When something catches on, do people like it because it’s a good thing or do they like it because it’s popular? In other words, does popularity breed more popularity?
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wanted to find out the answer to this question so they conducted a complex study which involved tricking people and then recording their behavior. Guess what they found? They found out that we’re mostly a bunch of sheep who tend to follow the crowd regardless of how we really feel.
The good news is that this only works in the positive. A like on this article is likely to draw more likes from others, but a dislike doesn’t push more people to click the thumbs down. On the contrary, the study shows that people will counter the thumbs down with more positive vibes and love.
According to the New York Times, the scientists tested their theory using articles on a website. When they gave a post a phony positive comment, the next person was 32 times more likely to give the article a positive response as well.
Over time, the comments with the artificial initial up vote ended with scores 25 percent higher than those in the control group.
“That is a significant change,” Dr. Aral said. “We saw how these very small signals of social influence snowballed into behaviors like herding.”
Meanwhile, comments that received an initial negative vote ended up with scores indistinguishable from those in the control group.
In a related experiment, scientists asked listeners to rate a list of songs. For some, the list was ranked from most popular to least. For others, the list was inverted – meaning they thought the least popular song was the most popular. Again, a large number of listeners went with what they perceived to be the reality, voting up songs that they were told were popular, leaving the truly popular songs to languish.
The good news is, that over time, the songs tended to find the correct level. So, eventually, enough listeners gave the songs a true vote instead of scoring based on the pack mentality that the situation righted itself.
The easy takeaway here is that it’s good to have a shill on the payroll. Yes, that sounds harsh but it’s a cruel world and you have to do what you can to get ahead. If you feel like having someone in your own company voting up your content is morally wrong, then just ask your mom to do it. She’ll be excited that you asked and you’ll get that all important first thumbs up.
You did good.