getting ostracized.

      I’d really like to hear some female responses to this. Maybe I just witnessed a very unique case, and that it’s not what I described at all. And tying it to social proof is also interesting: do you really feel like you have to be a certain way at cost to yourself?

    • Buck Mulligan

      Like Batman, I also agreed with your analysis of Mean Girls and think that the reason why girls tend to act in the way you describe is that, simply stated, in many highs school social circles, popularity is derived from social relevance and attractiveness. For boys, it is easier to gain popularity by being friendly, or good at a particular pursuit. Perhaps it is because women ascribe more to the notion of effortless perfection and they feel it is unattractive for them to be seen trying, they want to feel more naturally gifted. This is also exacerbated because exclusivity plays a role. If everyone feels attractive and popular, then the attractive and popular girls feel less attractive and popular. We live in a relative world after all. In activities over which boys traditionally compete, there is less of an arbitrary measurement of value, and therefore, less need for exclusion.

      • OKAY boys….allow me to shed some light on your confusion, which I only find mildly offensive but mostly amusing. Yes, girls are mean, girls are catty, girls can be obsessed with looks and popularity. WHY, you ask? Let’s go back to about half a century ago before women even had a presence in the workforce, and think about the heuristics used to measure the value of a woman. Before women could work, their social status was determined by that of their HUSBANDS’. Is she well provided for? Is her husband rich, handsome, faithful? And let’s be real, the richest and most successful men are more likely to have the power to choose the prettiest, most physically attractive wives. So yes, women may place more importance on their own looks than men place on their own looks, but both sexes place an equal amount of importance on female attractiveness. The generalization that women are more self-conscious about their appearance is a reflection of the fact that men tend to objectify women based on their physical attributes. It’s not exactly fair, then, for men to criticize women for inflating the value of superficial traits that are “not as worthy of praise,” when these are the traits that attract most attention from men (and don’t lie…I live with 7 guys and I know exactly how you think). If only women, both historically and in present day, had the LUXURY of being judged solely on her intelligence, abilities, and charisma, you would see a lot more women emerging “in positions of social power or stature” that have more to offer than “just looks.”
        And on the flip side, if you’re going to claim that men value each other based on success and athleticism, at least be honest and recognize that at least half – if not the whole – reason you do that is because that is how WOMEN tend to judge men.
        I agree with you, obviously, that it is sad what “girl world” has evolved into – low self-esteem, eating disorders, ostracizing…these are all very real and salient issues. I just think you all need to take a closer look at the root of these issues and try to understand how it might feel for a teenage girl who hears guys ranking and rating girls in the cafeteria, or even as adults, how you might feel if people didn’t take YOU seriously in the workplace just because of your gender. So boys, the next time you find yourself judging a girl based on her body and face rather than her intelligence or success, think twice about how critical you just were of girls for doing the same thing!

      • Pleasant clean pic – Great exertion!

    • Ah, they worked so hard to be kind—avoiding break week. Such is the trap of a busy life, there is always a competing deadline! But I watched them plan this for a good hour after class last session and I know they were trying to be considerate . . . Good intentions, alas!

      Please ask me the basketball question in class. I’d love to address this f2f.

      And, as an alternative to Mean Girls, think about gender in, say, Fight Club?

    • Amazingly neat. Anticipate toward get.

    • My name is Madam Maya, I model in Goa and take time to entertain some young men. If you ever come to Goa or to come to a business, then you must give us a chance to serve. I assure you that I will get the romance I get, it will be a memorable one in your life…..

  2. Category One
    I’ve seen Pulp Fiction, and I remember that scene. It’s got that surreal bizarre gloss that Tarantino’s movies have. And it’s great. Tarantino takes scenes that you’d predict to go and feel one way, and completely runs to the opposite. He has a knack for taking very serious scenes and making them comedic. “Am I really laughing at this?” you might think. His recent work, Django Unchained, has a scene where the KKK meet up and discuss how to go about raiding a bounty hunter. And it should be grim and all, but it’s absolutely hilarious. So I guess my reaction is based on my knowledge of Tarantino. I think it’s a great scene. Should it be funny? No. Is it? Yes, in the context and the story that follows. That’s the quality of Tarantino.

    Category Two

    Take tradition. It’s something that you do because that’s the way it’s been done for a while. And perhaps there was significance to why they did it that way when they first did it. Why do you have turkey during Thanksgiving? Did the Pilgrims have turkey on that first Thanksgiving? Probably not, but hey, it’s turkey, everybody loves a good hunk of turkey, and besides, that’s the way it’s always been done. Same thing with culture. And these are almost impossibly hard to change at an instant because the years have piled up this sheer history of herd behavior, that people not only keep the traditions and culture but believe in it too. And you might evaluate and reflect on these traditions and cultures, but it’s really, really hard to change. Take away tenting? Blasphemy. It’s tradition. But what is tradition really? It’s herd mentality you’ve become attached to.

    Are traditions and culture simply rules that people have come up with to cope with the complexity of the world?

    Category Three

    This makes me think, about “great” artists and all. What if I take a blank canvas, spray some paint on it, roll around on it, and then add some random block of colours and shapes, and title it something like “Gravity”? And then get some famous modern artist to write a rave review about it. And then this other guy in some art magazine might be like, “Dave’s piece, ‘Gravity,’ is the revolutionizing….” You know where I’m getting at? And this can be very easily be done over social media now. Share: “this painting, so dope.” And then share. Share. Share. And what if it’s just a good painting, song, story, or whatever, but because of all these people saying “Omg song of the year”, it wins a Grammy or something. Just a question, what if some art or it could even be something like reputation is simply esteemed because it got lucky and some people thought it was good and it spread? Of course, I do believe that there is some really good stuff that got famous because it was actually, really good, but how many just okay or somewhat good things are now considered masterpieces? Food for thought.

    Apparently interviews are very ineffective at testing for content. Instead, they are heavily biased toward presentation. Things like confidence, instead of ability. So is it more important to appear to be good—and to make other people believe you’re good—than to actually be good?

    Category Four

    From the Nolan et al. study, it appears that we do things because we think that’s what other people do or think should be done, but we’re not aware that we’re doing it for those reasons. We come up with other reasons instead. I think that’s a little different from Brave New World, in which everyone except Bernard knows they’re doing whatever they’re doing precisely because that’s what they’ve been told to do. In this case, Bernard’s the only one questioning what they’ve been told. Everyone else accepts it as best. In today’s world, we’re not even aware that we’re being “told” certain things by our community. We often become aware of these norms once we fall foul to them.

    How related are defaults and accepted social norms? Are they the same thing?

    Overall Response

    Things I do because I think everyone else is doing them or I think everyone else thinks I should do them: everything. Well I wash my face at least once a day and take showers because I feel clean and society tells me I should be clean because if I’m not clean then people won’t be too keen to be around me and that’s bad because society says you should have friends to be happy and that does make me happy I have to admit but I wonder if there was no one around would I even wash at all? Probably so because it’d feel gross to not but probably much less because it’s such a hassle sometimes to get out of bed and go to that bathroom. If you put it that way then everything you do is a result of social proof, or “the tendency to adopt the most popular behavior.” Why do you study? To get a good education that will lead to a promising livelihood in whatever field you choose to pursue because it will make you live well. Why’s that important? Because everyone thinks and says it is. Maybe I’m taking too broad of an interpretation of social proof.

    Personally I’m a bit skeptical of “popular” things. Not hipster or anything, just like to question trends a lot. I think brands are a great example of social proof. The whole of marketing and advertising is geared around this. Adidas must be amazing because Lionel Messi endorses it. Starbucks makes you sophisticated. Stuff like that.

    • I really enjoyed your comments, especially the idea that traditions are simply another manifestation of herd mentality. This led me to think about what I feel may be the biggest example of herd mentality- religion. I hope I am not offending anyone by saying this, but to me organized religion has a lot to do with blindly following the beliefs of others, who are simply following the beliefs of those before them, and those before them…and so on and so forth. Though I’m inclined to say that this is not a good system, is this herd mentality in religion necessarily a bad thing?

    • The photos appear attractive, I guess this vacation spot is extraordinary.

  3. Gordon Gekko peer response:

    I appreciate your skepticism of popular trends as this too is something I’m very aware of. The notion that certain brands, groups, or places are better because they are more popular tends to create cattle out of man. The important thing is that you be able to recognize that by universally flocking to one particular brand, or place, or group, everyone is overlooking some really unique and amazing things. In the process, these overlooked trends remain untouched for those of us who separate from the heard to appreciate and enjoy. Where the lines of distinction between influence and singularity become blurred is when you initially find something of interest that later becomes popularized. The question then is does the newfound popularity detract from the quality of that particular thing?

  4. Buck Mulligan

    Category 1:
    I really enjoy this film and this scene in particular. I will say, though, I personally did not interpret this as a statement of social consequence. Rather, I saw it to be more a statement of the triviality with which these two characters treat murder. In fact, this is a motif throughout the rest of the film. Perhaps, this illustrates how when one disregards social norms or consequences, it is easier for others to do the same – i.e. the “bystander effect.”

    Category 2:

    I especially enjoyed reading the Emperor’s New Clothes again. I think it is a great story that explains a lot about how our fear of public failure causes all kinds of irrational behavior. This, as you attributed, can give rise to herd mentality when everyone is fearful of being exposed or of failing publicly. In some ways, the government of many countries emulates this story today. I thought the “Study of Social Factors in Perception” was somewhat unrevealing. In other words, I think behavioral science has already recognized the role social norms and observation of them plays in human development, especially at a very early age. I felt an obvious personal connection to “A Tent City.” However, I think that the motives for big college athletics are quite harmless. A school like Duke, for instance, wouldn’t be as recognizable without its athletic brand. As it relates to your topic of herd mentalities, I think there is a definitive point to be made. We all succumb to our best judgement as Duke sports fans, always castigating referees for punishing our players and disliking quite like-minded people for their different affiliations. I do think the rivalry is a bit more pronounced in Chapel Hill-because those students are far more irrational than we. But as far as a cultural movement on college campuses, I think it is quite healthy and brings us together to support good sportsmanship and celebrate our identity.

    Category 3:

    I certainly think Facebook has the power to influence social networks in ways that we have yet to comprehend on an academic article. This particular piece however, pointed to the fact that increased socializing of messages led to increased cooperative re-publicizing of the message. However, I disagree with the conclusion that it had any effect on voting behavior. In only increased turnout 1%, or 60,000 votes. This is so relatively small a number, I don’t think it is possible to infer any type of causation. I will say, however, that I think studying Facebook’s impact on social behavior is an interesting and admirable research project, perhaps for our Professors. The clips from Mean Girls fit nicely into the discussions of herd mentality. Probably an equal classic to Pulp Fiction for our generation, Mean Girls satirizes the problems with high school social culture. It is inherently a difficult adjustment time for teenagers, and also a time when teens are most susceptible to social pressure and social norms. It is also a time of tremendous belief and value formation. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that we are oftentimes defined by our high school experience. I see this all the time at Duke. The people who weren’t popular on an endless quest for popularity–the students who didn’t get in to Harvard seeking to prove they can set the curve–these are all manifestations of a formative value and belief creation period that will define our futures. Also, as this relates to confirmation heuristics, according to social science research, we are doomed to forever live up in part to the expectations and shortcomings created for us in high school.

    Category 4:

    I’ve always thought about Brave New World in the context of industrialism and its effects on the human psyche–particularly how it mechanizes humans. In the case of failing to detect social proof, I think the medication provides an example of how the two previous categories contribute to this phenomenon. Herd mentalities can contribute to erroneous value and belief creations, which in turn cause everyone to pretend they see the emperors new clothes–if that makes any sense. We are all capable of swallowing the placebo if we are in such an environment that makes possible social proof. That same proof becomes undetectable when a herd mentality prevails.

    Questions for the professors:

    What are some examples of organizations that have failed because of a collective fear of failure, rather than a collective will to succeed?

    What are some of the most salient ways you believe Facebook influences the social behavior of college students, in ways they weren’t previously conditioned prior to its existence?

    Are we conditioned to confirm the same role we were ascribed in high school and/or college, and does it require a paradigm shift in lifestyle for a change to occur (i.e. nerd makes a lot of money, jock moves back in with his parents)?

    • Buck’s second question for the professors that extended beyond Facebook’s political power of social proof to other sectors of our lives interested me. In the Relativity and Default team we’ve been focusing on the example of organ donation programs. Although I have considered a change in our approach to defaults (opt-in to opt-out) to potentially benefit the thousands of people waiting for transplants, this week’s reading about Facebook shows how relativity (the other theme of our topic) can also inspire large behavioral change due to social proof. In fact last year Facebook added an organ donation event option to timeline hoping to increase the number of organ donors. I was surprised to see “weight loss” and “quit a habit” (of interest to the self-control group) as other public timeline events. This is a New York Times article about the timeline update.

    • I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your skepticism about the Facebook study’s conclusion. Also, thank you Phia for sharing the New York Times article — this sounds like an excellent example of using social proof for good!

  5. 1 Critical social consequences: Pulp Fiction
    Pulp Fiction is the movie that started my appreciation to Tarantino’s unique style in directing. The movie has many jaw-dropping moments and this video shows just one of them with a fairly uncomfortable dialogue between Vincent and Jules. Tarantino does a great job in creating a very uneasy scene showing how calm they are considering the fact that Vincent just accidentally shot Marvin in the face. If you start the video from the middle, their reactions looks more like Vincent accidentally spilled grape juice in the car. So in terms of this scene’s relation to social consequences, I am also a little bit confused. For me the scene does not depict behavior determined by social consequences, but just the opposite. And perhaps that was what Tarantino aimed to do in this movie, to show us a series of stories stripped from all of the restrictions of a societal moral code and see how we react. Apparently, we laugh!

    2 Herd mentality: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Anderson
    I want to thank the members of this group for making The Emperor’s New Clothes part of the readings for this week. Every time that I read one of Anderson’s tales I realize once again how cleverly they are written and how easily they can be applied to any time period and any place in the world. Our tendency towards wanting to be a part of a group, to belong, is an intriguing phenomenon. Although I do not know for sure, it definitely seems like a learned behavior that comes in the same package as living in a modern society. The leadership methodology developed by Ronald Heifetz at Harvard gives one of the most clever metaphors for cases when we need to simply stop and critically assess the situation that we are in. He says that when you are in a big ballroom most of your attention is simply on dancing, your dance partner, the dancers close to you and the music playing. But if you go up the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you will likely see the dance floor from a different point of view, perhaps notice certain patterns, the kinds of people dancing with changing music, where people usually like to dance on the dance floor. So according to Heifetz, “…the only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray…If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.” What is important the most is to go back and forth between being near the dancers and up on the balcony, so being a part of the society but finding a vantage point to evaluate the situation with a broader outlook and use one perspective to leverage the other.
    Q: How is it possible to find the vision and courage to examine and at times publicly criticize a society that we are so fully and blindly immersed in?

