Friday, January 18, 2008

School of Business confirms recipe for herd behavior

Popular opinion not always so popular
Whether you're a voter choosing the next president, a manager making policy decisions or a consumer selecting a brand, it's likely your decision is influenced by the opinions of others.

But beware: Your estimate may well be based on a lone, repetitive voice that you've mistaken for a chorus, say researchers at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

Professors Stephen Garcia and Norbert Schwarz say that much like the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, a single opinion repeated often enough has nearly as much influence as one expressed by several people.

"What we think others think greatly influences our own personal thoughts, feelings and behavior," said Garcia, adjunct assistant professor of management and organizations at the Ross School. "Quite obviously, an opinion is likely to be more widely shared the more different people express it. But surprisingly, hearing one person express an opinion repeatedly also leads to the conclusion that the opinion is more widespread relative to hearing the same opinion expressed only once."

Is there any doubt about the reasons this sort of thing is studied and taught in "business schools"?

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