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To Belong or to Be Different? Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment in China

Author

Listed:
  • Monic Sun

    () (Department of Marketing, Stanford University)

  • Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang

    () (Department of Information Systems, Business Statistics and Operations Management, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)

  • Feng Zhu

    () (Department of Management and Organization, University of Southern California)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Monic Sun & Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang & Feng Zhu, 2012. "To Belong or to Be Different? Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment in China," Working Papers 12-15, NET Institute, revised Oct 2012.
  • Handle: RePEc:net:wpaper:1215
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    File URL: http://www.netinst.org/Sun_12-15.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Stephen Leider & Markus M. Möbius & Tanya Rosenblat & Quoc-Anh Do, 2010. "What Do We Expect from Our Friends?," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(1), pages 120-138, March.
    2. repec:feb:artefa:0087 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Levitt, Steven D. & List, John A., 2009. "Field experiments in economics: The past, the present, and the future," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 1-18, January.
    4. Hongbin Cai & Yuyu Chen & Hanming Fang, 2009. "Observational Learning: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 864-882, June.
    5. Horrace, William C. & Oaxaca, Ronald L., 2006. "Results on the bias and inconsistency of ordinary least squares for the linear probability model," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 90(3), pages 321-327, March.
    6. Abhijit V. Banerjee, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    Cited by:

    1. Christian Catalini & Catherine Tucker, 2016. "Seeding the S-Curve? The Role of Early Adopters in Diffusion," NBER Working Papers 22596, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    uniqueness-seeking; conformity; collectivist culture; field experiment; social network;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General

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