Making Decisions Appears to Rely on Other People’s Decisions

About a year ago, the New York Times ran a great story about a study from Columbia University about how people make decisions about culture. Apparently, people do not make decisions on their own — they rely very heavily on the decisions of others. In other words: information is cultural. Whether or not this is evidence for the “wisdom of crowds” or mass hysteria, I can’t say. What I can say, though is that this study should invite all kinds of questions about how people make all kinds of decisions.

The two researchers studied the behaviors of two groups of people and how they chose to download music. Both groups could select songs from the same basic pool. The first group used an interface that showed how many times a song had been downloaded — essentially: an indication of its popularity. The other group did not have access to this information. The researchers found that for the first group, popular songs got much more popular much more quickly. The second group showed greater parity among songs chosen for download.

What this might mean: popularity can be engineered.
What this might also mean: People’s individual decisions are informed by other people’s individual decisions. When we were little, we called this “peer pressure.” But I think there might be something more important at work here. And in the trades, we call it: culture.

Read the whole NYTimes story here.


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