How our need to be different isn’t really our fault

An article in Wired mentioned a study by social scientists Jonah Berger and Baba Shiv on a person’s desire to be different from others.

  • “In one experiment, for instance, they primed (undergraduate) subjects to think of distinctiveness — they had to write an essay “about a time they felt extremely distinctive … separate and different from the people around you” — before asking the students a bunch of seemingly unrelated questions about food. It turned out that people primed to think of distinctiveness were willing to walk a lot further to get their favorite snack. They were also willing to pay about 70 percent more for it.”
The data showed how primal (and misguided) this desire is, and how intertwined it is with our other basic desires (ex. sexual arousal vs. desire for expensive things, drinking something that tastes good vs. desire to see a romantic movie, etc.). Another study showed how students who were tasked to rate the attractiveness of swimsuit models were more inclined to purchase distinctiveness products (ex. a car that 10% of students drive vs. a car that  30% of students drive) versus students who were tasked to rate the attractiveness of different pets.
The point of all this was that:
a.  Brands selling distinctiveness (Mercedes, Gucci) benefit from sex appeal, while less distinctive products (Toyota, the Gap) may actually be hurt by it.
b. That this drive for individual distinction has become ingrained in the Western psyche.
 “It’s not until we’re standing in line waiting for a cappuccino that we realize how badly we’ve been played.”
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