Research Summary

Social Learning



One major area of my research is social learning: the ways and extent to which people discover what they want and need from the behavior and opinions of others.  Social learning takes many forms.  Probably most obvious is word of mouth—the advice and recommendations of friends, family, and coworkers.  People also learn what they want from the easily observed choices of others for products such as clothing and cars.  And we are all influenced by norms of behavior for various social contexts.  These social norms certainly suggest what conduct is appropriate, but they also, often in subtle ways, affect what we prefer.

I am interested in how social learning impacts the decisions of consumers, and how firms can market their products and services more successfully through a better understanding of social influences on their customers.  Some of the questions that interest me are:

  • When is social learning the result of a search for information, and when is it the result of a desire to coordinate—for example, by watching a popular TV show to be able to talk about it with peers?
  • How do new technologies (online discussion forums, social network websites, text messaging) impact social influence?
  • Does using social information help people to make better decisions, or can it lead them astray?
  • How can marketers stoke a social learning fire, and how can they turn a fad into something more sustainable?
  • When is the social environment more or less influential compared to other sources of consumer information: advertising, the media, and experts?