    3 Value and belief creation: Mean Girls video clips
    Frankly, I have always had a hard time understanding the issue about popularity that seems to be so prevalent in the lives of American teens. When I was younger, I was only exposed to such a level of social classification from American movies or series that I used to watch, and I would always think that it is an exaggeration. Only later, when I came to the USA for college, did I learn that most of what I watched was pretty close to the truth. Perhaps because I was raised in a completely different culture in a different country or because I was lucky to go to schools or be part of a group of people that did not really value ‘popularity’ I never had the trouble of feeling like I did not belong or felt the pressure that I had to belong. People that I had the pleasure of having an education with throughout middle school and especially in high school simply did not care about social status or richness or popularity or beauty or whatever people care about to form the cliques that they do. The groups in my middle or high school were always interchangeable and there was always a feeling of community. And as a person who went to two schools at the same time, I had the chance of having friends from very (and I mean VERY) different life-styles and backgrounds and had no trouble when I wanted to bring these people together. On the other hand, this is the exact reason why I struggled during my first year at Duke. I felt like most of my peers during my freshman year either still wanted to continue the popularity contest that they were used to in high school or wanted to do a fresh start. Maybe this is the main reason why most of the international students tend to stick to each other during the first couple of years (or at least this is what I observed in my year). I could even go on to say that fraternities and sororities might just be an extension of this culture, although I don’t know if I should be the one to speak as a person who never even wanted to be a part of what seemed to me at the time simply as an unnecessary social exclusivism.
    Q: Do you think the social classifications seen in American high-schools a “good” preparation to the later life when or do you think they are more of a traumatizing experience that leads to the presence of a classified society later in these peoples’ adulthood?

    4 Failure to detect social proof: excerpt from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    I remember reading the Brave New World a couple of years ago for the first time. I was amazed by the potential similarity of this utopian dystopia to the future of the world we live in. It is amazing how misguided we are due to our attention blindness in our every day lives. Most of us focus on our work or studies and family or friends but miss actually thinking about the characteristics of the world and society we live in. We do not really stop to think about the gravity of our existence, why we are who we are and what we represent as a person as well as a part of the society. I would argue that its not like we do not think about it, but we try to put those thoughts at the back of our heads because it is easier to not to deal with them than otherwise. Even though we are so proud of our ability to think, humans are really not that clever. We understand things better when we classify things in boxes. So to learn better and to make our lives easier we simply place everything in its corresponding box. If something does not seem to belong to a single box, we just trim it so that it does until the point that we loose the diversity within and in between. Even in scientific research people take you off their data if you are an outlier and you fall outside of some level of ‘standard’ deviation! So we see the standard colors in a 12-pack of Crayola but loose everything else. When you look around you, people seem to be doing different things but even in that level of variance there is a maddeningly converging way of getting to where they are and maddeningly similar lifestyles after they finally do. On the other hand, I also learned that success comes in a box as well. There are boxes of to-dos that you need to complete to become successful, and as long as you do, you eventually become successful. But I cannot just get over the idea that life becomes SO boring this way. Its like a life colored with only 12 colors in that Crayola box. I don’t know, maybe life is more simple than what I think it is. Maybe boxes are good.
    Q: Do you think we have similar (official) “soma”s in our current society that people use to feel or stay happy? What are some examples that you can think of?

    Overall response: Where do you see social proof in your own life?
    The short answer to this question is simply everywhere. Being a part of a society means that you have to adhere by certain rules or codes or any other way to structure people to make the society more orderly, with the ultimate assumption that order is the natural. Recently, for example I am struggling with the knowledge that an academic career that I am planning to follow will be mostly determined by the ideas and values of the previous generation of academics, instead of being determined by the worthiness of my own doings. I used to believe, naively, that artists would be the only ones who could get away with not depending on social proof, that they could be as outrageous and different as they want. I started to understand a couple of years ago that I was very wrong. I recently read and was intrigued by the script of a speech given in the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference by a Turkish speaker. When she speaks of arts, she says that “…all artistic endeavour is being taken under control. The artist who throws his lot in with the system as an allegiant citizen is being invited into a role as a conciliator who says what they want to hear. These artists…, who are not too badly behaved to make people feel uncomfortable, deluded enough to inspire sympathy and who are insane in an almost sane way… This hidden domestication is what really threatens our times.” I think this is a very correct observation. Even if I am not an artist and just a member of a society, I do feel very domesticated as well and realize that even I lost some of the crazy-me on my journey to be the more presentable-me today. I guess this is what we call growing up. Maybe growing up is simply a matter of better fitting in to the society. If so, I’d rather not.

    • Regarding your comment from Mean Girls Clip, I feel exactly the same. I was raised in another country/culture where this concept of “popularity” was in no way comparable to the one in the US. My freshmen year I was impressed by the fact that I saw many scenes from movies recreated before me, I really thought a lot of the mean girls like drama occurred only in the movie. I know humans as social organisms innately form social hierarchies however it seems that the context in which they form has a significant effect on the the types of social categorization and their characteristics.
      I went to a really small high school, in my graduating class we were 23 and my IB class we were 4, so we always strove to have a very close community. we constantly tried to hang out with the whole generation. Also most of us, around 15, had been together since we were 5 years old. There were the categories of “popular kids” and “loosers” but never to the extremes in the US and at least in my perception on one really paid attention to this classification and they definitely were not boundaries for interaction.
      I wonder how much does changing elementary, middle and high schools influences the intensity of social hierarchies? Given the opportunity to “reinvent” themselves that many times I guess kids can take certain roles to the extremes based on what they saw was the dominant social groups in their previous state.

      • I think you bring up a very interesting point regarding the impact of the size and longevity of a social group on its values and hierarchy. Even as an American student, I have found the social structure portrayed in Mean Girls to be a gross over-exaggeration. Yes, there were many times in my middle school and high school years where girls got in ridiculous fights (sometimes about boys or something catty that someone said, but generally about nothing at all). Yes, the “popular” girls were the prettiest ones, the skinniest ones, or the ones with the expensive clothes and the BMW. Yes, there were certain social circles. But overall, the lines between the social circles were not absolute. There were certainly the “losers” (typically the shyest and least attractive) and the “popular kids”, but there were also many in between, and few people were ostracized. I also feel like, at least in my high school, it was possible for girls to be valued for qualities other than physical attractiveness. As long as they met a certain “standard” of attractiveness, I can think of many girls in my high school who were valued for their intelligence, personality, athletic ability, etc.

        Having said all that, my high school class was admittedly only 155 people, and the majority of us had been together since first grade. I think the longevity of our time together eliminated much of the cattiness and social hierarchy because, quite frankly, we had all spent time with many different people throughout our 12 years together. In my view, much of the cattiness that you see in Mean Girls comes from insecurity, jealousy, and “protecting your territory”—as can be seen when the “new girl” Cady comes in. With few “new girls” joining our high school class, there was little for the popular girls to be jealous or worried about. No one was going to ruin their chances of snatching a cute prom date or getting invited to a house party. Interestingly, the pretty girls who did transfer to our school were often the ones frequently embroiled in girl drama.

    • Earl Grey,

      I’m really glad you brought up the point about how international students stick together, because this is something I have noticed occurring in my year, too! Although I am an American student, some of my closest friends are international, and so we talk about this divide between domestic and international students a lot. I actually attended parts of international orientation because I moved in early, and since I had spent the summer living abroad, I felt more at home with some of the internationals that students from typical high schools portrayed in American movies.

      Thanks so much for your introspective and insightful response! It was a pleasure to read.

  6. Category 1

    As a disclaimer, I am a huge Tarantino fan. One of his great skills as a filmmaker is the way he combines everyday human foibles/situations (e.g. going over a bump while in the car) with the not-so-everyday (e.g. instead of coffee spilling, a gun goes off and kills someone). This juxtaposition of the light and and heavy is what defines good black comedy, an area where Tarantino excels. Though it is weird that the audience laughs immediately upon Marvin’s death, the humor they are taking from the scene does not strike me as the product of some maligned social influence. When we expect one thing, and get another, our reaction is often to laugh. (kind of reminds me of this great Calvin and Hobbes panel:

    In a scene that would normally be macabre, the levity of their dialogue and the idea that even murderous hit men make silly mistakes is what resonates with the audience, not the fact that another person was killed in a movie with many casualties.

    Category 2

    The Emperor’s new clothes is a hilarious story that points to a very persistent human fear of looking stupid in front of others. Quite fittingly, this fear often leads us to look more foolish than had we done the thing that the fear of looking stupid stopped us from doing in the first place. In this story it is acknowledging publicly that there were not actually clothes. Another example more relevant to Duke is people not asking questions about things that they do not understand in class. Not asking the question often ends up making them look more foolish later when it comes time to write a paper or take a test. When someone does step up and ask about something that the professor seems to think is common knowledge, I often witness a look of agreement/relief on the faces of many others in the class who were wondering the same. To stunt our pursuit of knowledge out of the fear of looking stupid is a particularly sad and ironic of our social concern to fit in gone overboard.

    For Professors Ariely and Davidson: What are some examples of socially motivated fears that are beneficial?

    Category 3

    The Facebook and political action article made me consider the social pressures that surround political opinions. Among college-aged youth, being a Democrat is overwhelmingly the cool thing to do. We might attest a lot of that to many young voters’ strong stance on social issues, which are at odds with many socially conservative republicans, but it goes beyond this I believe. The democrats and Obama have an unprecedentedly chic image in the popular media. Obama is treated like a celebrity in a way unmatched by any previous presidents. Nightly, Jon Stewart makes liberals feel smart for being liberals and conservatives feel dumb for being conservative. Yet many of my peers, even at a top school like Duke, cannot succinctly articulate why they voted for who they voted for.

    As the American political system/policymaking process has gotten more and more complex, popular discourse regarding politics seems to have gotten more and more superficial. Since people form their opinions in part (or wholly) based on what their friends think, it is no surprise to me that Facebook, essentially a virtual newspaper for your social network, is influencing political opinions.

    For Professors Ariely and Davidson: Is the internet/social media helping or hurting the quality of political discourse in America? What role does the social component of the web play in this?

    Category 4

    It seems that much of Brave New World revolves around the notion of social proof. It is preposterous to Lenina that Bernard might want to be free from the social arrangement or might not want to take the soma. She is conditioned absolutely by the society in which she lives. This made me think about tight-knit/insular religious communities and the way youth are developed in these communities. While questioning your faith might not be discouraged outright, as a child you must undeniably feel guilty if you begin to have doubts about the faith of your parents/the other elders who you have grown up around and respect. It must be an incredibly difficult thing to be Amish or Mennonite and choose to forsake the life in which you were raised. You are not only facing a profound internal conflict about what is right and wrong and how you should live your life, you also have everyone you have ever known, respected, and love genuinely believing that you are making a soul-condemning mistake that will last for eternity.

    For Professors Ariely and Davidson: What are the distinguishing factors of those who choose to leave insular religious communities (like Mennonites, the Amish, Hasidic Jews) and cults?

    General Reflection:

    These readings/videos have prompted me to think about the situations where going with the crowd is good and the situations where it is not. A quote by Jefferson comes to mind: “On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle, stand like a rock.” While it is never clear cut, and our principles are affected by the actions we observe, I do think that conformity in some forms is an important part of functioning well. We evolved our social fears and desire to be accepted for a reason. That being said, we must recognize how often the crowd gets it wrong, and force ourselves through the mental exercise of truly considering whether a certain mainstream behavior/attitude/what-have-you is actually the best course of action.
    One simple thing to do in service of this end is making time for solitude. It does not have to be zen meditation, it can just be a run by yourself, but habitually spending a small amount of time away from the influence of other people (including books/internet/television) is something really helpful for me personally in evaluating myself/my actions vis-a-vis society.

    • You know, I want to say that social media and its widespread technology has decreased the level of discourse about difficult issues (politics is the probably one of the most conspicuous examples). Why? Social media is a medium best suited for expressing a few ideas at most; think tweets, Facebook statuses, etc. Longer, structured arguments, theories that require study from a coherent whole, etc. are still best suited to the realm of books, journal articles, etc. Sure, we can still express main ideas relatively quickly, as it should be, but trimming down nuanced platforms into sound bites trims them of context, supporting arguments, replies to counterarguments, and subtleties. Yet patience is never popular, and so our collective attention span decreases. Thus, higher education is irreplaceable in this regard. I do wonder, though: while social media discourse can never replace high-level discussion, does it raise the general education level of society? After all, I imagine the average teenager from 50 years ago was much less politically aware than they are today, simply because anyone with WiFi can access (or is bombarded by) political campaigns these days. If that does raise the general education level, though, is this something that provides a false sense of security, in that people think they understand the full spectrum of colors when, in reality, they don’t realize there are subtler shades?

      I like Calvin and Hobbes too, so I also leave you with a few relevant strips about politics, sound bites, and news.

  7. Category 1 (Pulp Fiction)

    As I have never seen Pulp Fiction, and admittedly do not know what the movie is even about (I’m not a big movie person), I was a bit confused by this clip. Despite the fact that John Travolta’s character accidentally kills someone, it appears to have been intended to be a comedic scene. Maybe it is because I have not seen the entire movie and am unfamiliar with the characters’ back-stories, but I don’t really get the humor. In terms of this clip’s relation to social proof and critical social consequences specifically, I was struck by how there don’t seem to be any actual consequences. Samuel L. Jackson’s character reacts to the shooting, but the tone of seriousness I would expect for actual consequences is missing. Once again, I think my lack of knowledge about the movie and lack of understanding of Tarantino’s style in general (I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of his movies) contributes to my reaction to this clip.

    Category 2 (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”)

    First off, great story choice! Not only is this story a classic, but it’s also a perfect example of herd mentality. Though this story is set in a society far different from the modern world, the fear of public failure exhibited by the Emperor and the villagers persists today. As countless behavioral studies (including “Study of Social Factors in Perception”) have shown, social norms and public perception play a large role in behavior. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” provides a literary example of behavior we have all witnessed and most likely exhibited ourselves. Though I traditionally associate herd mentality with a group of people all supporting the same idea due to social pressure (like the Duke vs UNC basketball rivalry), this story provided a different example that I think is just as accurate. To Professors Ariely and Davidson, I’d like to ask- Can you think of a time when you’ve failed to admit that you “couldn’t see the clothes?” How could/should you have changed your behavior in this situation?

    Category 3 (“Facebook Can Motivate Users, and Friends of Users, to Political Action, Study Finds”)

    Given the recent DSG president campaign and election, as well as the U.S. presidential election in November, I found this article to be very relevant. Studying abroad in Australia last semester, I had never been more annoyed by social media than after one of the televised presidential debates. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were bombarded with opinions and comments, none of which I thought had any influence on my already formed opinions whatsoever. I found the day of the election (which given the time change, was actually November 7th in Australia) to be equally irritating, as dozens of pictures of “I Voted” stickers flooded my screen. Mostly, I was just jealous; I had voted in my first presidential election via absentee ballot weeks before and did not even receive a sticker! Aside from my envy, I wholeheartedly felt that these posts were pointless and would never actually convince anyone to vote. I had similar feelings toward the DSG presidential campaigns, as profile picture changes to candidates; faces and campaign videos took over my feed. This article reveals that for all my annoyance, I was completely wrong about the affects of social media on political action. About this topic, I’d like to ask Professors Ariely and Davidson- How can we use social media to motivate people to do other positive behaviors (exercises, give to charity, etc.)?

