To Belong or to Be Different? Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment in China
We examined whether people conform to or diverge from the most popular choice among their friends by conducting a large-scale field experiment on a leading social-networking site in China. Our setting allowed us to minimize confounding effects such as pre-existing taste similarities between a subject and her friends, the need to create a social identity, and the possibility of learning by observing friends’ choices. Surprisingly, we found that subjects were more likely to diverge from the popular choice among their friends as the popularity of that choice increased. The effect was more pronounced when they were reminded that their choices were visible to their friends. These results suggest that even members of a collectivist culture have a dominating need to be different.
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