(NaturalNews) The decisions that we make every single day are not our own, suggests a new study publishedin the journal Psychological Science by the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Conforming to what others are doing or thinking is a common characteristic among humans, it turns out, but the direct influence that others have on our personal decisions tends to wane after about 72 hours from when said influence was first expressed.
Think of it like this: Your peer group has decided that a certain haircut is no longer fashionable. You might have liked the haircut personally, but, because your friends think it is no longer the popular trend, you gravitate toward another style as well. Though you may not actively recognize the power of your friends' influence in the matter, your preference for haircut styles changes as a result of it, perhaps only for a few days.
Researchers from South China Normal University (SCNU) made this observation with regard to the way that people judge facial attractiveness. Rongjun Yu and his team recruited college students to participate in an experiment where they were asked to look at 280 digital photographs of young adult Chinese women and rate their attractiveness using an eight-point scale.
Following each individual rating choice, the students were shown an average rating of what all the other students had chosen for the same image. In only 25 percent of cases did the individual rating match the group average, demonstrating an incredible level of diversity in how individuals assess facial beauty apart from outside influence. When people make choices in isolation, in other words, their choices tend to vary dramatically.
Your thoughts and actions are not your own: the power of conformity
But what happens when individuals are made aware of what the majority of other people think about a particular issue? When the researchers brought the same students back in for a repeat of the experiment at one day, three days, seven days and three months -- this is after they learned how the other students had rated the photos -- their choices changed.
According to the APS, knowledge of how the group rated each photo had a dramatic influence on individual rating scores both one day and three days following the initial experiment. The students tended to rate the photos most closely to the group average within the first three days after learning about the averages, but after three days, this influence diminished substantially.
"Our findings suggest that exposure to others' opinions does indeed change our own private opinions -- but it doesn't change them forever," Yu is quoted as saying. "Just like working memory can hold about 7 items and a drug can be effective for certain amount of time, social influence seems to have a limited time window for effectiveness."
The fact that group influence was shown to impact personal opinion for three whole days suggests that it is more than just a superficial phenomenon. Researchers say the power of group behavior, or what some psychologists refer to as "groupthink," is tangible and genuine. Perhaps this is why our parents always advised us to choose our friends wisely -- what we see and experience in others changes how we as individuals think about the world.
"These studies are notable, says Yu, because they were able to control for methodological issues that often arise in studies that use a test-retest format, such as the natural human tendencies to regress to the mean and to behave consistently over time," APS reported.