10 Days of Christmas…Consumerism: Day 4


Structural equation model from Dholakia, Bagozzi, & Pearo, 2003

In the digital age, when so much holiday shopping occurs online, how are consumers socially influenced? The answer is: surprisingly a lot. The average adult in the US spends 5 of their waking hours online. But what are we doing online? We’re on social media, we’re reading and commenting on news articles and discussing that internet content with others. Consider the last time you were with a friend and you brought up an article you saw online, or a post from Instagram. This is part of the way that content goes viral, this word of mouth advertising from trusted others. Word of mouth moves even faster on the internet, with websites like Yelp and Amazon at our fingertips, reviewing products and services from plumbers to stereos.

Social influence is the highest in virtual contexts when people are engaged in relationships, in real life or within a brand community. This is because we’re most influenced by our ingroup members (people we consider part of our social circle, or group within society, e.g. all people of one race, all people of one social class or all alumni of the same college).1 When we’re engaged in virtual brand communities, we form social bonds with that group, creating an ingroup of people and increasing identification with the brand.2 Brand communities can also invoke peer pressure, like pressure to conform in some undesired group discussion, and establish community norms, created and maintained by the moderators and high profile members of the those communities.2 Check out the graphic for a depiction of the incredibly complex process of creating web content through social influence.

Brands themselves have social influence, especially if they are “identity signaling brands.” An identity signaling brand is something that announces you to the world and says, “This reflects who I am as a person.” Not surprisingly, while people tend to stick with the status quo and purchase the same things as others, in identity signaling domains that include displays of wealth or social class, they want to be seen as unique.3 But we all also vary on our need for uniqueness, with some individuals needing to stand out from others, and some preferring to fit in through their choices as consumers.4 For instance, when shopping for a car, someone with a high need for uniqueness may buy a Smart Car (rare here in America), while someone with a low need for uniqueness may buy a Honda (quite common in America). Someone who sees his or her car as an identity signal may be more likely to want to purchase an expensive and rare car, like a Bugatti, to show others that they are different.

It is the job of marketers to be persuasive, and to increase demand for products within the community. And, meanwhile, it is human nature to be influenced by the words and actions of others, as well as our own desires to fit in or stand out. Beware before you engage in social activities based around brands this holiday season! Harnessing the power of peers and the power of consumer goods is a potent combination.

  1. Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-621.
  2. Algesheimer, R., Dholakia, U. M., & Herrmann, A. (2005). The social influence of brand community: evidence from European car clubs. Journal of Marketing, 69(3), 19-34.
  3. Berger, J., & Heath, C. (2007). Where consumers diverge from others: Identity signaling and product domains. Journal of Consumer Research, 34(2), 121-134.
  4. Tian, K. T., Bearden, W. O., & Hunter, G. L. (2001). Consumers’ need for uniqueness: Scale development and validation. Journal of Consumer Research, 28(1), 50-66.

The Skinny on Online Dating: Psychology at work

Image from Mashable.com

          Image from Mashable.com

In Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter—and how to make the most of them now, she makes a point that online dating is a good idea, because it matches people based on personality traits-something that predicts long-term relationship success. In real life, relationships may form because two people happen to be at the same bar, or have a mutual friend. But research has shown time and time again that similarity attracts.1,2 Given the way online dating sites work, by matching people based on compatibility of personality and preferences, it is not surprising that more than a third of marriages now start online. And, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 report on online dating, 38% of single American adults looking for a partner have used online dating sites or apps. Of Americans who found their spouse online, they report higher marital satisfaction and lower divorce rates than couples that met IRL.3

With the current popularity of apps like Tinder and sites like OkCupid, it’s impossible to ignore the psychological field experiment that is online dating. There are 3 areas of psychology research that are incredibly relevant to online dating: Personality, self-presentation and deception.

Personality– Many online dating sites require users to fill out a battery of questions, several of which are focused on personality characteristics. A question, “Do you like wild parties?” appears in OkCupid’s personality questionnaire, which psychologists may recognize as a version of the sensation-seeking personality item “I like wild parties.”4 In addition to direct adaptations of established personality questionnaires, questions ask about cleanliness and keeping promises (conscientiousness), new experiences and adventurousness (openness to experience), if you would do things just because your partner wanted to (agreeableness), if you like to talk or meet new people (extraversion) and if you get jealous and worried about things you can’t change (neuroticism). As you can see, and as Meg Jay suggested, these sites evaluate users largely based on what is known as the Big 5 of personality.5,6 Research has found that romantic attachment styles relate to the Big 5, and various personality traits correlate with specific relationship outcomes, like neuroticism and decreased relationship satisfaction.7,8

