Why is the Pack Persuasive? The Effect of Choice Status on Perceptions of Quality

Freda B. Lynn, Brent Simpson, Mark H. Walker, Colin Peterson

Sociological Science, April 8, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a12

The logic of social proof and related arguments posits that decision makers interpret an actor’s sociometric position (such as popularity) as a signal for quality, especially when quality itself is difficult to ascertain. Although prior work shows that market-level behavioral patterns are consistent with this micro-level account, we seek to explicitly examine the extent to which (and the conditions under which) sociometric status information actually triggers assumptions about an actor’s underlying quality. We introduce two new web-based experiments to investigate how popularity impacts the selection of teammates. We find that the presence of popularity information creates a surprisingly robust quality halo around candidates in some situations but has no effect at all in others. Namely, consistent with Strang and Macy’s (2001) theory of adaptive emulation, choice status appears to affect quality perceptions as part of the rationalization for making attachments, but the halo disappears post-adoption. The implications of these results are discussed in the conclusion.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Freda B. Lynn: Department of Sociology, University of Iowa  Email: freda-lynn@uiowa.edu

Brent Simpson: Department of Sociology, University of South Carolina Email: BTS@mailbox.sc.edu

Mark H. Walker: Department of Sociology, Louisiana State University E-mail: mwalk67@lsu.edu

Colin Peterson: Department of Sociology, Stanford University E-mail: cpeterson@stanford.edu.

Acknowledgements: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1058236. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We wish to thank Sarah Harkness and Michael Sauder for their helpful comments on study 1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual Group Processes conference in 2014.

  • Citation: Freda B. Lynn, Brent Simpson, Mark H. Walker, and Colin Peterson. 2016. “Why is the Pack Persuasive? The Effect of Choice Status on Perceptions of Quality.” Sociological Science 3: 239-263.
  • Received: July 16, 2015.
  • Accepted: July 23, 2015.
  • Editors: Gabriel Rossman
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a12

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