Negativity Is Contagious, Are You Immune?

We all like to think that we make our own decisions based on our own beliefs and opinions. But, just how much do other people’s opinions affect our own?

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says we aren’t quite as independent-minded as we think. Not only can others’ negative opinions of a product or service sway us from good to bad, but even from bad to worse (maybe Britney’s performance really wasn’t that bad — no, it was!).

Consumer attitudes toward products and services are frequently influenced by others around them. Social networks, such as those found on Myspace and Facebook suggest that these influences will continue to be significant drivers of individual consumer attitudes as society becomes more inter-connected,” explain Adam Duhachek, Shuoyang Zhang, and Shanker Krishnan (all of Indiana University). “Our research seeks to understand the conditions where group influence is strongest.”

Participants were first given information on new products with no outside opinions or reviews to influence them. Naturally, some participants liked the product and gave positive reviews, while others disliked the product and gave negative reviews.

However, when they learned how their peers evaluated the products, many of their opinions changed. Negative outside feedback provided a stronger influence than positive outside feedback.

For example, when a consumer learned that their peers disliked a product that they had just given a positive review, they were much more likely to change their mind and view the product in a more negative light. The reverse happened much less often (a negative reviewer liking a product based on positive peer reviews).

“This research has several interesting implications. First, given the strong influence of negative information, marketers may need to expend extra resources to counter-act the effects of negative word of mouth in online chatrooms, blogs and in offline media. Conversely, companies could damage the reputations of competitors by disseminating negative information online,” the researchers explain. “Consumers should be aware that these social influence biases exist and are capable of significantly impacting their perceptions.”

So, even if you don’t consciously recognize it, you may be basing your decisions of what brands and products to buy based on the endorsement, or even unfounded criticism, of other consumers.

This could explain the polarized “fan boy” and “hater” groups involved in the great debates of “Playstation vs. Xbox” or “Mac vs. PC” and so on.

Which begs the question: Are you a Playstation or Xbox, and a Mac or PC?

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