    Category 4 (“The Odd One” in Brave New World)

    The story “The Odd One”, from Brave New World, reminds me of the children’s novel The Giver by Lois Lowry. For anyone who hasn’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Similar to Brave New World, The Giver is set in a future, supposedly utopian society in which only a few people become gradually aware that their world is not as perfect as it seems. For the most part, the societies depicted in both of these stories are an example of a failure to detect social proof. In “The Odd One”, all of the characters except Bernard understand that they are simply following orders. Bernard is considered odd because he questions these orders. A similar scenario plays out in The Giver. Given these two texts, I would like to ask Professors Ariely and Davidson- How can we use literary examples to inform our own behavior? Can we improve upon our ability to detect social proof?

    Overall Response

    Social proof is evident in my own life in more ways than I think I could possibly realize. Though I claim to be an independent person, I feel in some way most of my decisions, from where to attend college to what to eat for breakfast, have been influenced in some way or another by others. What I am unsure of, however, is if this is necessarily a bad thing. These readings illustrate both good and bad examples of social proof. If we can recognize social proof, I think we will be able to use it to our advantage.

    • I can sympathize with your annoyance –come any kind of election season, be it DSG or U.S. presidential, everyone’s Facebook cover photos and profile pictures change to slogans or, as you mentioned, pictures of the actual candidates themselves. And my newsfeed is filled with these repetitive photos. I was actually surprised at how ineffective they were though; perhaps naively so because it is difficult to change ‘real life’ in that people who could actually have any influence on our decisions would have to be close to us. So the cover photo and profile picture changes would at best only influence people that would have listened to you without the Facebook makeover and probably people you interact with often anyhow. After all, those photos didn’t change your mind, did they?

      I also think you bring up a good point in your overall response: is social proof / influence only a negative? I mean, in some ways it influences things that are more or less innocuous, like where or what we eat for breakfast (or the fact that ‘breakfast’ as a prescribed meal and time exists); the other examples are more on the extreme side. And I get the point of the hyperbole: it gets the point across and warns about potential for harm. But there are definitely positives to social proof –like breakfast and fried eggs. And that’s something that is not as explored in this week’s readings and lesson. So I’d be interested in asking our professors if they think social proof is largely a good or bad thing? And what are some important good examples of social proof?

  8. Category 1: Critical Social Consequences

    I must admit that I have not seen Pulp Fiction before, so my initial reaction to the clip was honestly just confusion as to what exactly was going on, whether it was a parody/spoof of the actual movie (because of the laugh track in the background), and what exactly it had to do with social proof. It is obviously a very disturbing image, with John Travolta’s character accidentally killing Marvin while Samuel L. Jackson continues driving along in anger and disbelief. Beyond the disturbing imagery, there is a certain level of (dark) humor to the scene as well, with Travolta’s character displaying a certain degree of nonchalantness towards the act he has just committed. It reminds me quite a bit of a scene from the Coen brothers’ film “Burn After Reading” in which George Clooney fatally shoots Brad Pitt—who is hiding in his closet—after mistaking him for a spy. The scenes are not so funny for the violence itself but rather the over-the-top reactions of the characters involved. See the clip here: (Fair warning, it’s a little more graphic than the Pulp Fiction clip.)

    I still must say, however, that I am unable to connect my reaction to the idea of social proof or critical social consequences. Is the point that Travolta begins to realize the severity and consequences of his actions only after Jackson begins to react so strongly? I’m not sure. A good working definitely for critical social consequences would certainly come in handy here, although I will rely on the responses of my peers to better guide my understanding of the concept and how it applies to the clip.

    Category 2: Herd Mentality

    Like others, I enjoyed reading “The Emperor’s New Clothes” for the first time in many, many years. It is a great example of much of the herd mentality we see today: people going to any length, moral or immoral, in order to protect their own public image. Because everyone in the town knew about the “magical” fabric, did the emperor’s subjects really have a choice but to lie and claim they saw the fabric? I suppose this is not just an example of herd mentality but also an example of the human fear of rejection and fear. Would a subject have gone back and told the emperor that he didn’t see the fabric if the emperor was the only person in the kingdom to know about the fabric’s special qualities? I’m not sure, but my instincts tell me that this would not have had much of an impact. I think my other favorite part of the story is the fact that a child is the first one to make the astute observation that perhaps the emperor is not wearing clothes at all. While the adults were too concerned with their public perception and consumed by the power of the herd mentality, the young, naive child was able to comment on the situation objectively and honestly.

    I enjoyed the spotlight of K-ville in the New York Times, but I must say that I disagree with many of the comments by faculty members that big-time athletics disrupt the intellectual fiber of the University. I do understand the argument to an extent. But I would argue that Duke students are not any less intellectual because of the sports programs. Anyone who has sat in an engaging seminar class (or better yet, the class we are all taking now) will tell you that Duke students are some of the most brilliant, gifted, intellectual students you can find. Some of them tent, some of them don’t. But I think that pointing figures at athletics spending and tenting is irresponsible and unfair. Yes, Duke spends a great deal of money on the basketball program. But at the same time, the basketball program brings not only money, but great pride, to the school. Maybe it is because I grew up in a place (New England) where athletics are embedded in the very fiber of the community, but I see K-ville as a unique tradition that builds community and sets Duke apart from other institutions. Is the face-painting, sleeping outside for five weeks, jumping up and down, and choreographed hand motions an example of “herd mentality”? Maybe — it certainly garners enough ardent support from students and alumni that the administration is too afraid to quash it. But I would argue that Duke Athletics creates a close-knit community for the entire student body to rally around, not a dangerous situation where social proof leads to irrationality and negative consequences.

    The research study was interesting, but did not reveal anything too groundbreaking. To me, it was just another clear example of how we go against our better judgement when we are in groups.

    Question for the professors: What are the best methods to combat herd mentality and group think? How can we keep ourselves from being blind to herd mentality?

    Category 3: Value and Belief Creation

    I have seen Mean Girls many, many times. I must say, I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it in this way before, but the film does a great job of addressing the themes of social proof, value creation, and belief creation. The “Regina George Effect” is something we see in almost every social situation, albeit in a much less extreme and exaggerated form. To me, Regina George represents the dominant figure in any social situation who guides the formation of “appropriate” social interaction: what to say, what to wear, how to talk, how to behave, how to interact with others. We live in a complicated world with many different social scenarios, so to me it is not surprising that we rely on these “queen bees” to guide our behavior. Adolescence is a time when social cues and expectations are perhaps most confusing, so Mean Girls is a great film to explore these themes. But I think that we find value and belief creation around us every day, and the “rule makers” don’t simply come in the form of cruel, manipulative Regina Georges. Different cultures and social groups value different things (i.e., teenage girls value beauty and popularity), and those who possess these qualities and a desire to be the “leader of the pack” will rise to the top and have an even greater impact on belief creation.

    Question for the professors: Is value and belief creation primarily cultural, or are there other biological components (i.e., gender, age, etc.) as well?

    Category 4: Failure to Detect Social Proof

    It has been a long time since I read A Brave New World, but I think it is a fantastic literary example of how, as humans, our judgement, perception, and rationality tends to become clouded when we are put in certain social situations. Very few humans have the ability to see that they are being influenced by some greater social influence. I can’t think of any specific real-world parallels at the moment, but I think we see this sort of clouded judgement as a result of social proof every day. As a few of my peers have mentioned, the first examples that come to my mind are cults and close-knit religious communities like the FLDS church. Members of such communities cannot detect the strong influence of social proof in their lives because they know nothing else. But occasionally, just like Bernard might not want to take the soma, select members of these cult-like groups are able to see what others cannot. They often break free of the social conformity of their group, abandoning it completely.

    Question for the professors: What are some every day examples from your life or your observations of the failure to detect social proof? What can we do to combat this blindness?

    Overall Response

    After completing the readings, I can definitely recognize that social proof, value creation, and herd mentality play an enormous role in everyday social interactions. It’s difficult to think of specific scenarios in my own life where social proof has played a significant role (and shouldn’t that be the case, given that we often fail to detect it?). Moreover, I like to think that I am a pretty self-aware person, and can accurately and objectively analyze myself, my behaviors, and the motivations behind them. But I suppose I do see a few small examples of how social proof influences my behavior. Despite growing up in the Northeast for my entire life, I have found that there are certain situations where “y’all” and a slight Southern twang become a natural part of my speech. Another typical example would be that I tend to put a greater focus on my appearance when I am going into a group largely composed of stranger than I do when I am simply hanging out with close friends. Even for those of us with self-awareness, different social situations have a great degree of influence over the things we do.

    • Hi,

      While I agree with you that those FLDS church represents an example in which the group members are so blinded by their own church teachings that they are unable to detect social proof. However, I’d like to challenge the usage of rubric in our contemporary society — what Jonathan Haidt calls “WEIRD society, referring to wester, educated, industrial, rich and democratic societal values — to judge what is considered normal, socially acceptable or not. It is always tempting for us to point fingers at the failures of minority, “exotic” cultures to detect social proof, but I think when we live in this society, only a few, oftentimes, marginalized people are able to detect the absurdities of social conformity in which we live in. Reading this week’s responses, I find that only non-American students tend to question the validity of “mean girl” culture whereas American students would find it distasteful but accept it as given, thinking more in terms of fitting in or escaping. International students tend to see “objectively” – in the sense that they compare it within the framework of their own culture and thus are able to detach themselves from being entangled in it.

  9. Pulp Fiction Reaction

    My first reaction was “why is there a laughing track on this clip”. But otherwise, the dialogue that stood out most with respect to social proof was when John Travolta’s character said “You’ve gotta have an opinion” to Marvin. Why would someone have to have an opinion? I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know the context of this quote. The other part I find confusing is how they don’t really react to this murder in terms of horror… they both seem pretty unaffected by the whole event which is weird.

    Herd Mentality:

    I feel that I’ve read pieces that are similar to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. I loved this story. People are so afraid of being wrong that they will adopt popular belief and conform to a group’s opinion just to avoid the possibility of social embarrassment. Or, maybe, sometimes it is just easier to adopt what seems to be the right opinion out of laziness. In the case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it seems that the emperor was too afraid to admit that he was unfit for office so he went along with the swindlers’ story. This type of behaviors I’m sure is pretty common and it’s weird that some of the most qualified people could be afraid of being skeptical… this is really concerning.

    Is it often that people will speak out of a place of confidence, even when they have no idea what they’re talking about? What ethical issues could this cause in terms of policy making, etc.?
    Why is it so hard for people have their own opinions? Do you think it’s that people are afraid of being wrong, or that they are too lazy to form their own opinion…or both? Sometimes I feel that I should have an opinion on a certain question, but I truly do not. Is it such a bad thing to be indifferent?

    Value and Belief Creation

    The fashion trend started in Mean Girls is something I have witnessed so many times. I have heard people say that they think that X trend is ugly – like the holes cut in Regina George’s shirt, but as soon as a lot of people start wearing it, or if some celebrity starts wearing it, their opinions change and they wear it too. It’s really interesting that opinions can change so drastically just based on what is popular opinion. However, the article about Facebook and political action indicates a great way in which value and belief creation can incite people to be more active. Granted, a lot of people lie about their activity, but if more people can be motivated to vote then using social proof in other aspects of social responsibility could benefit society.

    Have you ever caught yourself in a situation where you drastically changed your opinion because something became “cool” or “trendy”? How can we use social proof to encourage people to be more active without having to TELL them to be?

    Failure to Detect Social Proof

    Because I read “Normative Social Influence is Underdetected” last, I was not surprised that normative information could better predict individuals’ energy conservation than their naïve psychology-based beliefs. What was most interesting to me was the fact that people were so unaware – or so unwilling to admit – that the behavior of their neighbors had an effect on their actions.

    Why is there a disconnect between people acknowledging that they act a certain way because others do, even when this probably is the case? Is this because people are obsessed with being leaders, not followers, because being a follower has some negative stigma attached to it? Or do we actually not realize that popular belief influences our beliefs?

    Overall Response:
    I think these readings have made me more self aware. I don’t expect that I am not a victim of Social Proof, although I’d like to think I am confident enough in my opinions to express them. I do think that I sometimes adopt popular belief out of indifference because I feel pressured to have an opinion. I see social proof within my group of friends; sometimes it is hard for someone to have an opinion different from the group’s opinion… which is a shame. I’d like to know about other scenarios in which social proof manifests. How can we minimize social proof…but also how can we use social proof to our advantage to increase social activism?

  10. James P. Duke

    1) Pulp Fiction

    I have to say that my reaction to the clip is one of utter confusion. I haven’t seen Pulp Fiction, so I really have no background or context to the scene that is going on. For some reason, John Travolta’s character shoots a man in the back seat, whether on purpose or accidentally, is up for debate. He shoots him after the man says he doesn’t have an opinion about something.

    To be honest, I’m not really sure why this relates to social proof. I see that this video is under the critical social consequences, but being shot in the face for lacking an opinion seems like an awfully harsh punishment to me. The scene is humorous, coupled with a sort of eeriness as to the two men’s apathetic response to the fact that there is a dead man in the car. They are more worried with the clean-up than the fact that a man is dead.

    2) A Tent City

    In relation to herd mentality, the main connection I can find in this article is the very act of tenting itself. If I were to ask you when you were a high school senior, “Would you tent out in the snow for 5 weeks to get into a basketball game?” you probably would’ve looked at me like I was crazy. However, when you get into a culture where something so miniscule is valued, it becomes the norm.

    Such is herd mentality; you become convinced of things based on the belief of those around you. I remember Professor Ariely telling me about one of his studies one time. 4 volunteers are placed in a room, and two pieces of paper are held up. The first paper has a line, and the second paper has 3 different sized lines. The subjects are asked which line on the second paper is the same length as the line on the first paper. The answer is very obvious. However, 3 of the 4 “volunteers” are actually paid by the researchers, and intentionally choose the wrong answer. In a surprisingly large amount of time (around 50% or something, I can’t remember exactly), the unsuspecting volunteer picks the wrong line. Despite the fact that the answer is obvious, he does not want to risk looking stupid in front of his peers.

    Question: What are some real world implications of the Professor Ariely study?

    3) Mean Girls

    First of all, great movie choice. I am not embarrassed to say that Mean Girls is one of the most entertaining and quotable movies. Mean Girls is a perfect avenue to explore social proof in its most obvious form: high school. High school was a time filled with self-conscious teens who just wanted to fit in. In a time of such self-doubt and self-consciousness, many looked around them for how to act and behave, because it was difficult and painful to pave the way for yourself. Thus, the “popular kids” were the source of much admiration and many mimicked their habits.

    Obviously, cutting holes in your shirt is an exaggeration of a trend that might catch on, but the movie is a satire of high school life, and the themes and trends prevalent in them are valid. If the cool kids wear certain clothes, then everyone else wants to as well. I always thought there was a business model to give certain kids in high schools free clothes, to hope that their influence might make the style catch on.

    Question: When in our lives are we most affected by social proof?

