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Social Proof: Truths Are Us

Social proof is most powerful for those who feel unfamiliar or unsure in a specific situation and who, consequently, must look outside of themselves for evidence of how best to behave there.

The principle of social proof states that we use what other people think is correct to determine what we think is correct. For example, laugh tracks on TV shows signal to us that we should laugh too. A half-full tip jar will influence us to leave a tip too. A product labeled “fastest-selling” will make us feel as if we should also purchase it.

This principle also explains the phenomenon of the bystander effect. When an emergency is happening in public, most people tend to look the other way as they believe someone else will do something about it—after all, they are in public with many other people around. When no one does anything, everyone feels as if they don’t have to do anything either. However, if a lot of people treat the situation as an emergency, nearly everyone around will see it as an emergency too.

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