The reign of rating systems

Browsing the iTunes store on a Sunday night, looking for a movie to watch, a snazzy poster would usually catch my eye. I’d click on the movie’s description and sneak a peek at the Rotten Tomatoes and user ratings and not read a single word of it unless it had at least three stars.

The same goes for any product that can be consulted on any website with a rating system. I’d never really thought about it from an objective standpoint, but what I was doing by perusing those ratings wasn’t just informing my decisions, it was conforming to the consensus of the previous buyers.

Conformity can have an enormous influence on people. In 1951, Solomon Asch demonstrated in an experiment that the opinions of a concerted group would trump that of an isolated individual. In fact, 75% of test subjects willingly went along with the wrong answer to an obvious question in order to conform to the group. Each one had to answer the aforementioned easy question after all the other participants - who were actually accomplices to the researcher - had unanimously answered with the same incorrect answer. Instead of answering with the truth, three quarters of the subjects in that position decided to repeat the wrong answer for conformity’s sake.

In my case, my dependence on ratings probably kept me from great stuff that might have been negatively evaluated by a loud and vocal minority of disgruntled viewers. Since there is no way of really knowing the validity of rating systems, my only advice would be to take them with a grain of salt. That’s what I’ll do from now on, myself, avoiding the pitfalls that come from having so much information at hand, where it’s soeasy to be swayed towards making less than optimal purchases. By the way, the movie I ended up watching was a one-starred B-Series horror flick, and it was awesome.

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