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Choosing a romantic partner is a task we usually take on by our self. You might let a friend introduce us to the said person, we may even listen to some advice the might give us, but in the end it’s our choice, or for the more romantic souls, fate that matters. At least that’s what you think and like to tell ourselves and to others. However others’ opinion has a larger influence on our decisions than we might think or like to admit.

A study at the Indiana University explored the concept of mate choice copying, a process by which an individual copies or takes in account the matting choices by other members of its specie, on human. For instance, this theory offer an explanation on why a married man is seen as more attractive to women: the fact that he’s married is a proof that he’s been considered a good mating choice by another woman.

The study in question used 80 subjects (40 male, 40 female) that had to evaluate the probable success of people in speed-dating interactions. Here’s a short description of the results:

The men’s interest in the women generally increased after watching the videos but it increased significantly more if their male peer in the video appeared to be interested in the women and if the men were considered as attractive or more so than the study participant.

With the female study participants, their interest in the men in the video increased if their peers in the video appeared interested; but unlike their male counterparts, their interest in the men decreased if the women in the video appeared uninterested. Place said interest shown by the men and women was no different when they were asked whether they were interested in a short affair or long-term relationship.

The fact that someone has been considered attractive and interested enough by another member of the same gender of the participants made it more interesting for the participants, more so if the person who did the first evaluation was considered as somewhat similar to the participants. Here we can see two rules of persuasion clearly at work: social validation and similarity.

The social validation principle states that people tend to look to others behavior in order to infer what is expected of in any given circumstance. This effect is especially stronger in ambiguous situation when people don’t know how to act or what to think. In this study, we can see the social validation effect working as the fact that someone being considered as attractive previously raises the perceived attractiveness attributed to her by the participants. An effect that is boosted by the principle of similarity, that states that people are more persuaded by arguments or actions put forth by others who are perceived as similar in some fashion to them.

The lesson to be taken by marketers? If people are swayed by others in such an important decision as this one, this effect can and should be used in order to promote a product, a behavior or a message. Disregarding the importance of social feedback on consumer behavior and judgment is a mistake.

You can read more about this study here.