It’s no surprise that most of us will adjust our own expressed views to those around us. If your friends are raving about the meal you all just ate, you might tend to go with the flow rather than being the solo critic. Perhaps you simply don’t want to annoy your friends or perhaps you think they might have a point.
This kind of social acquiescence, though, is different than what researchers found: when we adjust our opinions to the norm, we REALLY change our minds!
Harvard researcher Jamil Zaki ran a simple experiment. They asked men to rate pictures of women for attractiveness, and were then given the “average” rating for that photo. Although the subjects were told the average was based on the results of a previous group, the rating was, in fact, a random number. Then, 30 minutes later, the subjects were put in an fMRI machine and asked to rate the photos again.
As expected, the men’s ratings changed to match the consensus scores more closely. However, Zaki’s team found that if the participant decided a woman was more attractive than they first thought, there was a spike of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens; if they decided she was not as pretty, activity decreased in these areas. [From New Scientist - Following the herd actually shifts your opinion by Ferris Jabr.]
Your Brain Doesn't Lie
The researchers concluded that the subjects weren’t simply trying to conform to the norm, but had genuinely changed their opinion of the photos. They weren’t just saying the photo that they had earlier ranked lower was more attractive, they really believed it was!
Brands and Products
This is one more indication of how third party information can change not just the perception but the experience of your brand or product. The randomized ratings used in the experiment weren’t even consistent with the actual appeal of the photos, but still had a profound effect on the subjects.
While most of us can’t duplicate the exact scenario used in the experiment – let a person form an opinion, then expose him to a group or expert opinion – that doesn’t mean that using such ratings won’t work. In Why Expensive Wine Tastes Better, the third party opinion (in this case, the price) was introduced before the experience and still had an impact on the real perception of the wine. (For more on how the Zaki experiment might apply to wine, see Why Well-Reviewed Wine Tastes Even Better.)
The Neuromarketing takeaway here is that it pays to let customers see ratings, rankings, expert opinions, and other credible testimony to the quality of the product or brand. Using these endorsements will have obvious beneficial effects like encouraging sampling of an untried product, and even gaining market share from brands and products lacking them. The most important effect, though, may be that customers will enjoy the product more and actually believe it to be better.