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Groups can Shape People’s Personal Opinions

Update Date: May 24, 2014 09:56 AM EDT

Even though people have different ideas and beliefs, the roles of peer pressure and public opinion can shape those principles greatly. In a new study, researchers examined how much group opinion can sway one's personal opinions. They found that social pressures could change people's judgments. However, the changes do not last past three days.

"Our findings suggest that exposure to others' opinions does indeed change our own private opinions - but it doesn't change them forever," stated psychological scientist and study author Rongjun Yu of South China Normal University. "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."

For this study, the researchers recruited students attending a college in China. The participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of 280 photographed faces that were displayed on a digital screen. Attractiveness was scored on an eight-point scale. After each participant rated a photograph, he/she saw the average attractiveness rating from the scores of 200 other participants. That score was defined as the group's score.

The researchers found that the individual's rating matched the group's average score 25 percent of the time. In the remaining 75 percent of the time, the individual's rating fell around one, two, or three points below or above the score. The participants were invited to come back and one day, three days, or three months after to re-rate the pictures. The team found that people who returned after one or three days were more likely to conform to the group rating. However conformity did not last after seven days or three months have passed.

The study, "Conformity to the Opinions of Other People Lasts for No More Than 3 Days," was published in the Association for Psychological Science's journal, Psychological Science.

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