    4) Brave New World

    It is interesting to view a society in which all rules are laid out and explicit. When growing up in this society, most are conditioned to follow these rules absolutely, bending to the social proof around them. Lelina is one of these, who has always followed the rules, and is shocked that someone (Bernard) might not.

    It is interesting to me that Bernard is considered an Alpha, one of the smartest members in the society. Not coincidentally, he is also the one who is challenging the rules of society. Huxley is probably hinting that those who ask questions and are skeptical are the smartest in a society. A theme throughout our class has been about learning to ask the right questions, instead of formulating the right answers.

    Question: What is more important, asking good questions, or formulating good answers?


    Social proof is an interesting concept and one that subtly dominates our lives. It affects how we act, what we eat, who we talk to, and how we act. It is interesting to think of a world, like a Brave New World, where all rules are laid out and there is no self-initiative. What would the opposite look like? I am curious about a world where there are no social standards, no rules. Not only is there anarchy, but no cultural or social constraints either. We are constantly being affected and conditioned by the way our parents, peers, and fellow humans act. Social proof is important to address in order to understand how we have come to act the way we do.


  11. Category 1

    Category 2

    “The Emperor’s New Clothes” demonstrates how very profitable social proof can be. Materialism has escalated in the United States fostering opinion that it may be a cornerstone of societal patterns. It seems to me that social proof increases materialistic tendencies because our tangible, quantifiable goods at market price can be easily compared to those of other people. We learned in the interview on relativity and default with Professors Cathy and Dan that we often make decisions based on comparisons. It is easy to compare the progress of us with others in our lives when achievement can be easily empirically measured.

    The Obedience, Evil and Resistance group posted the article about the five psychological experiments that prove humanity is doomed. My “favorite” of the experiments proved to be The Asch Conformity Experiment (1953). The Asch Conformity Experiment illustrated that the beliefs of even strangers greatly impact maybe not what we belief, but what we communicate out loud. I wonder how to measure if there is a difference in social proof amongst friends and strangers. Are we more comfortable with friends and open about our opinions or are we more concerned with the long-term consequences of our actions? On the other hand we could also foster more trust for friends compared to strangers leading to more herd behavior. I would ask Professors Cathy and Dan if they think advertisements are as strong of determinants as conversations with friends?

    Category 3

    Social media like Facebook and Twitter increase the opportunities for the social proof impact of one individual. Differences otherwise hidden or ignored can become apparent even with the absence of an action. The internet has transformed how we are impacted by norms. Voting I think now is not a purely personal decision even though there is no one with you in the voting booth. In my social media circles the absence of posting political comments or statuses on Facebook is meaningful. Despite all of these new social media inputs some contributing factors to social proof might always take present. For example the parent’s political values are huge factor of those of their children . In a Gallup study (71%) of teenagers said their social and political ideology is about the same their parents.

    Question: Muzafer Sherif writes that norms appear stupid, and contrary to all notions of “common sense,” to a person whose thinking and behavior are regulated by norms of a different culture. Does social proof encourage a culture to be more extreme or must cultural norms remain tame to be appropriate for the greatest number of people?

    Category 4

    The first question that came to mind while reading the Hans Christian Anderson piece was why did the emperor never noticed that he wasn’t wearing clothes? Did he question his own self-confidence and faith as a leader? As we discussed during the relativity and default interview it is much easier to compare others than comparing our own qualities with others. The piece by J.M. Noland confirms these ideas. Yet our own understandings of our own decisions may be rather context specific. The excerpt from Brave New World discusses how says, “Adults intellectually and during working hours… Infants where feeling and desire are concerned”(4). I am very interest how the character, Bernard, thinks that we can be rational in the workplace and then completely irrational in our social lives. This is very true for Duke Students who according to the article ”A Tent City for Fun and Profit” who might have the privilege to transform their reality into another (crazier) version in spare time. The article highlights the seemingly humble conditions of K-ville compared to the grand resources. The author, Bill Morris, believes that more privileged behavior could include not to utilizing basic comforts. I wonder what percentage of Duke students who have tented in K-ville have actually camped in natural environments?

    Taking into account Professor Cathy’s experience noticing the gorilla I notice two steps necessary for social advancement: First we must have the capacity to recognize the gorilla, and second we must have the courage to voice the information.
    Question: Which of these steps is a more difficult challenge for us?

    Where do you see social proof in your own life?

    I really enjoyed the project proposed by the Self Control group that utilizes social proof in order to mitigate our weaknesses or even exceed them. While I very much enjoyed the readings this week, most of the themes focus on the negative possibilities of social proof. This week I have noticed how social proof plays into my own involvement in philanthropic endeavors and volunteering. This semester I often considered my preferences to be against social proof common at Duke including tenting and Greek life. Yet even our decisions to act differently are contingent upon these norms. In my case what I would have considered a natural behavior transformed into active decisions at Duke University. Even when we go against norms we still operate under the same assumptions and center of reference. Thus in my life I don’t consider my alternative choices to be independent.

    • Hi Phia, your point on the profitability of social proof made me think again about how marketers are so inventive and persistent in making use of psychological phenomena to sell their products. This was discussed in terms of defaults, as marketers are keen in setting defaults in order to get people to buy more goods/services or to receive promotional information. Businesses use social proof similarly. There was once an Apple commercial that said “if you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone,” alluding the iPhones very real status as the cool phone to have. Especially in terms of clothing and other visible accessories, social proof is a major factor in consumption habits. The extent to which marketing has come to define our lifestyles is pretty frightening. They sell lifestyles with their interest in mind, not ours.

  12. Category 1
    This clip from Pulp Fiction presents a fascinating view of critical social consequences, in that, John Travolta’s character so casually brushes off the ultimate form of crime – the act of killing – as the product of a bump in the road. He fails to take accountability for his actions, even though he clearly had the gun pointed at his friend when he was talking to him. In essence, this clip illustrates how social settings determine the appropriateness of our actions. The frenzy of the car scene leads Travolta to engage in blaming rather than remorse. This is what happens to us all too frequently. Depending on the time and place we are in, our understanding of consequence shifts. When we’re with our grandparents, we might not swear, but when we’re with our close buddies, we talk like sailors. Thus, our surroundings influence our behavior tremendously.

    Category 2
    There is certainly an interesting parallel between The New York Times article and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. In both, behavior and thought are influenced by surroundings. President Brodhead arrived at Duke with a skeptical view of basketball, but he took on a different tune when he realized the power of the athletic program – both financially and socially. He knew that his critical view of sports would not fly at a place like Duke where Coach K practically runs the campus. In the same vein, the Emperor’s advisors realize how their blindness to the beauty of the Emperor’s clothing will cause them to be viewed as foolish, so they each convince themselves of the lie that the clothing is present. Behavior and thought change in new contexts. We so quickly follow the herd because to stroll in the opposite direction would lead to vulnerability and ostracism.

    Can you recall a time in your professional life when you went against the herd? What were the consequences of your actions?

    Category 3
    The iconic film Mean Girls along with the commentary offered by Rosalind Wiseman present a beautiful illustration of social proof. The intense level of conformity among these girls – in how to act, talk, and dress – illustrates how we often blindly adopt the rules just for the sake of fitting in. Wiseman brings up an interesting perspective related to this in saying that the girls “don’t know the rules until they break them”. This assumes, however, that we have the courage to break the rules. Too often we lack the confidence in ourselves and our ideas to be able to challenge the ideas of our group. And even in our close group of friends, we find that we often lack the comfort to be open and honest with ourselves and each other. In our friendships and our associations, we actually do lose ourselves. We compromise for the sake of comfort. But as Wiseman points out, is this cost of belong too high? The cost is ourselves. The price is everything that is unique to us.

    So that we do not lose ourselves in our relationships and friendships, is it possible for us to negotiate the price of belonging? Can negotiating bring down the price for each of us so that we maintain our identity even in the context of a greater identity group?

    Category 4
    I read A Brave New World in middle school, but it never struck me in the way that it did today when I read this excerpt. Two lines in particular really stopped me in my tracks: “what would it be like if I could, if I were free – not enslaved by my conditioning” and “wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way?” Perhaps I’ve become more cognizant of society’s influence on my thoughts and behaviors because of all the courses I’ve taken in sociology, but I really do think these are important questions to ask. Are we enslaved by our own conditioning, which is the product of our society? Don’t we come to define what is most important to us in the context of our environment? But breaking from the norm can often lead us to the greatest amount of joy. We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves or our possessions to one another in order to see who or what is the best. Instead, as famous business academic Michael Porter famously like to say, the goal of a business (and I would argue, each individual) should be not be to be the best, but to be the most unique. When we define our happiness, values, and beliefs in the context of our own passions and our own ideals, we find great success. The issue, however, is if we can actually ever find that place of being able to define things for ourselves in a manner that is not necessarily influenced by the world around us.

    Are we genuinely free? Or has society influenced us so much to the point that the ways in which we think and behave are so entrenched in societal norms that we are simply a reflection of our environment?

    Overall Response
    What I’ve gathered from all of this week’s material is that social proof is real and scary. The settings and people around us influence us to the point that we can become a part of something greater than us that might be completely at odds with our traditional views and behaviors. We might tent for a basketball game and let our grades suffer simply because “everyone else is doing it”. We might become blind to the truth simply because someone in a position of authority or our environment told us to adopt that which is false as true. I see social proof in my own life simply as I navigate different relationships – with friends, faculty, administrators, and family. I adopt language that conforms to the ideals of those around me. If I am hanging with my religious friends, I talk a certain way that differs from the talk I employ when I am with the friends that I go out with. I feel like I have to maintain these different identities in order to appeal to each of these groups. I know it’s probably not a good thing, but I must do so in order to be accepted by each of these groups that I voluntarily have chosen to associate with. What tips do you have for being more aware of our surroundings and their influence on our beliefs and behaviors?

  13. Pulp Fiction

    Like a lot of my other classmates, I have not seen Pulp Fiction before (I know this is socially unacceptable) so it was difficult to contextualize the scene with the entire movie. But, I think the reason this scene strikes me as so odd is not because I cannot contextualize it with the rest of the film, but rather it is because the characters defy social norms. Travolta’s reaction to the shooting upends all traditional expectations for behavior. “Oh man I shot Marvin in the face” is not the typical reaction to a death – especially to an accidental shooting. This is what Quinton Tarantino does so well. He takes a traditional social norm and completely disrupts it. He shows what it would be like if we did not abide to social constructions; and this provides for fascinating, critical and sometimes comical commentary. Tarantino’s work – as evident in this scene – shows how social norms metastasize our attention blindness and make it difficult to evaluate the efficacy of our own behaviors and reactions to various events.

    New York Times Article

    I was not exceptionally convinced by the New York Times article on Krzyzewskiville. The author seemed to want it all. At one point he exalts the tradition of Cameron. But, he labels it as “anti-intellectual” and condemns it as an irrational expression of “privilege” and manifestation of big money in college sports. He uses Duke to criticize both the big money sports at public institutions and “privilege” at private institutions. Surely problems exist at both types of institutions, but the tenting phenomena is not a proper lens to blame as emblematic of all of these problems. Additionally, the group think that he is trying to condemn does exist on campus, but tenting is definitely not a manifestation of this phenomena – for instance, many “tenters” choose living in a tent for a month over rushing Greek life. Duke basketball and tenting is a tradition that unites a school that is divided by its diversity of students and diversity of student interests (pre-med, pre-law, pre-Wall Street etc.). So, to condemn Duke basketball as an irrational example of “privilege” and of “big money” sports is irrational in itself. It is an example of defying social norms – sleeping outside for a basketball game generally isn’t a prevalent activity. Therefore, I think the author attempts to make a credible social commentary, but solely criticizing Duke basketball is not the proper lens to make such a statement. What do the Professors think about tenting and Duke basketball and its role in the school? How can we balance being an elite institution with a tradition that defines our school?

    The Great Gatsby

    The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite texts of all time. I admire its humanist criticism of classical liberalism. Gatsby is a character who pursues his self interests no matter what the costs. Fitzgerald points out that while this may be the most “economically efficient” dogma, it eludes us of our dreams and ultimately of what it means to be human. Ironically, greed deprives us of the most important and inherent aspects of individualism; our pursuit of our dreams “recedes before us” and is “eluded” by an obdurate desire for material wealth. This text resonates especially given modern social and economic conditions. Decades of wealth pursuit with no regards for the social consequences of such actions led to our current recession. Financial derivatives – mortgage backed securities and subprime mortgages – created a culture that “year by year recedes before us” and eventually devolved into economic recession. The maintenance of this culture hijacks humanism and moralism from our language and replaces it with a single language – a language of material greed and desire. I would recommend those interested on the role of ethics in our social and economic culture – which I believe is what Fitzgerald is primarily commenting on – should read Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s “How Much Is Enough.” This text revisits Keynesian economics and provides a contemporary viewpoint on how a rebirth of ethical debate in our culture can enable effective and substantive economic and political changes to avoid the culture that Gatsby and so many others suffered from. I would like to ask the Professors to what extent our economic system is responsible for creating social norms? To what extent does the capitalist system shape our culture and social system?

    Brave New World

    I read Huxley’s Brave New World in high school, and I certainly didn’t appreciate its value at the time. Returning to this excerpt after all of the things I have learned about and experienced since originally reading the text evoked a lot of different reactions. Huxley remarkably foreshadows the growth of science and technology. His discussion is obviously hyperbolic, but at the heart of the text is a discussion of the pacifying influence of technology on the individual. The development of social media, for example, had propagated new norms that individuals are forced to conform to from a young age in order to be “accepted.” If used to perpetuate social conformity, technology and science can be perverted into a force that erodes away at individualism. Innovation is exalted in society as the paragon of success. But, this must be taken with a grain of salt. Innovation is certainly the source of crucial progress, but as Huxley shows, we must always remain mindful of its potential to be used in the wrong way to perpetuate conformity. Therefore my question is, to what extent can we make sure new technological developments, like social media, are not used to create more pressure to conform to social norms?

    Overall Response

    I am really looking forward to this week’s class – these readings included some of my favorites and I think they will be conducive to a really engaging discussion. What struck me in particular was reflecting on these readings in order to answer this final response question. This question and the readings prompted me to reflect on the extent to which we internalize social norms in our life. Society is based on social standards that are nothing more than constructs created by humans, yet they govern our life and our behavior. This is one of the most interesting reflections of postmodernism – and I think a discussion of postmodernism in our class as a way to understand the existence of social norms would be particularly fascinating. Social proof is constant. Even iconoclasm — which we think of as antithetical to social proof and group think – often results in social proof. Counter-culture movements will grow into examples of social proof due to the bandwagon effect. The development of social proof surrounding new ideas is often how we secure progress and create new standards of social acceptability. It leads me to this final question: to what extent is social proof a good phenomenon, a bad phenomenon and a necessary phenomenon?

