Why we do what we do

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

INVISIBLE INFLUENCE: THE HIDDEN FORCES THAT SHAPE BEHAVIOR. By Jonah Berger. Simon & Schuster. 232 pages. $26.99.

invisible-influenceAs much as we’d all like to think that we run our own lives, there’s no denying that social influences help us choose a new car, a preferred brand of jeans or a political party.

Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of Business, has outlined the most important of these influences. Sometimes we want to be unique, other times we want to go with our crowd and, on occasion, we want both.

Is there any explanation for one musician’s rise on the pop charts and another’s failure to earn much notice outside of her hometown? What explains Britney Spears’ meteoric rise, for example, when other musicians with equal talent never registered with us at all?

Berger says, “monkey see, monkey do.” The crowd influences us. If we see a musician rising on the charts, we check her out. We don’t have time to hear every other aspiring musician, so we take the crowd’s word: Enough people listened to Spears, and she became a star.

But sometimes, we don’t want to follow. As Yogi Berra said, nobody goes there any more because it’s too crowded. There’s a counter influence that drives us to be different. If oldest sister is a biochemist, middle sister becomes a speech therapist and youngest a structural engineer.

Other influences drive us away from options: Note the drop in bookings that PBS News Hour recently reported for Trump hotels. Many people who can afford his hotels don’t want to be associated with him. And there are influences in which we’d like some aspect of the latest trend, but also something different. I like craft beer, but don’t want to drink the same brand as my friends.

Finally, Berger enlightens us on competition and why we sometimes choose to charge but other times quit.

Throughout the entire 232 pages, Berger is insightful and fun. He explains his principles through research anecdotes. One concept is demonstrated through a test of cockroaches in a maze, another by Princeton supper club members. The stories are fun in themselves.

I’m happy I picked up this book at the library. I wonder what prompted me to do so?

Oh, now I see, there’s a secret message on the cover saying, “Everyone’s Reading It.” I just went along with the crowd.

  • Paul T. O’Connor is the political columnist for the N.C. Insider newsletter. Contact him at ocolumn@gmail.com.



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