Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. It is also known as informational social influence. People often make the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation, they will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.
As an example, say we have a person who has been unemployed for a long time.
Even though they are highly skilled and qualified they may have a hard time finding a new job
The “social proof” is assumed to be that if the guy hasnt got a job even though he is highly qualified he is not worth employing.
This causes the potential employers to search more intensively for flaws or other negative characteristics that are “congruent” with or explain the person’s failure and to discount the applicant’s virtues.
Other examples are ….
– Advertisers tell us they have the largest selling album, care etc
– Milgram, Bickman, and Berkowitz (1969) conducted a social contagion study on 42nd Street, New York City. Varying numbers of passersby (all confederates) were staring at a sixth floor window. The dependent variable was the percentage of persons who stopped to stare. As the number of sources increased, the percentage of persons who stopped to stare also increased. Forty-five percent of passersby stopped if one confederate was looking up, 85% of the passersby stopped if 15 confederates were looking up.
– Waiters and waitresses often put a few coins in the “tips” jar to say to others that lots of people tip us
– Bandura, Grusec, and Menlove (1967) used the principle of social proof to treat young children who were terrified of dogs. The treatment was very simple. They merely watched a boy play happily with a dog for twenty minutes a day. After only four days, 67 percent of the clients climbed in a playpen with a dog and played with him.
– Joshua Bell the famous violin virtuoso played in the Washington DC subway during the morning rush hour. He took his $3.5 million Stradivarius violin and played. Almost no one noticed or stopped to listen. He collected a total of $32 for an hour of playing (not counting a $20 bill that was given by a person who recognized him). Without his posters and huge venues and fans he was totally barren of the fame that he would have encountered in another venue. The commuters responded as if he was needing the money rather than judging his playing ability and the violin.