From one of my favorite online newsletters, Good Morning Silicon Valley:
Oh, that conscious mind is a cocky one, all right — so confident of its well-reasoned opinions and resistance to outside influence. Fact is, for the most part, we’ve got no idea why we really do what we do, as research continues to remind us.
Take, for instance, the findings of a team from Columbia University seeking a way to predict what songs will be popular. Using the Net to study behavior on a mass scale, they got 14,000 teenagers to use a rating system and downloading ability to create an artificial Top 40 out of a group of songs from unknown bands. They found a couple of interesting things. First, the most popular songs were not always the songs that people thought were the best. “The very best songs never do terribly but they can only do OK,” sociologist Duncan Watts, who directed the study, said. “The very worst songs never do brilliantly but they can also do OK.” They also found that people’s preferences change once they know what other people like. “The popular things become more popular and the less-popular things get less popular,” Watts said. “What makes social influence difficult to understand is that we are often unaware of it,” he said. “We always think we are voting without preferences. We don’t think we like bad songs. We actually persuade ourselves that we think it’s good and that we would think it was good even if our friends didn’t like it.”
And the heck of it is, tapping into the unconscious doesn’t have to be rocket science. Researchers from the University of Leicester did a little experiment with a display of French and German wines in a supermarket. On alternate days, the store played French, then German music in the background, and sure enough, on French music days 77 percent of the wine sold was French, on German music days 73 percent was German. Now, we are not talking subtle here — this was cafe accordion versus an oompah band — but at the end of the checkout line, only one of 44 shoppers mentioned the musical influence, and 86 percent were sure it played no role in their choice.
Humbling, and always worth remembering, how easily we can be played.