are social animals. We all have an innate desire to belong to
group. It is precisely because we value
of belonging so highly that the more other people find an idea,
trend, or position appealing or correct, the more correct that
idea becomes in our own minds.
Law of Social Validation recognizes and builds upon our innate
desire to be part of the main group.
It also recognizes that we tend to change our perceptions,
opinions, and behaviors in ways that are consistent with group
if we don’t admit it, or maybe even realize it, we care about
what others think. As such, we use others’ behavior as
a guide in establishing the standard for the choices and decisions
We seek to find out what others are doing as a way of validating
our own actions. This method is how we decide what constitutes “correct” behavior.
We see the behavior as more correct when we see others doing
it. The more people do it, the more correct it becomes.
Kirk Hansen of the Stanford Business School demonstrated
this when he boosted downloads for best-selling files on
the web by
downloading those files over and over himself so the counter
was artificially high. He and his team then observed that
these boosted downloaded files were downloaded even more
The high number on the counter indicated popularity, and
people were most interested in downloading the files that
ranked the highest. Whether the question is what to do
with an empty can of soda at the park, how fast to drive in the
or how to eat the soup at a restaurant, the validation
others give us our answer and therefore guides our actions.
We feel validation
when we see others do what we want to do. We learned early in
life that we make fewer mistakes
if we follow
the social norm. There are two types of norms: explicit and implicit.
Explicit norms are openly spoken or written. For example, road
signs, employee manuals, or game rules are all examples of explicit
norms. Implicit norms are not usually stated openly. For example,
you usually don’t have to be directed to say hello or to
smile when you see someone, but you do it anyway. Or, somehow you
know better than to put your feet up on the dinner table when you’re
a guest in someone’s home, even though your host most likely
will not request that you refrain from doing so.
If we don’t know the norm, we look around and find it. The
Law of Social Validation becomes a way to save time and energy
in figuring out what is correct. We use others’ behavior
to guide our own actions, to validate what we should or should
not do. We don’t always have to look at the positive and
the negative in every situation. This automatic trigger saves us
from thinking. We compare what we do against the standard of what
everyone else is doing. If we find a discrepancy between what we
observe and what we do, we tend to make changes in the direction
of the social norm.
Validation compels us to change our behaviors, our attitudes,
and our actions. Often this happens
even if the things
we observe don’t really match our true feelings, style,
and thoughts. We go against our better judgment because we want
to be liked, accepted, and found in agreement with everyone else.
When we are part of a crowd, we no longer feel individually
responsible for our emotions or actions. We can allow ourselves
to shout, sing, cry, or strike without temperament imposed by
We seek out
social norms to help us know what we should be feeling or doing.
For the most part, this is not a conscious process. We
subconsciously accept many ways of behaving that are determined
by our surroundings and the actions of others; for example, raising
our hands to speak in class, tipping in a restaurant, or how we
behave at a concert. When we become part of a group, emotions and
feelings that were once divergent for us tend to converge.
Usually, as long as the majority of people agree with what we
are doing or about to do, we feel social validation. For the most
part, we are all conformists. We will do what the crowd does. We
might not like to admit that, but it is true. Only 5-10% of the
population engages in behavior contrary to the social norm.
We see this
law operating in groups, in organizations, in meetings, and in
day-to-day public life. In all of these circumstances, there
is a certain standard or norm. In churches, the moral code determines
the standard behavior acceptable for the group. In organizations,
the bylaws and years of tradition establish a standard operating
procedure. Because we want to fit into these groups and maintain
our membership with them, we conform our actions to the norm.
When we find
ourselves in a foreign situation, where we feel awkward or unsure
of how to act, we look for those social
cues that will
dictate our behavior. This could be at a party, during freshman
orientation, or even while attending a family gathering. When the
social information we are seeking is at all ambiguous, we don’t
know how to respond so we continue seeking out social clues. Imagine
if you were sitting in the movie theater enjoying your show when
somebody shouted, “FIRE!” Do you think you would jump
up and run for it? Well, if everyone else did, you would too. If
everyone remained seated, you would remain seated also.