Literature Review Study I
People’s behavior in social media is the subject of many scholarly studies aimed at analyzing and evaluating psychological motives and patterns. The effect of anonymity is a significant factor that enables users to express personal opinions freely and be guided by individual standpoints. However, despite an open communication environment in social media, some characteristic properties of communication can manifest themselves, which are natural psychological reactions to certain situations. Conformity is one of the features of typical behavior, and many authors discuss this topic in the context of a virtual interaction (Anderson et al., 2014; Bowman et al., 2012; Cohen & Golden, 1972; Colliander, 2019; Guo et al., 2019).
For instance, in their study, Guo et al. (2019) note that the variables of conformity and the feedback specificity (positive or negative) are interdependent. The authors argue that in the conditions of the unity of opinions regarding a particular issue, adaptive human behavior is a characteristic feature, and joining the majority position occurs unconsciously (Guo et al., 2019). The current study aims to describe the manifestation of conformity in social media by using an example of specific and controversial situations.
The analysis of scholarly sources on this topic allows assuming that users’ behavior can be characterized by involving specific psychological aspects. Guo et al. (2019) consider real people’s feedback in a virtual space and assess their propensity to make specific decisions based on the majority opinion. According to the results of the study, the predominant number of participants shows a tendency to share the opinions of a larger group, which, according to the authors, is a natural reaction of brain activity (Guo et al., 2019). Moreover, this research shows that the manipulation of individual consciousness through the mechanism of collective influence is possible.
On the example of the positive assessments of the involved participants, Guo et al. (2019) support that behavioral patterns are flexible and adaptive. Subconscious conformity is a defensive reaction that manifests itself as a person’s confidence in the correctness of his or her choice on the basis of the belief that a certain position is shared among a large circle of other people. At the same time, the dissenter effect causes a greater resonance and is an additional topic that is raised in academic studies.
When Internet users interact on social networks, this effect may be considered in different situations. Anderson et al. (2014) analyze it in the context of cyberbullying as a dangerous phenomenon that is common in a modern virtual space and compare it with conformity behavior. According to the authors, on the world-famous social network Facebook, dissent is more frequently associated with positive opinions, which is manifested in support of victims of cyberbullying, while conformity is the result of social pressure and is often expressed in negative reviews (Anderson et al., 2014).
This quantitative study supports that dissenting behavior is more typical of men, and women are more likely to express conformity and follow the opinions of the majority (Anderson et al., 2014). Cyberbullying is one of the issues in which the comparison of such psychological patterns is particularly clear. The separation of the positions of victims and those who attack them helps identify how conflict participants and third parties behave. Thus, the informational influence on the formation of personal opinions is significant, which was also emphasized in earlier studies.
Even before the advent of the Internet, the topic of informational influence on the formation of personal opinions was raised by different scholars. For instance, Cohen and Golden (1972) analyze behavioral factors under the impact of social pressure. Despite the fact that the authors use the product evaluation topic as the basis of their research, some theses make it clear that the balance between biased and unbiased assessments is flexible and often depends on information that was initially regarded as correct (Cohen & Golden, 1972).
By using marketing approaches as an example, Cohen and Golden (1972) discuss how exactly people’s preferences and attitudes can change if external pressure is manifested and whether conformity is a natural psychological factor. As a result, uncertainty is one of the consequences of decisions made under the influence of common opinion, and even in the case of personal convictions and following individual opinions, people tend to doubt correct conclusions. This behavior may be observed today in the information sector, and one of the key forces of modern media is the ability to influence mass opinion even if obvious contradictions are described in news articles.
To gain social approval and not to express controversial reasoning, many people follow a trend of conformity even if they do not have a clear and confident position regarding a particular phenomenon or event. Colliander (2019) describes such an effect in the context of fake news that appears in modern media periodically and provides arguments proving a tendency to imitate other people’s ideas contrary to common sense and objectivity.