  14. 1a. Pulp Fiction is the quintessential Tarantino film (see what I did there?): exaggerated violence and the underwhelming emotional responses that accompany them. And Travolta’s phlegmatic reaction to Marvin’s death is like a microcosm of what a Tarantino film entails. I’ll echo here what Batman picked up on: that, if anything, the clip (and film) is like the anti-social proof. Clearly. We’re socialized from a young age to treat death with gravitas; Travolta and Jackson’s nonchalance towards Marvin’s death is thus counterculture. I’m the one social proof-ing here: when Marvin’s blood gets splayed across the rear window, I cringed. But it’s dark humor, so Travolta and Jackson’s non-response is amusing. The viewer’s discomfort is used to make the situation comical. If anything, social proof frames the humor for us: we expect them to react but their mildness is both jarring and surprising. It’s their resistance of social proof that makes this scene funny in a ‘I’m-smiling-but-I-know-this-is-wrong’ way. Yeah, can’t shake off social proof.

    1b. I think the scariest part of “herd mentality” is best exemplified in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson: that even though individuals may know the majority, or herd, is wrong, they still go along with it. For example, in the short story, a child points out that the emperor is actually not wearing any clothes, and initially the town resists this notion but eventually cannot deny its truth. The emperor hears this and, feeling cold, admits this is probably the case, but he continues with the procession anyhow. This type of behavior is alarming; the short story illustrates a case in which the upshot of herd mentality is benign and humorous. But there are instances where the crowd mentality or action could be harmful. It’s a different thing if people are deceived, brainwashed, etc. into thinking and acting a certain way –because then at least they actually believe in what they’re doing and thinking. So it makes sense that they’d act ‘appropriately’ given their actual viewpoint, however they’ve arrived at that way of thinking. But if people are willing to go along with the majority despite actively knowing that it’s wrong, then we’re in dire straits I think. Because ‘knowing that it’s wrong’ (aka our conscience or common sense) is one of the more reliable checks we have on our actions; the fact that we’re willing to ignore this check in favor of herd mentality highlights the dangers of this concept.

    To our professors: have you ever given into herd mentality knowing that what you’re doing or thinking is ridiculous, harmful, wrong or any combination of the three? And have you ever witnessed the harmful consequences of this concept in a professional atmosphere?

    Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World runs the gamut on hedonism, or happiness, and dystopian futures. However, I’d never considered it in terms of ‘social proof’ expressly. And the reason I’m commenting on it directly after “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is because I think it is the other side of the coin: the instance where the person, in this case Lenina, absolutely believes in what she’s espousing. For example, the repetition of those pithy sayings and the allusions to brainwashing –she’s clearly a product of indoctrination. I’m not sure which is more dangerous: doing it because you believe in it or doing it in spite of your personal beliefs. The result is the same, though; both Lenina and the Emperor look foolish because of social proof.

    Also I’m wondering about this whole ‘failure to detect’ social proof thing in regards to Huxley’s novel. I’m taking Lenina as a metaphor, but really she is more like a marionette. The failure to detect social proof stems from the mind-control substances of soma, so in that context, it’s difficult for her to detect social proof because she’s in essence being drugged. In that respect, I think we as a society are better off; sure, social proof is ingrained in society. But at least we’re not being force-fed social proof pills. We’re all a little bit like Bernard, maybe; sometimes we’re drinking the Kool-ade, sometimes we’re not. And it’s more like a perpetual state of this, rather than we’re heading to oblivion via soma.

    I also had a question as to the concept of herd mentality: is it something you’re conscious of, like in Hans Christian Anderson’s short story? Or does it also apply to Lenina in Huxley’s novel as well?

    Lee Gardner’s article “Facebook Can Motivate Users, and Friends of Users, to Political Action, Study Finds” is especially interesting within the context of psychology and value and belief creation. If I recall correctly, psychological studies maintain that the family is, obviously, where we initially draw from in terms of value and belief creation. Then as we eventually spend more time at school with peers, where we get our beliefs from shifts to reflect that. So, the study about elections and Facebook implies that social media can have a great impact on us –I think this mirrors these earlier studies. As time has gone on, we spend more time on social media, and it has become a significant part of our lives now. So, it makes sense that it would influence us. Also, not surprising, the study found that Facebook campaigning is most effective when it comes from your close friends; this also echoes the belief that our close peers affect us. It’d be interesting to continue studies and see how far social media takes us in terms of influencing the people who use it –it could lead to results that show how people who are more involved and who use it more often are more likely to be influenced by it. This would have implications for the following generations since they tend to be more avid Facebook users; eventually, the groups that influence us may evolve to reflect this. Also interesting is the implication that we can use Facebook as a medium for value and belief creation.

    My question to our professors is, do you think that Facebook or other social media sites will ever be as an effective medium for value and belief creation as our family and friends? And how have you used this knowledge to your advantage?

    2. In my own life, I see the Dukie’s version of social proof: before coming to Duke, investment banking and consulting were not on my radar. I always saw myself in a field that reflected the humanities, and, more likely, not a conventional career choice either. However, in the spring of my Junior year, all my friends, acquaintances, etc. flung themselves into going to meetings, mock interviews, and the whole sha-bang involving these two career paths. And they drowned me in the positives of these careers: fast-paced, status, money, travel. Which were the things a Dukie cares about, they’d tell me. Getting an internship at one of the top ibanks or consulting firms was met with awe and praise. And it seemed to me at the time that everyone fell under their spell. So, even though I had no foresight going into it, I allowed myself to be swept up in it. Social proof at its finest; I was striving and competing to be apart of a culture that I didn’t even know the first thing about. Since then, I’ve realized the ibanking and consulting thing isn’t as pervasive as I originally thought, but it’s representative of ideas about utility and jobs that is pervasive in society. So I’m kind of trying to not let the social proofs get to me as I pursue other careers and goals.

  15. 1a) Unfortunately, I have yet to watch the full movie, Pulp Fiction. Something I may do over spring break. I thought the film was very surprising and violent. I think I knew he would get shot (from memes/his pointing the gun back) but the blood and sudden-ness of it threw me off. I’m not really sure what this clip has to do in relation to critical social consequences, but hopefully will see after class.

    1b – 2) I read the NYT article about tenting and reread the classic short story, “Emperor’s New Clothes.” As a student that has tented 2 out of 3 years so far, I can agree that tenting is definitely something now that is ingrained within Duke culture and as some professor mentioned, doing away with this tradition would be blasphemous. I’m not sure if the article is necessarily criticizing the profit side of college athletics, but I think both what Duke and its students are doing are examples of herd mentality. Duke is following other colleges that have already capitalized monetarily through the athletic programs. Also, I think the majority of the students coming in are not die-hard Duke fans, but in a basketball-crazy school, it’s hard to go without becoming at least a little crazie.
    Q: Herd mentality has a negative connotation, implying that we don’t really think for ourselves and follow a crowd. Do you think this is a deserved negative view?

    1b – 3) Mean Girls is an amazing movie, not only due to the comedic story plot, but also the relatability of the movie. As long as you weren’t home-schooled, there were definitely cliches and a hierarchy of athletic, smart, good-looking people (like me.. lol) on top and different levels of coolness as is the case in the movie.
    In terms of value and belief creation, I think the stereotypes not only are labeled on us, but once we are labeled as something, we tend to fit that role, whether we like it or not. If a girl is always called skinny, she is more likely to have more pressure to stay skinny and worry about her weight. I actually wrote one of my college essays on this.
    It asked to respond to a quote: “Stereotyped beliefs have the power to become self-fulfilling prophecies for behavior.”
    I think this is really true and can have both positive and negative effects, depending on the stereotype.
    Q: Other friends, our parents, and media portrayal, what are other social factors that contribute to value and belief creation?

    1b – 4) I read Brave New World in high school and it was one of my more liked novels. I thought it was an interesting complement/twist to George Orwell’s more famous 1984. In both novels, the population really have no idea how much they are controlled by the what others may think. As an outsider, it is clear to Bernard the issues with this style of community, yet even as he tries to enlighten Lenina, she is scared of his individual ideas.
    Q: In BNW, Lenina actively rejects the new ideas that Bernard voices, even crying when he talks about such things. Do you think we can be blind to how social proof influences us. When our friends try to get us to do something, it is obvious that it is social proof, but what other aspects are we not aware of that fall under this category?

    2) I see social life in my life in all aspects, whether friends are trying to convince me to come to the library on weeknights, or go watch a basketball game, or hang out and party. However, after doing the readings, I can see that there are probably aspects where I don’t even realize that I am being subjected to social proof. Like I mentioned, I don’t think social proof itself is negative, but rather what it is trying to accomplish determines its impact.

  16. bluedevil4life

    Category 1 (Critical Social Consequences)
    I have heard many good reviews on Pulp Fiction, however I have never gotten the chance to see it. John Travolta’s character shoots Phil LaMarr’s character in the head and shows no signs of remorsefulness. Considering that he just killed somebody he shows very little to no immediate shock and instead tries to blame the shooting on a “bump” in the road to Samuel L. Jacksons character’s driving. Travolta’s character struggles with taking responsibility for his actions, an integral part of social proof.

    Category 2 (Herd Mentality)
    I personally enjoyed reading The Emperor’s New Clothes again. The power of herd mentality always interests me. We see situations of this when someone used a big word that many people may not know but nobody wants to ask what it means out of fear of being seen as “dumb”. If the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes the emperor’s retinue and even the emperor himself were afraid of being seen as “unfit for office” unusually stupid” so they all lied that they could actually see the fine garments that the swindlers said they were making. This herd mentality enables the swindlers to finagle expensive cloth from the king. It took the fearlessness of a child to point out the fact that the clothes were in fact nonexistent. The interesting part was after everyone pointed out that the king was wearing no clothes he continued to walk as if he were wearing clothes. In the article A Tent City for Fun and Profit Bill Morris discusses Krzyzewskiville or K-Ville as it is known by many of the Duke students here. It brought forth a conundrum because the Duke Basketball team provides a great influx of income for the university it also detracts study time away from students. This brings forth the question of if it is needed. If you are an outsider walking by and seeing Duke Students in tents during inclement weather you would probably wonder what is wrong with the Duke students that tent. They can easily sleep in their warm beds and watch the game on television of even do the walk up line a few days before the game and still make it in. Such is the power of social proof. For most of the insiders that are tenting it is seen as a socially acceptable practice because of the notion that “everyone else is doing it so it must be right”. Furthermore, even though I have personally never tented I am thankful for the students that make this one of their priorities, they play a major role in our basketball team’s success and even a bigger role in adding to the notoriety of Cameron Indoor Stadium which in turn gives our university of “high academic standards” an added “athletic dimension thus adding to the diversity of experience at our great university.

    What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions on?

    What are your opinions on the way academics and the basketball program interact with each other? Do you feel that tenting is an experience that all students should have the opportunity to do if they choose to do so or is it a waste of time that could be better utilized?

    Category 3 (Value and Belief Creation)
    I got the opportunity to see the movie Mean Girls many years ago when I was a teen. I thought it was funny movie at the time and I currently think the same. It is a perpetuation of high school stereotypes. Regina is the archetypal popular high school girl on the cheerleading teams that all the guys are attracted to and all the girls want to be like but are secretly or in some cases ostensibly jealous of. However, part of Regina’s identity is created by those around her. This is evident in the Meet Regina George clip in which different high school students give their take on who Regina is with some people nearly deifying her. In The Politics of Girl World clip Rosalind Wiseman gives advice on the various issues teen girls go through and how parents can help the young women of their family remedy their issues. I thought her take on how to outsiders female cliques appear to be close-knit, supportive, and problem free when in fact that is not the case and in some cases especially with the popular female cliques they tend to involve a lot of drama. I have seen this in the case of one of my good female friends that used to be a part of a female clique for her first 2 years of college but got tired of all the drama and cut herself loose of the clique to gain more independence, less drama, and get to know various individuals on a personal level instead of just her clique.

    What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions on?

    Do you feel females go through more drama in their cliques than males? If so, why do you think so?

    Category 4
    I read the book Brave New World previously in high school. We ended up reading it in conjunction with 1984w which opened up a new scope on viewing the world at the time. After reading the excerpt from Brave New World I felt that initially I related more with Lenina because she was fun-loving and Bernard came across as reserved and more introverted but after reading through the whole excerpt I found that I have similarities with both characters. I can relate with the carefree, fun-loving Lenina but I can also relate with Bernard and his non-conformist ways and his belief in doing things his way until he finds a better way. This is evident by his reluctance to take the soma.

    What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions on?

    With there being so some parallels between our world and the Brave New World which world would you prefer to live in a why? What improvements do you feel could be made on each of the worlds?

    Overall Response:
    Social proof is ubiquitous in our lives on a day to day basis. This is evident in many instances, whether it is deciding to not get in a shorter line for a club because there is another club with a much longer line down the street or buying Sperry boat shoes because it appears everyone else is. An example is my little sister, her friends have a laptop and/ tablet and she does not. Furthermore, when she saw that I had both a laptop and tablet she asked my dad for one as well. She currently does not need one but because she saw that everyone else has one she felt the need to as well. I try to steer away from social proofs but after thinking about it I find that there are instances when I fall to them as well. An example would be when I go out. If I am in a major city that I am not familiar with many times I find myself going to the clubs that have the longer lines or asking a people throughout the day on their recommendations on things to do and then going to the destinations that are most popular.

    What questions do you have that you would like to hear Professors Ariely and Davidson discuss and offer their opinions on?

    We have seen that social proof is just as much an unconscious influencer as it can be a conscious motive. What are some ways that we can teach ourselves to overcome social proof—much like Bernard—and do what is right instead of what everyone else is doing?

  17. Category 1:
    The clip from Pulp Fiction is hilarious. Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite films; however, this clip has added a Seinfeld-esque laugh track added, which changes the mood of the scene completely. Although the scene is not necessarily morbid, in that blood and gore is not used to make a scene dramatic in Tarentino films, this clip’s message is distorted with the canned laughter. When watching this clip, I remembered a similar video in which someone added a laugh track to various Game of Thrones television episodes (Here’s the link of the video titled Game of Thrones as a Seinfeld sitcom: The creator of this video takes scenes that have a lot of tension, which is then diffused by the laughter added. I think that this link relates to social proof in that people do what others are doing—instead of being terrified that a man was just shot in the head accidentally, they laugh because they hear other people doing it.

    Category 2:
    I read the article “A Tent City for Fun and Profit” when various Duke students posted about in on their Facebooks in late February. I found that the article did have some valid points in that, yes, Duke has commercialized basketball. Do I think that the school is spending too much money on athletics instead of academics? Not really. I came to Duke because I wanted a great balance of academics, sports, and social life. I grew up being a fan of an SEC school, so obviously I wanted to have a school that had a lot of team spirit. I think that it is important to have sports teams at schools that students can rally around because it unites the whole campus, as well as current students with alumni. Any time that I meet a Duke alum, they conversation quickly turns to talking about the great win that the basketball team had or the great turnaround season that Duke football had. As far as herd mentality goes, I think that K-Ville has somewhat taken on that characteristic. But honestly, herd mentality is present in practically all sporting events, so I do not think that it is a bad thing.
    Question for Dan and Cathy: Do you think that the school has gone overboard on its spending on athletics? Or do you think that athletics are an important, integral part of a student’s experience?

