When humans started forming tribes to increase their chances of survival, being expelled from a tribe meant certain death. While it's not the case anymore, social influence is still a powerful factor in human life, and we are hardwired to look for ways to fit into our social environments.
The goal of every human is first to
fit in with their social group, and then once they've done that, their goal becomes to
stand out within that group. To accomplish this, we tend to imitate behavior of social groups on three levels:
Have you noticed how a group of people that spends a lot of time together tends to think and act alike? Close friends and family unconsciously pick stuff up from each other, be it good or bad. A big, long term study has shown that a person is 57% more likely to become obese if they had a friend who has become obese. Also, if one person in a relationship loses weight, there is a good chance that their partner will follow.
As seen in social conformity experiments where a person tells the wrong answer to an obvious question in fear of being the only person to give a different answer - it's more important for us to be accepted in a group than to be right.
The standard behavior of the group is often more powerful than the desired behavior of an individual member of that group.
Once we fit in, we start looking for ways to stand out. If a behavior is done by a person with high status, we associate that behavior with having benefits of that status. This can be particularly true when the behavior is seen as desirable or aspirational, such as healthy lifestyle, high education, or dressing in a certain way.
How can we use this?
Knowing this can help us influence which actions feel desirable to us. You have heard thousands of quotes on the topic of
Surround yourself with $SOMETHING_GOOD people - now you know where they got the idea from!
One of the best things you can do to implement a behavior is join a community where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. If you want to study more, hang out with people who study, and it will make the prospect of studying more attractive to you as well.
- Book - Atomic Habits (source)
- The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years
- Solomon Asch - Conformity Experiment