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The Wall Street Journal reports that "Most Popular" lists affect audiences' perceptions regardless of their accuracy.
A ...recent study demonstrates that popularity in the music world, even unearned, breeds more popularity. Researchers enlisted more than 12,000 volunteers to rate and download songs from among 48 chosen for their relative obscurity. Some of these volunteers were lied to: At a certain stage in the experiment, popularity rankings for this group were reversed, so the least-downloaded songs were made to appear most-downloaded.

Suddenly, everything changed. The prior No. 1 began making a comeback on the new top dog, but the former No. 47 maintained its comfortable lead on the old No. 2, buoyed by its apparent popularity. Overall, the study showed that popularity is both unstable and malleable.

...Other recent studies have quantified the popularity of popularity in other settings. Signs telling guests at a hotel in the Phoenix area that towel reuse was the No. 1 choice among their peers increased the rate of this practice by 34%, compared with other signs with messages stressing the impact on the environment. Arizona State University psychology Prof. Robert Cialdini and colleagues found that rates went even higher when the signs specified that most prior guests in the same room reused towels
Considering the power of these lists, more and more websites are including "most emailed/blogged/viewed" lists on their sites, effectively making Kate Gosselin one of readers' favourite topics and burying all their other news... about, y'know, civil war in Sri Lanka and stuff like that.

Full disclosure: guilty as charged!

1 comment:

Steph said...

Ahh psychology. I knew there was a reason I took my degree...plus see the related article to this one "Purpose of seemingly inane political polling revealed"