People often make choices influenced by others, especially when dining or shopping. Researchers studying consumer behavior wanted to discern when individuals mimic others’ choices and when they prefer to stand out. They theorized that choices with “ordinal” attributes (like size or price) exert more social influence, leading to mimicry, while “nominal” attributes (like flavor) are more personal and less prone to mimicry. Through multiple studies, they found this theory consistent across various contexts.
- “Ordinal” attributes, such as size or price, can be socially ranked, and people are more likely to mimic others’ choices based on these.
- “Nominal” attributes, like flavor or shape, are considered a reflection of personal preferences and are less likely to be influenced by others.
- In a study with ice cream orders, participants matched the number of scoops (an ordinal attribute) their companion ordered but chose their preferred flavor (a nominal attribute).
- Additional studies, from granola bar purchases to charitable donations, reiterated these findings: participants mimicked choices based on ordinal attributes but made personal choices on nominal attributes.
- These social cues from peers influence consumption choices in many settings, highlighting the nuanced way we weigh social conformity against personal preference.