The author explains this position from a psychological point of view and notes that such a behavioral pattern is a consequence of the fear of losing authority and may be regarded as an incentive to increase self-esteem (Colliander, 2019). In a virtual space, such situations are common, which, in turn, supports that fake news is largely disseminated by mass consciousness, and the effect is enhanced by collective conformity. In addition, Colliander (2019) argues that people tend to believe the majority subconsciously, and even objective arguments expressed by the minority may be perceived as biased. The spread of global social networks has led to this problem, and addiction to these resources is another significant topic in the context of the issue under consideration.
The influence of social networks is manifested not only in the ability to have an impact on public opinion but also in the desire of people to spend as much time as possible in a virtual space. Bowman et al. (2012) analyze the roles played by Facebook and Twitter, two common online platforms, in the lives of modern Internet users. The authors do not consider the trend of conformity but emphasize how cognitively demanding these networks are (Bowman et al., 2012).
Based on the findings of the research, Facebook and Twitter are resources that have a significant impact on the choices users make regarding different situations, as well as psychological aspects of behavior, such as stress tolerance and motivation (Bowman et al., 2012). Also, Bowman et al. (2012) state that for males, the social networks in question are more cognitively demanding than for females, which is an unexpected finding because, according to the prevailing opinion, modern technology is rather a masculine pursuit than a feminine one. As a result, addiction to social media encourages users to spend much time online and look for answers in a virtual communication environment.
In the decision-making process, the use of social media as a resource to receive recommendations and advice is a common trend. As Guo et al. (2019) remark, social approval acts as a driver that stimulates self-confidence. In most cases, this is a natural reaction since conformity in a virtual space is no less effective than in real life and, according to Anderson et al. (2014), is a more desirable effect than dissent.
Despite the possible fallacy of opinions expressed in media networks, trust in the common opinion is a more frequent phenomenon than the arguments of individuals, which also manifests itself in the case of fake news described by Colliander (2019). As a result, the effect of mass consciousness created in online communication is strong and sustainable. This may lead to errors committed by a large number of people due to the misunderstanding of the essence or consequence of a particular issue.
The influence of social opinions on the psychological aspects of behavior and, in particular, conformity is supported by the research conducted. In the current study, the effect of approval on the basis of the general view is considered. The ambiguity of the situation on the exam test is evaluated from the perspective of the role of virtual communication as a key driver for decision-making. In this case, the following hypotheses are addressed: hiding the fact of the professor’s mistake and Abigail’s high score is approved by the overwhelming majority of Facebook post commentators, and creating a belief in the girl’s rightness is a consequence of a common opinion. Thus, people who agree with the act in question evaluate only its positive implications, and the absence of negative comments makes it possible to reason about the effect of mass consciousness.
In general, we predict that participants who read unanimously supportive feedback will rate the Facebook user’s conduct as more acceptable than participants who read unanimously oppositional feedback, with those who read mixed feedback falling between these extremes.
More specifically, participants in the unanimously supportive condition will more strongly agree with supportive survey statements (“Abigail’s behavior was understandable, “Abigail’s behavior was reasonable”, “Abigail’s behavior was appropriate”, “I would advise Abigail to keep silent”, and “I would try to comfort Abigail”) and more strongly disagree with oppositional survey statements (“Abigail’s behavior was wrong”, “Abigail’s behavior was unethical”, “Abigail’s behavior was immoral”, and “Abigail’s behavior was unacceptable”) compared to participants in the unanimously oppositional condition, with participants in the mixed condition falling between these extremes. However, participants in both the unanimously supportive and unanimously oppositional conditions will strongly agree that they would give Abigail the same advice that her friends gave her.
Method Study I
One- hundred thirty-nine participants, I selected to conduct a survey on a Facebook consensus, in which (74.8%) were Florida International University students and (25.2%) were not FIU students. Of these randomly selected participants, there were ( 38.1%) male and (61.9%) Females, between the ages of 17-59 years old. Within those selected there was a variety of Races such as, Caucasian (N=36, 25.9%) , Hispanic (N=55, 39.6%) , Native Indian (N=3, 2.2%) , African American (N=24, 17.3%) , Asian American (N=9, 6.5%), and finally other (N=12, 8.6%).
