Social Media : It’s Powerful Because Our Minds Aren’t
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Survey after survey have shown how word-of-mouth is a powerful force in helping people form decisions on what to buy or what to think of brands and products. Fresh Chat has list of some of the latest data on word-of-mouth:
- “Recommendations from family and friends trump all other consumer touchpoints when it comes to influencing purchase” (AdAge, April, 2008)
- Consumers trust friends above experts when it comes to product recommendations (65% trust friends, 27% trust experts, 8% trust celebrities). (Yankelovich)
Such trust among friends and connections only has been the basis of the allure of social media and why it is one of the pivotal forces in shaping a brand. But why? Why are anecdotal evidence – like user reviews – so convincing? It’s apparently hardwired into our brains.
Recently, an article in the Scientific American declared that “These anecdotal associations are so powerful that they cause people to ignore contrary evidence”.
The article goes in further to describe brains as more geared towards “belief engines” rather than scientifically-centric:
The reason for this cognitive disconnect is that we have evolved brains that pay attention to anecdotes because false positives (believing there is a connection between A and B when there is not) are usually harmless, whereas false negatives (believing there is no connection between A and B when there is) may take you out of the gene pool. Our brains are belief engines that employ association learning to seek and find patterns. Superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old, whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old. So it is that any medical huckster promising that A will cure B has only to advertise a handful of successful anecdotes in the form of testimonials.
The article goes on describe beliefs that continue to prove popularity despite like solid scientific evidence: from concerns about vaccines and autism to health benefits of wheatgrass.