Self-presentation– With the high stakes of finding a meaningful relationship, online dating users may choose to engage in self-presentation: the practice of managing the impressions we make on others.9 Research suggests that self-presentation motives may be especially salient because creating online content gives people an opportunity to overtly self-promote.10 Evidence suggests that it may be easier to self-present in a positive light than one may think. Being seen as socially expressive, presenting an ideal self, engaging in self-disclosure and “matching your profile” when meeting in person can all contribute to self-presentational success.11,12,13,14 Self-presentation concerns stay consistent throughout the lifespan, with aging men still preferring youth and physical attractiveness, and leveraging information about status on their own online dating profiles.15

Deception– Sometimes self-presentation goes beyond a favorable description of the self, and veers toward untruthfulness. Studies by Toma and Hancock found that people who were rated lower in attractiveness by independent raters were more likely to lie about physical descriptions, and use an “enhanced” profile picture.16 Another study by the same group of researchers found that women were more likely to use deceptive pictures than men, using younger pictures, or pictures taken by a professional, among other tactics; but that only about 1/3 of profile pictures were rated as inaccurate.17 Yet another study found that men were more likely to post deceptive information about financial assets, relationship goals and their own interests and attributes, and women were more likely to post misleading information about their weight.18

While the increasing popularity of online dating indicates it may be the way of the future, the psychological principles behind it are time-tested and peer-approved.

Our area head, Dr. Mark Leary, is one of the foremost experts on self-presentation. You can find his self-presentation-related Google Scholar results here.

  1. Byrne, D. (1961). Interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 62(3), 713-715.
  1. Byrne, D. & Griffitt, W. (1969). Similarity and awareness of similarity of personality characteristics as determinants of attraction. Journal of Experimental Research in Personality, 3(3), 179-186.
  1. Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., Gonzaga, G. C., Ogburn, E. L., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2013). Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A, 110(25), 10135-10140.
  1. Hoyle, R. H., Stephenson, M. T., Palmgreen, P., Pugles Lorch, E., Donohew, R. L. (2002). Reliability and validity of a brief measure of sensation seeking. Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 401-414.
  1. Goldberg, L. R. (1990). An alternative “Description of Personality”: The big-five factor structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(6), 1216-1229.
  1. Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann Jr, W. B. (2003). A very brief measure of the Big-Five personality domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504-528.
  1. Shaver, P. R. & Brennan, K. A. (1992). Attachment styles and the “Big Five” personality traits: Their connections with each other and with romantic relationships outcomes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18(5), 536-545.
  1. White, J. K., Hendrick, S. S., & Hendrick, C. (2004). Big five personality variables and relationships constructs. Personality and Individual Differences, 37(7), 1519-1530.
  1. Leary, M. R. & Kowalski, R. M. (1990). Impression management: A literature review and a two-component model. Psychological Bulletin, 107(1), 34-47.
  1. Schau, H. J. & Gilly, M. C. (2003). We are what we post? Self-presentation in personal web space. Journal of Consumer Research, 30(3), 385-404.
  1. Weisbuch, M., Ivcevic, Z., & Ambady, N. (2009). On being liked on the web and in the “real world”: Consistency in first impressions across personal webpages and spontaneous behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 573-576.
  1. Ellison, N. B., Heino, R. D., & Gibbs, J. L. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-presentation processes in the online dating environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 415-441.
  1. Gibbs, J. L., Ellison, N. B., & Heino, R. D. (2006). Self-presentation in online personals: The role of anticipated future interaction, self-disclosure, and perceived success in internet dating. Communication Research, 33(2), 152-177.
  1. Whitty, M. T. (2008). Revealing the ‘real’ me, searching for the ‘actual’ you: Presentations of self on an internet dating site. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(4), 1707-1723.
  1. Alterovitz, S. S. R. & Mendelsohn, G. A. (2009). Partner preferences across the life span: Online dating by older adults. Psychology and Aging, 24(2), 513-517.
  1. Toma, C. L. & Hancock, J. T. (2010). Looks and lies: The role of physical attractiveness in online dating self-presentation and deception. Communication Research, 37(3), 335-351.
  1. Hancock, J. T. & Toma, C. L. (2009). Putting your best face forward: The accuracy of online dating photographs. Journal of Communication, 59, 367-386.
  1. Hall, J. A., Park, N., Song, H., & Cody, M. J. (2010). Strategic misrepresentation in online dating: The effects of gender, self-monitoring, and personality traits. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(1), 117-135.

Psych at Work

Brandon Stanton (fellow Bulldog!) harnessed the power of social media to become a popular street photographer with his facebook page Humans of New York. Stanton uses his unique skill for combining photography and storytelling to bring people together all over the world. With its humbling subjects and profound wisdom, Humans of New York attracts mostly positive comments (a feat in the digital age). One reason that people may enjoy the page so much is the fact that they are exposed to people of different races, nationalities, and backgrounds in a way that’s accesible. This seems to make interactions with outgroup members on the page more positive, and thereby increasing liking of those outgroups, and decreasing negative interactions. Otherwise known as the contact hypothesis!

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Image from Spav Corridor