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RMG 200 Lecture Notes - Social Proof, Pluralistic Ignorance

Retail Management
Course Code
RMG 200
Marla Spergel

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Of Robert Cialdini’s six fundamental persuasion principles explaining the predictabilities of humans’
deeply rooted drives and needs, the Principle of Social Proof was particularly interesting. The Principle of
Social Proof states that we define what is correct or acceptable by exploring and mimicking the actions
of others around us. This principle essentially dictates what constitutes “correct behaviour”, with the
level of correctness correlating with the amount of others performing this given behaviour. The extent
to which we use social proof as a decision maker can range from the simple laugh tracks played by
television studios to the fundamental decision of life or death. This principle is evident in many
situations because of its tendency to work fairly well; it generally results in fewer mistakes than when
contradicting the given social behaviour. Because a large amount of people performing certain
behaviour can translate into “correct behaviour”, many people do not guard against social proof
therefore limiting the number of individual decisions. In turn, personal responsibilities and individual
decisions are minimized, causing a phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance, in which one individual
looking for social proof as guidance causes the entire group to do so as well in a chain like affect. This
can then result in ignorant and selfish decisions made as a whole; generally, the more people and the
more similar these people are to the subject, the stronger the influence. However, more problems start
occurring when social proof becomes an unconscious and reflexive decision; individuals become so
accustomed to perceiving others reactions as evidence of precision and truth that many do not respond
to the content of the real idea, product, service etc. This can lead to exploitation of consumers by
profiteers due to these automatic consumer reflexes and responses to incomplete and sometimes false
information. The optimal condition for social proof has proven to be at times of vulnerability,
uncertainty, low confidence, unclear situations or lack of familiarity.