How are people behaving right now? How are your people behaving? How are you behaving? I remember my first trip to a supermarket during the lockdown. It was clearly abnormally busy but people were behaving chill. I don’t know how they were feeling or what they were thinking but they were behaving chill. This contrasts with scenes in the media and online of non-chill behaviour in supermarkets at this time. Why? I think it was the behaviour being modeled by the well-led staff. This might be their first pandemic rodeo but it was day 6 of their first pandemic rodeo, and they’ve learned what to display and not display. And, at the top of the heap of what not to display is uncertainty and ambiguity.
Doctor Nicholas Christaki of the Harvard Medical School concluded that we are 171 percent more likely to gain weight if our closest friends do. We don’t even have to be geographically close, just emotionally close. He describes this as “an emotional contagion”.
Sunstein and Thaler write about a study conducted in restaurants measuring how much individuals eat when in groups of different sizes:
Group Size – Impact On Average Individual Consumption
Slow down people; it is not a contest. Think about this aspect of human behaviour in a potential panic-buying context. Think about the illogic of toilet paper hoarding.
Solomon Asch back in the 1950s conducted some classic trials on conformity. It was a series where everyone was in on it except the actual participant. People were put into groups of five to seven people. All but one of the group were confederates of the researcher. The group was shown a card with a line on it, then another card with three lines on it of differing lengths. Everyone was then asked which line matched the length of the line on the first card. They had three rounds of this activity. In the first two rounds, all the confederates gave the correct (and quite obvious) answer, as did the subject. In the third round, the confederates, as scripted, gave an obviously incorrect answer. 37 percent of the subjects gave the wrong answer, agreeing with the blatantly wrong confederates of the researcher. This compared to a control group of people where the wrong answer was given 1 percent of the time.
Online retailers will tell you that other people who bought what you just bought, also bought these other three items. People just like you. The movie website IMDB and others will let you rate movies and based on your assessments, recommend other movies to you based on the ratings of people just like you.
The flipside of social proof is social projection, where what’s going on in your world distorts your view of the world outside. People who are having relationship problems notice evidence (or think they do) of discord in everyone else’s relationships.
As long as I’m talking flipsides, let’s look at a downside – social loafing. Have you ever been peer pressured into a tug-of-war contest at a company picnic or school fair? You must have helped someone shift house at some point. Maybe it took two or three people to carry the big fridge or couch? Or push a broken-down car? Did you get the feeling that maybe not everyone was giving it their maximum effort? That’s social loafing in action. (Um, inaction.) OK, now think about those people who aren’t physically distancing themselves etc during the pandemic. They’ll reap benefits, possibly take credit but didn’t actually help much, or possibly hindered or harmed the collective effort and goal. You’re very unlikely to be leading a country but you do lead or influence some people. What are you doing to manage, motivate and mitigate the potential for social loafing in your sphere of influence?
* Extracted and adapted from my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’, available for free as an eBook (readable on any browser) during this period at terrywilliamsbooks dot com.