    Category 3:
    After watching the Mean Girls videos, I would like to begin with a quote by Tina Fey in her book Bossypants:
    “But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”
    As depicted in the clips and by Fey, girls (and guys) have certain standards that are expected of them. Belief creation starts whenever the popular people or celebrities do something different (whether on purpose or accidentally) or when they look a certain way. Unfortunately, this is how value and belief creation occurs on school campuses in the United States, and people take that with them for the rest of their lives. This is how things are, and it is sad.
    Question for Dan and Cathy: Do you think that value and belief creation will always be dominated by the popular kids or by celebrities? Or do you envision a future where the majority of kids on campuses do whatever they want, not what they think everyone else is doing?

    Category 4:
    Brave New World is one of my favorite books of all time, and I was very happy to see that an excerpt was included for this section on Social Proof. I thought that the prompt before the reading itself was very interesting. After reading the passage, I do not know which character I am more of, Lenina or Bernard. I would like to say that I am a Bernard, doing what I believe in, rather than what everyone else is doing. However, I am not too sure if I would be able to detect that I am doing what I think is right, or just doing what everyone else is doing because it is incorporated into my thoughts and ideologies since birth. Can I adequately detect social proof? Ford willing!
    Question for Dan and Cathy: Would you say that you are more of a Lenina, or more of a Bernard?

    Overall Response:
    Since I am in a class called Psychology of Consumers currently, my examples for social proof in daily life drift to the advertisements that we see everyday. Any time that I see a commercial that boasts: “Over 10,000,000 people have subscribed to this product!” Or “Don’t be the one guy that doesn’t have the hot new phone/electronic device/consumer good!” These advertisements try to utilize the power of social proof in order to capture a larger range of users/buyers.

  18. (1) Critical social consequences:
    I was a bit confused by this video, as apparently were some of my peers? Perhaps because I hadn’t seen the video. I couldn’t’ see the direct correlation to the topic, but perhaps this was because I watched the video first and then read the other assigned readings.

    (2) Herd mentality:
    Let’s be real, tenting is weird. It’s a strange tradition, and the fact that we willingly sleep outside for weeks is something that other college students really struggle with understanding. But, it’s fun. How do we reconcile something that has a bad connotation (herd mentality) with the idea that sometimes the herd has the right idea? How do we as individuals determine whether the herd has the right idea or not? Are we even capable of that?

    (3) Value and belief creation:
    I was a bit skeptical about what the article said for two reasons. Firstly, the differences in response were either by 2% or by less than 1%. “By matching 6.3 million Facebook users to their public voting records, researchers also found that users who received the social message were more likely, albeit by less than 1 percent, to actually wind up in a voting booth than were those who received the informational message or no message.” The casual, “albeit by less than 1 percent” is actually incredibly relevant to how we view the results. The premise, in the absence of the statistics is very interesting. The use of social media has severely impacted our society. This can particularly be seen in how the DSG elections played out. One of my friends commented on how Facebook creates a situation in which our student government elections are a more a popularity contest than a battle of competency. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s an issue worth examining. This is particularly interesting when juxtaposed with the Mean Girls videos. We rarely see people mentioning that they voted for Obama because they are friends with him. But, let’s consider the fact that nationally, we vote by party. And at Duke, with groups endorsing certain candidates, it’s almost a similar situation in some ways… Are “democratic elections” just social competitions?

    (4) Failure to detect social proof:
    I think this is a really interesting social experiment. In one of my courses, we talked about how it’s not law that changes how people behave, it’s norms. Laws often work to create social norms, but fundamentally, what is important is the societal norms that we live by.
    How can we utilize this in a positive way? Peer pressure is a reality, so how do we spin something that generally has a negative connotation, in order to realize our own objectives in our society?
    Overall Response:
    I found these readings very interesting. The way that we are influenced by others is often something that is not self examined. What is interesting though, is the idea of whether not this is a bad or good thing? At Duke, we are surrounded by a lot of amazing men and women. Is it so wrong if we learn a lot about how to conduct ourselves from each other? Is that not why we are here?

    • Zanpanda, I think your discussion of the herd mentality brought up a really important idea. While the concept of “group think” often carries a bad connotation — perhaps rightfully so — it also is the way to shift paradigms in the right direction. Progress in society often comes by mobilizing group think in a new direction. It is both the cause of injustice and the way to bring about its solution. For example, racism was the result of an idea that was intrenched into — and justified by — our collective consciousness. But, it wasn’t until large movements of people began to point out its depravity that progress was made. A change in group think and in societies collective consciousness was necessary to addressing racism and changing convention. This begs a question; if group think is an unavoidable source of both good and bad, how can we channel it into a progressive force and keep it from being a source of stagnancy and depravity? It seems that group think is unavoidable, rather this discussion should focus on how group think can be promoted as a source of good.

  19. 1. Muzafer Sherif
    One thing that intrigues me is how the author defines “absolute judgment” as against a scale of reference that is set within certain norms and social contexts. I always thought about absolute judgment as what can be measured. But, after reading the article, I find out that absolute is actually a very relative term, since it is not definitive in the sense that some index is used to measure events or things, but rather a cultural circumstance that is based upon group consensus and pure norms.

    2. Duke Basketball
    I am interested in where the “norm” that we just learned from the first reading — in this case, private universities don’t do big sports — come from. I am not sure fitting it under herd mentally is a appropriate, since the term tends to have a negative connotation. But sports, as well as music, has the capacity to unite people, to give each individual the sense of a larger focus and meaning in life, that to a certain extent can be beautiful. To what extent are we really as radically individualistic as we’d like to believe? The notion of the self and self-self-conciousness was a very modern phenomenon. Even now in oriental cultures, people still think in terms of the collective. The interest of the individual to many western philosophers, such as Marx, can and should be submerged into a larger goal of human history.

    3. Mean Girls
    While it’s easy for us to find it funny, most teenage girls would understand the hardships of living in a girl culture. I recently watched the movie “the Virgin Suicides” and it reminds me of how arbitrary popularity is, and how dangerous when a self-contained belief collides with a larger, more contagious group culture. Furthermore, it is not just a fiction. Teenage girls suicide as a result of gossip, peer pressure is not non-existent in American society. Now I am just analyzing is with cold-hearted objectivity and aloofness as if people just put on this “herd mentality” and then become dumb, incapable of making rational judgments. I think the problem runs far deeper than that. It’s about the hardships in deconstructing an unhealthy cultural norm — whether and how, “the politics of girl world” can actually initiate a new, healthier cultural norm that does not make girl feel under appreciated, objectified, devalued.

    Is there such things as a “perfectly healthy culture”? If not, how do we try to make each individual feel as appreciated as possible? Or, should it (not) be the goal for our society?

    4. Brave New World
    A world where desires are satisfied immediately. Where everything is possible. Where people are completely free. It is a world of brutal numbness, of insensibility, of lack of authenticity. It is a world dangling in between the euphoria of the Dionysian unity and the isolation of the self — there seems to be a vacuum. It answers the question I just posed in the negative: there is no perfect world; the perfect world is miserable and pathetic, because human meaning lies in uncertainty, adventure, ups and downs.

    Does rejecting the brave new world implies the affirmation of a world of violence, poverty and starvation because the struggles against those “vices” feed into our sense of a meaningful self and a meaningful world? Do we have to embrace a world of Hobbesian war against all in order to appreciate Lockean values of property, liberty and happiness?

    I see social proof in the Greek culture at Duke, where many people criticize the lack of humaneness in it. Nonetheless, still participate and perpetuate the system.

  20. Category 1: Pulp Fiction
    This was an entertaining clip, obviously. My first reaction was, “WTF?” My second reaction was, “I don’t get it.” As in I’m not really sure how relevant it is to social proof. Given my confusion, I decided to scroll through the blog posts already up on the site to get an idea of what other people’s responses were. Since nobody else seemed to have a good explanation for its relevance to social proof either, I felt better. This in itself is social proof, which is kinda cool. So, if your purpose was to put up a video that would help us draw links to the subject at hand, I’d say this purpose has not been fulfilled. But, if your purpose was to confuse us and create a social experiment in which nobody really understands the assignment, I’d say mission accomplished.

    Category 2: Herd Mentality

    I really liked re-reading the Emperor’s New Clothes because when I recall that story from my childhood, I only remembered that everyone pretends like they can see the clothes when he’s naked. I didn’t remember the made up rule that fools and people who were unfit for their jobs were unable to see the clothes. For some reason, I just thought they praised his clothes out of fear/respect for the Emperor. The fool explanation obviously makes more sense in the context of the story and adds a layer to the concept of social proof in the story. The main context in which social proof is the most powerful is one of uncertainty, when people are unsure of what to do and look to others for guidance rather than risk looking foolish. The Emperor’s New Clothes is a very literal representation of this phenomenon, which is part of what makes it so entertaining. It’s also amusing that it’s a little boy who is the first to pipe up and point out that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Then once he does, everyone else jumps on board. This suggests that the one person who starts that trend doesn’t even need to be particularly smart or brave – it could just be someone who happens not to be aware of the social norms.

    Question: What are some ways in which you can force yourself out of the mold if you find yourself conforming dangerously in a situation?

    Category 3: Value and belief creation

    One of my favorite clips from Mean Girls is the one where Regina wears her shirt out with two holes exposing her bra, and everyone else starts wearing their shirts like that too. All it takes is one person with a lot of confidence to move a whole crowd. Unfortunately in “girl world,” the values that have taken hold, such as emphasis on beauty, popularity, status, etc. are toxic and contribute to in-group fighting, sabotage, and manipulation. These values come from the tendency for both sexes to objectify women and place impossible standards of physical attractiveness on them. If women had the luxury of being regarded more for their intelligence and success rather than their sex appeal, their value sets would be much more similar to that of men.

    Question: Do you think cattiness and in-group fighting between females will lessen as women continue to strive for greater power in the workforce?

    Category 4: Failure to detect social proof

    I haven’t read Brave New World before, though I have always wanted to. I’ve read several other books that deal with Utopian societies, each one describing a different kind of creepy world. When I read a story like this and think, how can she not notice how creepy the world she lives in is? I always catch myself and think…what if I’m not noticing how creepy the world I live in is? It’s like in The Matrix – how the whole world as we know it could all actually be some kind of mechanism that someone else is manipulating. The question at the beginning of the excerpt asks, “Which character are you most like?” It’s obviously easy for us to answer that we are like Bernard. We think for ourselves! We want to be free! We enjoy non-social activities some times! But we could very easily be just like Lenina. After all, she’s just a typical citizen. She fits in her world. She’s accepted. And in our world, isn’t that what we strive for?

    Question: What do you think is the biggest “freedom” we are missing out on by conforming to social norms?

    2) Overall Response:

    Where do I see social proof in my own life? Pretty much everywhere….a better question would be where I don’t see social proof. Duke Basketball is a pretty good example. I can’t think of any other reason besides social proof that forced me to sleep outside…in the cold…for 4 weeks. Twice.

  21. Category 1: Critical Social Consequences

    Like Batman, I find that the question “Am I really laughing at this?” comes to mind when I view this scene. As long as others are laughing, it seems funny. In the absence of their laughter, however, the humor of the scene’s cartoonish qualities would be outweighed by my horror at Vincent Vega’s carelessness. I would be inclined to sympathize with the victim, to regard the bad cop as a monster. My first inclination is not to laugh. But the laughter of others in the audience has an alluring quality: it excuses me from a moral obligation to feel disgust towards the homicide and makes it socially acceptable to acknowledge the humor in the scene.

    Of course, this is exactly the sort of reactionary, cursory, purely emotional dilemma that Tarantino wants his audience to grapple with while their eyes are glued to the screen. He wants us to laugh at something un-laughable. But perhaps the irony of the scene runs deeper than feeling humor towards murder. The scene comes as such a shock that we don’t have much time to think about it. After a moment of upbeat conversation set to upbeat music, a window is smeared in ketchup-red blood. Then, we laugh. We might even laugh some more. And a few seconds later, Tarantino cuts to the next scene. It all happens so quickly that we don’t have time to reflect on the consequences of the homicide. Our responses are flashes of emotion. While we are along on Tarantino’s wild ride of special effects and artful editing, we do not wonder beyond what silly way the characters will deal with this silly problem. We hardly have time to appreciate the significance of the crime we just witnessed. Everything is joke—but is the joke on us? What will become of us if we not only laugh at immoral acts, but worse, fail to realize we are doing so? How can we react to a scene like this in more insightful ways than debating whether we should feel good or bad in response?

    Category 2: Herd Mentality

    The “autokinetic movement” study by Muzafer Sherif, the moral of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and the history of tenting at Duke are all examples of how ambiguous social situations breed social proof. Like the participants in Sherif’s study who conformed to a mean distance specific to their group when asked to identify the distance a non-moving light seemed to move, the subjects in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale deny the reality that the fabric does not exist and invent compliments on its exquisite make. At Duke, tenting started in 1986 when several students decided to sleep outside in order to be the first to get their tickets; now, “tenting” has become “part of the Duke brand and undergraduate experience,” according to sports anthropologist Orin Stern. Even those who are disinterested in basketball participate in tenting because it is a social norm, because there is an unarticulated social pressure to do so. The recent New York Times article by Bill Morris suggests that this social practice persists in the face of serious academic consequences for the school:

    We’ve reached the point where big-time intercollegiate athletics is undermining the integrity of our institutions, diverting presidents and institutions from their main purpose,” William E. Kirwan, the chancellor of the University of Maryland system and a co-director of the commission, said last year.

    What Sherif’s study did not show was the resilience of social proof—whether it would continue to guide behavior against competing factors. The movement of the light was so ambiguous, and the setting was so remote from real life, that there was no significant reason not to conform. Anderson’s tale illustrates how social proof can defy obvious visual proof, the emperor’s nudity—but did not aim to validate this empirically or definitively. K-ville is a close-to-home (if not home!) example of just how powerful social proof can be.

    QUESTIONS: In what kinds of situations does social proof become the factor that guides behavior? What are examples of this from literature and social science?

    Category 3: Value and Belief Creation

    Growing up, it seems to be a reasonably ubiquitous experience (i.e., for both girls and boys) that the popular behavior is the desirable or optimal behavior. In Mean Girls, each clique of girls developed its own social standards. These were articulated rules in Regina’s clique, but for others was shown rather than told in clothing, club memberships, speech styles, etc. Personally, I remember noticing how norms were shaped by cliques when I switched schools between eighth and ninth grade. In eighth grade, when I played volleyball and thought of myself as a tomboy, I hung out with girls who wore t-shirts and jeans every day, never wore make-up, and seemed to rank themselves by their athletic ability on the court. In high school, by contrast, I became friends with a group of girls that girlier and also more academically oriented, putting stock in appearance and smarts rather than athletics. (It’s possible for teenage girls to care about intelligence, too!) Like Cady, I experienced a change in my values–the types of skills I wanted to hone and excel at–when I changed schools. This is also what happened to Nick Carraway when he moved into Jay Gatsby’s neighborhood, becoming more of a social creature than he had been previously.

    QUESTIONS: The change in values and beliefs that follows from a change in social setting shows how dependent our values and beliefs are on the people we are surrounded by. Can the relationship also go the other way? Can a newcomer change the values and beliefs of the community he or she is entering? If so, how?

