Author Jonah Berger’s newest book Invisible Influence will make you feel like a cog in a large soulless machine of human interaction. Berger begins by stating: “Your personal tastes and preferences. Your Likes and dislikes. Which potential mate you found funny or attractive” are not the result of “your own personal thoughts and opinions.” Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have free will.
At first glance this statement can be a bit startling, especially when he says that “99.9% of all decisions are shaped by others.” How can this be? Since birth we are told that we are unique individuals with our own particular personality. Some would argue here that the majority of our decisions are done with an auto-pilot type mentality; when we need to make the big decisions we think as individuals. Plausible yes, but Berger shows us that even marriage is done with social pressures in mind.
Professor Richard Moreland of the University of Pittsburgh conducted an experiment on his students. He had eight volunteers, men and women, to be judged by their classmates on how attractive they were and whether they would like to go on a date with them. The volunteers themselves had different physical features, but on average they were all considered attractive.
Unbeknownst to the students, the volunteers attended classes with varying levels of attendance. By the end of the experiment the volunteers who attended the most classes were deemed the most attractive. This lead Berger to the conclusion that: “Seeing someone more frequently made people like them more.”
When it comes to finding the one we love, we are told that there is one special someone out there that is perfect for you. Berger provides evidence that this is wrong. How can there be one soulmate in a sea of over seven billion people. Even when you cut that number in half, based on your gender or sexual preference, there is still an insurmountable amount of people you will need to meet before you can decide on just one.
This is only touching the surface of what Jonah Berger covers in his book. If you are a fan of Malcolm Gladwell or books like Freakonomics, then you will certainly get a kick out of Berger’s sociological criticism of individuality. Beware, this book is not for the faint of heart, read this with an open mind and you may never be the same again.
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