Tuesday, September 22, 2020
12:00 - 1:30 PM
Presented via Zoom

Professor Arnout van de Rijt (Cornell Ph.D, Sociology, ’07), from the European University, Florence, Italy will present a lunchtime talk co-sponsored by the Economic Sociology Lab and Social Dynamics Lab.


Social influence may lead individuals to choose what is popular over what is best. Whenever this happens, it further increases the popularity advantage of the inferior choice, compelling subsequent decision makers to follow suit. The author argues that despite this positive feedback effect, discordances between popularity and quality will usually self-correct. Reanalyzing past experimental studies in which social information initially heavily favored inferior options, the author shows that in each experiment superior alternatives gained in popularity. In a new experiment in which a larger number of subject choices allowed trials to be run to convergence shows that in each trial the superior alternative eventually achieved popular dominance. Therefore, to explain the persistent dominance of bestsellers, celebrities, and memes of seemingly questionable quality in everyday life in terms of social influence processes, one must identify conditions that render positive feedback so strong that self-correcting dynamics are prevented.

Arnout van de Rijt is Professor and Chair in Sociology, European University, Florence, Italy.

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