    Category 4: Failure to Detect Social Proof

    I found the chapter from Huxley’s Brave New World to be particularly disturbing and enlightening. To Lenina, and the majority of citizens in this strange futuristic dystopia, Bernard’s wish to be alone is unthinkable. Is our modern society trending this way—towards dependence on social bonds and constructs, as opposed to self reliance?

    With the advent of the Internet, it seems that this could easily become our reality. Our information comes from sources that are trusted and widely accepted as a result of social proof. What makes Wikipedia so reliable as a source of information is the number of contributors, preventing its content from leaning too far towards any one radical opinion. The blogs and online newspapers I read to find out about current events are the ones that have been endorsed by the most followers. On Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, we judge the legitimacy of a page, tweet, or video clip by its number of likes, retweets, or thumbs up. Oddly, we believe that the popular opinion is a reasonable judge of accuracy and worth. The reality is that people do not always follow what is best—we follow the loudest, the most powerful, or simply the one who came before us.

    QUESTIONS: Does popular opinion tend to accurately judge the truth of information (e.g., on Wikipedia) and the value of art (e.g., on YouTube)? Or would we be better off trusting “expert sources” (e.g., the New York Times)?

    Overall Response

    One simple but often overlooked example of social proof on Duke’s campus is the footpaths we tread “outside the lines” of sidewalks and walkways. For instance, on the walk from Craven to Keohane, there is a sharp corner in the sidewalk that someone decided was too far out of the way to turn; someone at some point cut the corner through the dirt. Others followed, perhaps feeling as lazy as the first to cut, or perhaps seeing the footprints and unconsciously giving in to a tendency to follow others. Eventually, the path was cut deep in the mud, and the landscapers gave in to the opinion students expressed by their footprints, paving it over with bricks. Certainly, there are more complex and significant examples of social proof on campus to be found (e.g., tenting, Greek life, party dynamics, and choice of major). What I appreciate about this example is how I failed to notice it at all until I learned about social proof, when I realized that we both figuratively and literally follow in each others footsteps all the time!

  22. Category 1
    Pretty sure my reaction was similar to everyone else’s: what in the world? It was too ridiculous to take seriously, the blood was excessive to the point of comedy, and the laugh track didn’t help either. Not sure how the content itself relates to social proof; the explanations offered all seemed like stretches to me.

    Category 2
    I wonder how much the herd mentality present in the Emperor’s New Clothes relates to certain concepts we’ve studied earlier, like attention blindness, defaults, and obedience. It reminds me especially of the Asch conformity experiments as well, which is a powerful and somewhat scary example of what social conformity can do to us–make us doubt what should be among our most epistemically secure beliefs. The similar principles underlie the Goldstein hotel towels experiments as well.

    Question: Will learning what the consequences of social rejection are help alleviate social conformity or worsen it?

    Category 3
    The strength of social networking reminds me of the six degrees of separation, a theory that states that everyone is six or fewer steps away from everyone else in the world by way of friends of friends. At a campus like Duke, I would be surprised if everyone was connected by more than three steps. With such a tightly-knit network, I wonder if the impact of social media in election campaigning (its usage increases with each year’s campaigns) is greater because of friends of friends can probably already reach the majority of campus, or if it is lessened because personal social interaction can dilute the online power.

    Question: Student survey fatigue is a well-documented phenomenon; are social media promotions and campaigns doomed to end up the same way? If not, what makes them different?

    Category 4
    Not sure why, but the Brave New World excerpt reminded me of the movie Gattaca, a science fiction film in which society has technology that allows parents to choose the perfect genes for their children; this results in a class-based society where children born the “natural” way were lower-class citizens. This has parallels with the class system in Brave New World. Interestingly, the most privileged (Bernard in Brave New World, Jerome in Gattaca) both are discontent, in their own ways, with the societal structure. In a way, both of those societal structures ends up dehumanizing their citizens.

    Question: What kinds of people does it take to question the societal structure and change the status quo? What are some literary examples of characters that successfully challenged herd behavior? Is the change that resulted simply another form of social proof?

    Overall Response
    Embedded in the idea of social proof is kind of the notion that well, nobody really knows what they’re doing. Sometimes I have a sneaking suspicion that college is like that. There’s institutional, cultural, and social pressure to figure things out quickly, and in our mad scramble to look like we’re not lost, maybe we latch on to something that fundamentally has lots of flaws. I wonder if that’s how companies, grad schools, recruiters, etc. exploit the insecurities of new hordes of direction-seeking graduates every year.

    • Hi Aether –

      I enjoyed reading your comments about six degrees of separation. I think that Duke students are masters of networking- not only within our community, but more notably out in the professional world. This is most overt by glancing at the Duke network on LinkedIn. Duke people are everywhere! And I think there is a link between your thoughts on our network and the fact that none of us know what we are doing. I think it is a byproduct of our network. Take the internship or full time job application hunt, for example. All of the sudden people start talking about “e-recruiting”, “case studies” and “Oh I know so and so who works at Goldman Sachs.” We react to this and many of us start applying to the same jobs and attending the same workshops as everyone else, but we seldom ask ourselves why or whether these comparative decisions are making us individually happy. To me it is all rooted in the network: the latest activity happening among the people closest to us in the duke (micro) network influence our immediate social decisions in the present and narrow our choices of “direction” in the macro network.

  23. Category 1-
    My first reaction was, “what the hello my God he shot him.” I then went back and replayed the clip, digesting the driver’s frustration and Travolta’s confusion at his railing against the status quo. The key moment was when Travolta asked the fellow in the back seat what he thought- Travolta clearly wanted reinforcement, he assumed that his friend would be an echo chamber. The guy in the back seat attempted diplomacy, which accomplished nothing and Travolta would have rejected his advice if he disagreed; it literally took his death to change the topic of conversation and make progress. That says a lot about what it takes to get rid of stubbornness and pointlessness.
    Professor’s Dan and Cathy- How do we get rid of our echo chambers and actually take guidance from the person in the back seat, who has the best view because he can see more mirrors.

    Category 2-
    Autokinetic movement is almost the opposite of attention blindness. Instead of failing to see what is right before our eyes, we see things that don’t exist because of suggestion. The Emperor’s New Clothes also raised a similar problem. We fear to look stupid, to disrupt authority, and to go against social norms and defaults. In the end, we are naked in foolishness and it takes those who a child unconditioned to norms to awaken society. Herd mentality is particularly interesting in an era when ideas flow rapidly and culture is no longer diffused across a membrane but flooding from a faucet. My elder sister is in Egypt, and she’s spent time telling me about the nonsensical English shirts people wear. I know I’ve laughed at jokes I didn’t completely understand, and a scarily large number of my opinions on pop culture come verbatim from reviews and friends. To put it simply, we don’t think about putting our finger up to the light to see if the light is really moving both because acceptance is easier, and because the thought just doesn’t occur to us. In Islamic theology, there is an idea called Taqlid- it is the questioning of all beliefs a person adopts simply because their forefathers held them. Descartes was at one point so concerned about corruptions in his thoughts due to society that he systematically destroyed his every notion and sought to reformulate and re-understand everything from his own unique prism. One of the more optimistic points I took from the autokinetic movement reading was the natural diversity in distance perception of light prior to forming a group. Every answer, accept zero movement, was wrong, but diversity on these issues, if preserved, creates incredible insight. The intense transfer of ideas in today’s world is coupled with permanent preservation, which gives me hope.
    Do humans innately have a tendency to adopt frameworks? How do we preserve our own prism of the world without going to Descartes’ extreme?

    Category 3-
    I commented on value and belief creation a bit under category 2. What I think is powerful here is the double power principle of social pressure’s creation of said values and beliefs. We can use it to get out the vote on one hand, or prop up false (and idiotic/arrogant) teenage idols. Assuming that there is no true tabula rasa, we have to make due with outside influences. Selectivity is important here. When Christianity spread to Western Europe, it denounced paganism vehemently, but accepted mythical narratives readily after adding its own alterations. For example, Beowulf was Christianized, the witch, dragon, etc. were made symbols for satan, and the story which was already universal became particular to native traditions and Christian sentimentalities. Last weekend, Dr. Sherman Jackson (from USC) commented on Islam’s mixing of ideas in the western world, particularly modern western translations of Al-Rahman (one of God’s names usually understood as the compassionate) as the redeemer which suggests a salvation-mentality. From what I understood of his conclusion, strict lines of exchange shouldn’t always be drawn, rather, social awareness of these phenomenon set things straight.
    How do we maintain awareness and formulate positive social norms?

    Category 4-
    Brave New World is an old favorite of mine. It seems to me that naturally beig different enables us to detect social proof most effectiently. This means that minority communities are likely the impetus for social change, which we have seen countless times in American history. Anthropolgy relies heavily on the outside observers; while the brave new world example means that such an observer would be helpful to the locals in stimulating change, it would not, however, bring a true understanding to other peoples; a participant-observer model creates more appropriate coherence.
    How do we make ourselves the other?

    Overall response:
    I sort of see social proof right here in our blog posts. This class is a completely new model of education, but we’ve already sunk into our own style of formatting blog posts. However, because this class has made us aware of these things, groups have made conscious efforts to mix things up (you guys this week have done an awesome job!)

  24. 1. I’ve seen three of Tarantino’s film (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained ,and Inglorious Bastards): and the idea of social proof seems to be ingrained into the backdrop of all three. Normative behaviors in the eras in which he chooses to set his movies (slaverly, world war 3) are horrific and inhumane but his plot lines provide a cathartic relief because the Machiavellian heroes have a remarkable clairvoyance to slice through moral ambiguity of the time in pursuit of justice.
    Question: To what degree do you believe that movie directors like Tarantino have an obligation to limit on-screen violence for fear that social proofing has led/will lead to greater incidence of violence in society?
    2. I’m not a Basketball fan, I wasn’t when I came to Duke and I’m not one now. So I was as surprised as Brodhead at the number of students at Duke that enrolled for our basketball program and equally dismayed by the influx of time, energy, and resources into Duke’s Sports program. I’ve justified the program the way I’ve justified the monarchy- they both serve to bring enormous amounts of money, boost rankings, and unite the community. But over the years, I’ve learned to participate in the culture and even gave into tenting in order to avoid inciting the aghast of my peers. This article makes me wonder how homogenizing our student population under one uniform culture stifles their ability to choose creative and ingenious academic and professional pursuits. Is the reason why most students at Duke end up like myself, buying into the basketball culture, the same reason why most of us choose established career tracks (med school, law school, consulting) over entrepreneurial endeavors. Perhaps encouraging diversity at Duke needs to be beyond recruiting for minority races, we also need to allow for students to pursue alternative social cultures rather than force-feeding a single image of the ideal Duke student.
    Question: Does the Basketball culture at Duke result in any positive social proofing?
    3. The Facebook post underlines how social media multiplies the effect of social proofing, a consequence that can be channeled for positive social messaging such as political advocacy. The unrest in Egypt including the staged sit-ins in Tahrir Square was largely propelled by Twitter, and that’s far from the only example of recent social movements that have used social media as critical organizing tools: others include the Delhi Rape Protests, Occupy Movements
    (#Occupy) and Arab Spring unrest. Keeping in mind that Facebook pages are often highly curated pages that selectively reflect the actions, successes, and emotions of users- the phenomena of social proofing can bring with it negative consequences. Studies have shown that the perceived socialness and success of peers can bring greater levels of anxiety and depression.
    Question: In what ways can Facebook and social media encourage non-conformity?
    4. Muzaraf’s article on social factors on perception makes Prof. Davidson’s call for diversity in the work place and our discussions on attention-blindness even more pressing. It also reminds of a recent class discussion in my Psychology class about the somewhat reality of first-world diseases. Take PTSD for example, there is some evidence pointing to the fact that PTSD as we believe it is experienced is somewhat limited to the Western world. This is not to say that PTSD does not exist in middle and low-income countries but people offer perceive their triggers and traumas in inherently different ways based on their cultural background allowing for PTSD symptoms to manifest itself in completely different ways.
    Question: How can we account for our biased point of reference in conducting international research?
    Overall Response:
    I grew up bi-continental and I often prided myself in ability to morph according to local cultural norms which differed greatly between the affluent Republican suburbs where I attended school to the rural third-world village where I was born and spent much of summers. My changes in behavior, attire, and accent as I shuttled from one to the other were more a result of social proofing than conscientious changes than I realized or liked to believe. As the Sharif article notes, I essentially had two reference points that justified my disparate behavior. When I was 17 however I went through a very traumatic experience after which I made a very conscious, reactionary decision to fasten my values. In previous discussions, we’ve noted that those who often resist often derive their sense of being from their originality rather than their ability to fit. It seems it was exactly my choice to not fit in and self-imposed disconnection from my peers as a result of trauma that has had the unintended result of allowing me to resist social proofing to a greater degree than many of friends at Duke.

    • bluedevil4life

      I think that we should be more appreciative of the basketball program here at Duke. Some students do invest plenty of time, energy and resources into the program. Those that do, do so because it is a priority for them. Aside from bringing in money it also boosts applicant’s attraction towards the university and gives our school an added dimension that few top tier schools have. One of the earlier bloggers wrote about how the success of the basketball program is annoying because people associate the school as a basketball school. I think that people already know that Duke is a top tier university but point out that it is a basketball school because of the success of the program. Having a top basketball program doesn’t necessarily hurt the academic reputation of the program or mean that we are getting any less of an education. Duke still gives student the opportunity to receive a great education even if some people may see it as a “basketball school”.

  25. Category 1:

    Pulp fiction was my first Tarantino movies, which lead to a very lengthy discussion with my best friend. In relation to social proof and the clip in specific, it reflects in an incredibly crude way how an act as heinous as murdered can be down played, to such level that it seems equivalent to someone spilling a milkshake in the car instead of just blowing someone’s head off, by the interaction between the two characters. The fact that they both perceive this act as a matter of inconvenience reinforces their behavior and how they react to the situation. It is interesting to think what would be Travolta’s character’s reaction if he had been alone in the car. Or if he would have been with another character that did not have the same social perception of murder as he did

    Category 2:

    I loved The Emperor’s New Clothes I had actually never read it. It is such an interesting example of hear mentality, it shows the extent to which people can do something just because everyone else is doing it. There is a large spectrum of heard mentality from everyday life examples like Professor Ariley in his behavioral economics class talking nonsense and waiting to see if anyone would correct him (no one did) to the shocking case of Kitty Genovese who was stabbed to death while her neighbors did nothing to intervene. This non-reaction from groups of people really worries me. In these two examples we see a 500+ classroom of Duke students who are considered high-caliber, intelligent students yet no one spoke a word and a failure of human empathy to react to such a brutal act. It also worried me that a lot of people tend to follow heard mentality when it is based on misconceptions or erroneous facts; it worries me to think to what extent they will follow this. In a very trivial example we see Duke tenting where students who pay high tuition, have their rooms, have work and classes to attend, risk getting sick and their academic standing to watch a game; why? Because it is what Duke students (basketball fans) do.
    Questions for Professors: What are the dangers of heard mentality? Are they avoidable?

