Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Social Proof" is Overrated

Social Proof is the assumption that the what everybody says about a matter or a person is correct.  While there are some situations where this is the case, this way of determining the truth about someone and something is vulnerable to unquestioned societal opinions (often confusing those opinions for facts established beyond reasonable doubt), personal prejudices, crowd psychology, and the general tendency for people as a whole not to think sufficiently deeply about the matter or person.  Even though "social proof" is usually sufficiently strong to justify taking it seriously, it is foolish to base one's opinions on social proof alone.

Social Proof: Pros and Cons


*The group often has sufficient experience with the person or matter to  make a sufficiently justifiable decision about the subject matter or person.

*The greater the percentage of the people who agree with something, the more likely it is to have a solid basis in truth.

*It saves a person the time and effort of having to investigate the matter or person for him or herself, and therefore allows the person to concentrate on more pressing or enjoyable matters.


*Vulnerable to the Argument from Consensus Fallacy,

*Vulnerable to crowd psychology, demagoguery, and confirmation bias (the tendency to seek out and/or remember only the information that confirms our prejudices and other preconceived notions of how the world works, the nature of things, etc.

*Ignores that most people do not think deeply about most issues or people or question the quality of the evidence on which they base their decisions.  This is especially true regarding matters or people for which they have no intimate knowledge or interest, or matters of a highly complex, technical, or scientific nature - ones that don't lend themselves well to short and simple answers.

*Often an unreasonably conservative approach to determining truth, for it tends to favor the status quo even when it is in error.

*Strong tendency to belittle independent thought, even when the totality of all relevant evidence, facts, and arguments is on the independent thinker's side.

*Assumes the majority has a "God's-eye" view of all relevant facts affecting the truth or falsity of the "socially proved" claim.

So "Social Proof" isn't simply worthless through and through, but it should never be used as a substitute for using your own brain to determine the truth of a situation or person.