Social influence in the form of social norms has been widely used to transform behaviors, and is argued to be especially efficacious in the context of health related activities. However, can such externally induced compliance produce negative outcomes? When individuals feel compelled to conform to the behavior of the majority, does it lead to an unexpected backfire effect? We conducted a randomized field experiment of more than 10,000 individuals for a two-month period on an online physical activity community to examine if there is a dark side to social influence. We studied the effect of social norms on users’ goal setting and goal achievement behavior. While social influence increases the rate of goal setting, strikingly, we also observe a dark side to social influence in that such influence yields lower rates of goal achievement. Our findings have important implications for the design of interventions in the context of mHealth technologies.
Published by Che-Wei Liu, Gordon Gao, Ritu Agarwal