    Category 3:

    I love Mean Girls I am kind of embarrassed to admit how many times I have seen them. I had never seen the clip of the “The Politics of Girl World”, which is an incredibly interesting explanation of the movie and girl dynamics in high school. When looking at dynamics in children and adolescents it is really interesting to see that forming social hierarchies is innate in human nature. Tom Boyle did a study where he found out that kindergarten children form social hierarchies within weeks of entering a new social group. Therefore these social hierarchies, which we see clearly in Mean Girls, are reproduced throughout life. As much as these are satirized in the movie, it is quite shocking the levels that high school students will go to belong to a certain social group, they even act in ways that in any other setting they would consider wrong. The thing as much as people deny it this kind of social stratification and need to belong does not stay in high school you can see it in college with Greek life, living communities, academic/social clubs, athletics… people adapt to the one they belong too. I have always found puzzling why Duke students are so adamant about wearing clothes that indicate their affiliation to any dorm, sorority, club, event, ideology… I have never really understood this need to display who you are and what group, stereotype you are associated with.

    Question for Professors: There are a lot of complains when it comes to using stereotypes as a heuristic for judging people, however many follow the stereotype description literally. Why is it that this happens?

    Category 4:
    I have never read the book but in the excerpt of a Brave New World you can see an association with failure of detecting social proof. The idea of taking “soma” to be happy when they are not, this reminds me of the concept of ignorance is bliss. We see this lot of heard mentality and just following the crowd, you don’t question why you are doing what your doing, you do it because everyone does it. For me this classifies as ignorance, if you don’t question the world around you and live superficially there is a high probability you will be happy. Here we see that the characters do not really realize the extent there are under the Controller’s influence. When Bernard seems to start grasping the idea that they might just be following someone else’s plan, his reaction (pushed by Lenina) is to take a soma and stop thinking. This seems to point to a claim that life under this heard mentality is easier and happier than trying to deter from it, subconsciously Bernard as much as he does not agree with it would rather remain in the blissful ignorance.

    Question for Professors: What are the advantages and disadvantages of not recognizing social proof for an individual?

    Overall Response:

    I have definitely been influenced by social proof throughout my life. I think it is impossible not to given that we are all social beings and we have this need to belong, which leads us to follow trends, act certain ways, eat a certain places… I think in the area I have been most influenced is with the whole ‘what you should do’ concept. What I mean by this is that whenever you classify yourself weather it is as a woman, a Duke student, a person with interest in behavioral economics, a sorority girl, a soccer player… all of these classifications (everyone has more than one) come with an expected behavior. Currently, as a senior at Duke I have been lead to believe that my two options are: graduate school or finance/consulting jobs, and it is what I have been doing not really thinking what I want to do but what everyone is doing and what everyone thinks I should do.

  26. GROUP 6– sorry posted this to the homepage last Friday! Here it is again:

    1)I am a huge Tarantino fan. He penetrates ordinary expectations about social interactions using violent scenes such as this example from Pulp Fiction featuring Vincent and Marvin.The fact that Vincent is completely numb in his reaction to accidentally shooting him in the face solidifies the absence of social norms. This is also evident in Tarantino’s film inglorious bastards, which is controversial for portraying a playful and violent reimagination of the holocaust. Tarantino’s satirization of morality and social codes is certainly his hallmark, although I can’t say whether I find his films that compelling…

    2)A tent city for fun and profit
    I think that K-ville and tenting is one of the most impressive aspects of Duke student culture. It shows the lengths students are willing to take to support their team, and it shows a commitment to maintaining camaraderie year after year. And from and architectural perspective, the tents are impressively designed. But this article thinks about how the tenting and craziness is all part of a larger money making machine for Duke, which is true. The duke basketball team, coach k, the culture is all integral to maintaining dukes brand equity. I think the fact that some professors are unsupportive of this culture is important to the conversation. Completing labs and assignments in a cold tent with spotty wifi wasn’t part of the academic plan set out for us upon acceptance to Duke. I have never tented. I understand the “herd mentality”, but I’m not a part of that herd. Some friends of mine recently acknowledges that the protocols for walk up line are arguably as bad as hazing. Specific time checks, subjection to cold conditions. When it comes to this social tradition at Duke, I see the good and the bad after reading this article.

    Question: do you think that the tenting policies and regulations could be considered hazing? Should students have to camp out in cold conditions?

    3) Facebook Article
    I took Cybernetworks and the Global Village at duke with professor Lin and learned a great deal about strong ties vs. weak or loose ties within a social network. The majority of our network is comprised of loose ties, which can still affect us with messaging. To me the most compelling aspect of the article was that friendships in real life only account for about 7 percent of the ties on Facebook, but are responsible for 100 percent of the effect of the message spreading through the network. I suppose the idea is that when the messaging is passed through our close ties, we are more inclined to listen and act on the content than if it were relayed by a weak tie. Either way, political messaging on Facebook is introducing a paradigm shirt for how candidates engage the electorate. I can see how this relates to social proof. If our close friends declare that they voted for X candidate, will we be inclined to do so too?

    Question: I’ve read literature on e-democracy. studies show that there is signifcant activity in Europe, and that there is a direct correlation between high Internet rates and voter engagement. In Italy, for example, voters have turned to social media for e-petitions and to promote strong voter turnouts during elections. How do you think the proliferation of Internet access will change elections globally? Will we be able to cast ballots on the web?

    4) The odd one helps us think about an entirely different makeup of social order. I found the layout of the rules in the introduction to be the most intriguing component of the piece. For example, Huxley writes “There is no such an institute as a family, people are supposed to change partners as often as they can .” This suggests a radical shift from social norms as we know them, in that monogamy and family institutions are accepted in our society. I also think that his theory of reducing people to Alphas (intelligent ones)and Epsilons (those who do the dirty work) is a unique way of looking at social order. Perhaps it is a social commentary on white collar vs blue collar workers in our society.

    Overall response:
    I think these readings and video were well selected. I felt myself thinking about the various ways in which social norms are challenged or, in the case of Facebook political activity, perpetuated. As far as my thoughts on social proof, I think that we are constantly influenced by our peers, family and community. It is hard to not follow the herd or isolate yourself from the pack. I think that social proof accounts for so much of our behavior – our need to seek approval, our materialism, our fixation with social media and our online identities.

  27. I just noticed now that I posted my comment to the wrong part of the blog. Please note that this was submitted before the deadline (it’s still on the blog’s home page), however I am re-posting it here for your convenience.

    1) A) I had to watch the clip a couple of times before I understood what exactly was going on. I mean, I followed the shooting part while watching it the first time, but it was so surprising that I had to re-watch the beginning conversation. I’ve never seen Pulp Fiction before, so the shooting was completely unexpected. The first time I didn’t even see Travolta point the gun, but upon watching the clip the second time I caught more details. What surprised me about this clip was how calmly each Travolta and Samuel Jackson’s characters reacted to the accident, as if it were some other minor problem. Jackson matter-of-factly calls up his partner to cover up the crime, without any delay. These are very strange reactions, especially since the killing is so graphic and unpredicted.

    B) Category 2 – Herd mentality:

    I remember watching an animated version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as a child and thinking how ridiculous the whole story was. I was, perhaps, more likely to act like the child who pointed out that the emperor was naked, rather than one of the ministers who pretended there was a garment, afraid of looking stupid if I did not. Reading this story again as a young adult, I realize how much herd mentality persists in our lives. Herd mentality can be used to explain tenting for the Duke-UNC game, where students sacrifice a month of sleep and comfort to attend a single, 2-hour basketball game. Maybe it’s because I attended an arts high school where there was no athletic team spirit, but I never really understood tenting. I originally wanted to tent for the experience. Once I saw what the experience entailed, however, I changed my mind. From the essay “A Tent City for Fun and Profit”, I learned that , herd mentality comes at a cost besides the cold and sleepless nights: “At colleges with teams in the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament, library patrons view 6 percent fewer articles a day as long as the team is in the tournament; on the day immediately after a team wins in an upset or a close game, library use plunges by 19 percent.” This figure was the most astonishing to me, although I realize it shouldn’t have been so surprising. After all, the cost of the Emperor’s herd mentality was that he paid the people who robbed him and paraded naked before his people.

    QUESTION: Are there any ways to stop herd mentality? Biologically and psychologically, why does herd mentality persist in humans?

    Category 3 – Value and belief creation:

    In each fiction example in this category, the characters behave in a world with society-driven values.

    Perhaps one of the best scenes in the entire movie, the clip from “Mean Girls” that introduces Regina George depicts exactly how I imagine social proof. In Mean Girls, the characters function according to the self-imposed rules of the most social value-driven environment: high school. Another clip from the movie, not provided in the links, that I think is worth mentioning is the scene where Lindsay Lohan’s character learns about the cliques of high school based on where they sit in the cafeteria, where students are mostly divided into social groups by external characteristics or interests. Cliques are perpetuated because students have come to believe over time that there are no alternatives to cliques; cliques become, in effect, a self-perpetuating default.

    On Facebook, we make posts that we think will get the most “Likes”, which we base on what is popular in our Newsfeed. Gardner’s article shows how social proof works even in online environments. Facebook creates values by showing us what our friends like, and suggesting pages based on what our friends like. Facebook, therefore, works as an instrument for value creation by making people’s activity more visible than ever before. As a result, there are infinitely more opportunities to gain the approval of our friends by posting things like “I voted!” or liking a comedian’s Facebook page.

    Question: How do we overcome the types of behaviors that result from these types of self-created value-driven environments? Are these conventions necessarily all bad?

    Category 4: Failure to detect social proof

    In the Brave New World example I think there are actually two instances of failing to detect social proof. First, there’s Bernard, who recognizes that there is no freedom in his society, yet fails to conform to society (and therefore ignores social proof theory). And then there’s Lenina and everyone else who fail to recognize the social proof they create. The study “Normative Social Influence is Underdetected” shows how this is possible: we underestimate the effect of social influence on our behaviors. In Brave New World, everyone except Bernard is affected by strong social influences. Because they are conditioned to function in their particular society, they live blind to the very norms they follow.

    Both literature and social science research show that it is difficult to detect social proof, especially upon introspection. How then, do we go about detecting social proof when we are the Leninas in our environment? Why is there such a stigma against the Bernards, or “odd ones”?

    2) In my own life, social proof is everywhere. The best example, however, occurred one day right after our class. In one of the first weeks of the semester, everyone exited Smith and waited at the Smith Warehouse bus stop where the buses were going to west. Since I saw everyone waiting there, I assumed that someone had checked Transloc and there must be a C-1-5 bus coming soon. After waiting for five minutes and no bus had not yet come, I finally checked my phone, and saw that there was no bus nearby. One person (or a group of people) had merely gathered at the bus stop and everyone else assumed that the crowd had some additional wisdom. Instead, we all ended up waiting for quite some time.

  28. I apologize for my confusion about the deadline!

    The Pulp Fiction clip was very interesting in expressing one type of social proof. Because both characters played by Jackson and Travolta are so used to this type of brutal violence, they react extremely differently than I would envision two people to react to an accidental murder in the back of a car. Instead of being upset about the act of murdering the victim, Travolta simply excuses himself of the act by claiming it was an accident.
    The second part of the social proof readings about the herd mentality was very interesting to me. The article regarding K-ville and tenting for basketball games was particularly relevant. When the Duke professor pointed out that a private institution putting all of this excitement into sports rather than school was possibly a waste of energy was quite debatable. I would disagree with his statement because the passion for sports gives Duke the athletic atmosphere of a larger college. Coach K’s idea to “control the herd” has formed a very successful financial machine growing the basketball team program as well as the programs of all of Duke’s other sports. Because Duke is a private school, I think that this method used is extremely important to the building of Duke athletics.
    The Facebook article which discusses the impact the network has on peoples’ political minds was relatable. Because information is passed around so easily on Facebook, it makes it easy to share political opinions with friends and family. I have noticed myself voicing my own opinion by posting videos and articles. (Sometimes I have to be more careful about what I post.) When I saw the numbers of people Facebook impacts I was a little bit shocked but then realized it was really believable because of the power of shared information on the internet. Like Coach K, it is smart for people to take advantage of the herds and influence people through other people, because whether we like it or not, there are more followers out there than leaders.
    My question to Dan and Cathy would be, “What makes people follow rather than lead?”

    In my own life, I see many examples of social proof. Back to the Facebook example, I think a lot of my friends on facebook share many of the same ideas as I do politically, and it is a way for politicians to control voters over the internet. I know I was more eager to get out and vote after seeing many different forms of encouragement on the internet whether it be an advertisement, or a friend voicing their opinion.

  29. Once again, I am blown away by the depth and intelligence and real-word applications of these comments and responses. This is a brilliant and deep discussion. Many of these readings (such as the classic by Sheriff) are actually motivators in the pedagogy we are using in this class. There is an implicit theory of learning in this article (I make it explicit in Now You See It) and is part of several programs that I and others designed here at Duke and that Dan Ariely and I and the team of Assistant Instructors are using in this class. Familiarity, norms, strategic disruption of norms, applicability, and so forth, all historically and culturally determined, are part of the deep structure of learning we’re aiming at in this class and that you are achieving far beyond what I anticipated. THIS is why so many people are following. You exemplify what happens when you let students take the lead instead of following. “What makes people follow rather than lead?” is the last question on this list. Think about the traditional role of formal education in our society. It is certainly not set up to encourage originality, creativity, or leadership. That is why we have flipped this classroom and made it do cartwheels. You lead with your ideas for planning the course and you write publicly and to one another before either profs or the Assistant Instructors weigh in. And you interview us—not the other way around. And then remix the course. Think about the PEDAGOGY OF LEADERSHIP. Wherever you go, whatever you do, I hope you think back about this class and realize what a stunning reversal of roles happened here and how much you are leading now, working with others in a team to lead on very complex topics of note and importance throughout every aspect of life and work. Each visitor who comes here sees what you are talking about, on what level, with what kind of complexity and nuance, and is blown away. They find it hard to believe YOU are leading the discussion. Why? Pedagogy of leadership. Thanks for leading us in such exciting directions.

  30. This is a general response to a bunch of comments on the confusion regarding the Pulp Fiction clip. I couldn’t make it to class today so I’m not sure if its relationship to Social Proof was discussed but I’m wondering if by chance this was thrown in the readings for this week as a red herring… to see if we would try to come up with reasons for why it relates to social proof because the readings are supposed to relate to social proof.

    • Hi kanga,

      You are on to something with your suspicion regarding the Pulp Fiction clip. In fact, your first reaction — “why is there a laughing track on this clip?” — was remarkably spot on. The Social Proof group sent half the class, plus Dan, a version of the clip with an added laugh track. The other half, plus Cathy, received the original version. It turns out that students who watched the clip with the laugh track were more likely to comment on the (not so) comedic nature of the scene than students who did not. Generally speaking, for one-camera shows that use a laugh track, the audience is more likely to find a joke humorous when they hear others laughing in response — an everyday example of social proof. You can listen to Dan and Cathy discuss our social experiment further when we post the interview online.

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