Don’t Be Afraid to Virtue Signal — It Can Be a Powerful Tool to Change People’s Minds

Jamil Zaki and Mina Cikara: Two key insights about social behavior are relevant here. First, people conform to others’ actions and opinions; they often say what others say and do as others do. Second, when it comes to many issues, most people don’t know what most people think — meaning that conformity involves a surprising amount of guesswork. Imagine 100 individuals in a pitch-black gym, each trying to join the rest of the crowd in a chaotic multiplayer game of Marco Polo. People will gravitate towards whoever they can hear, clumping around the loudest voices. Opinions can work this way: when a particular viewpoint gets a lot of attention, people assume it’s popular, and shift towards it. We receive signals, and are changed by them. This means social information can be a powerful force for social change, because people look to each other when deciding how to express themselves.

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