Material and Procedures
In order to participate in this research there needed to be three participants selected at random and were orally asked if they would be willing to participate in a brief survey about a Facebook page as well as their impressions. These surveys were split into three different versions, Oppositional, supportive, and mixed. Once given permission from participants, the first participant was given a survey at random, not knowing which version it would be that consisted of reading a brief Facebook post and comments that contained feedback based on opinion, followed by a four-part questionnaire; and so on for the second and third participant.
Part one was to read the brief post posted by a girl named Abigail Foster, she was given an answer key by mistake while being handed a test and wanted to know if what she did was ethical on her part because she proceeded with taking the test but with all the correct answers while her classmates did not do so well and therefore she felt guilty because if she would have performed poorly on a test, then the curve would have favored her classmates more. Nine people responded to her post with a mixture of responses according to the version received that changed for all three participants, supportive, oppositional, or mixed opinions.
The second part consisted of rating the expressions Of Abigail’s Foster test-taking behavior: this part of the survey had seven questions that must be answered without looking back at the Facebook post, all these questions were rated 1-6, (1) strongly agree to (6) strongly disagree. An example of some of the questions was: Abigail’s behavior was wrong, Abigail’s behavior was understandable, Abigail’s behavior was reasonable, and Abigail’s behavior was unethical, etc.
Part three again without looking back, participants had to answer questions of what they will advise Abigail if they were in her position and received the answer key test and rate from 1-6, (1) strongly agree to (6) strongly disagree. This part varied between all three participants because of the different versions.
Part four consisted of six questions: gender whether male or female, age, Race/ Ethnicity: Caucasian, Hispanic American, Native Indian, African American, Asian American, and other. They were also asked if they spoke English or another language as their first language, whether or not they attended Florida International University, and finally their relationship status.
Finally, for the last procedure part five, general feedback, their opinion on what they thought that Abigail’s friends gave her, the feedback that supported her behavior, the feedback that opposed her behavior, or if the feedback was mixed. Once finished they handed me back the paper and I repeated the same steps for the other two participants.
Results Study I
A Chi-square test (χ2) was run as the primary statistical analysis. The statistical tool is designed to analyze group differences at a null hypothesis. The Pearson chi-square significance was χ2 (4) = 135.60, P <.001. from the general feedback that was given to Abigail from her friends, 37p (77.1%) said it was mixed feedback, 36p (80.0%) said it was opposed feedback, and 37p (80.4%) indicated it was supportive feedback.
An ANOVA analysis was also used on the three levels of independent variables in this study – supportive, oppositional, and mixed. One of the dependent variables included was “Abigail’s behavior was understandable.” Means of two or more samples were analyzed for variance and compared. The results indicated F(104)=19.28, P<.001. (M=4.52 SD=0.86) for the supportive group, (M=3.40 SD=1.00) for the oppositional group, and (M=3.81, SD=.734) for the mixed group. Supportive and oppositional groups showed little statistical variance from each other. The second dependent variable was, “I would give Abigail the same advice that her friends gave her.” The results were F(109.55) =9.22, P<.001. (M=4.35, SD=0.71) for the supportive group, (M=4.40, SD=.78) for the oppositional group, and (M=3.69, SD=1.13) for the mixed group.
Discussion Study I
It was predicted that participants who read unanimously supportive feedback will rate the Facebook user as more acceptable than participants who read unanimously oppositional feedback, with those who read mixed will fail between the similarity of both. From the findings of this survey, it was conducted that more people agreed with the mixed rather than the oppositional and supportive feedback. This was the opposite of our hypothesis because mixed did not fall between these extremes it was rather a much more popular selection within the 139 participants from this study.
Literature Review Study II
While Study I focused on priming conditions in the immediate context of Facebook comments examining social conformity, it was in a situation where the subjects had no expectations or prior knowledge. Such contexts may exist on social media and in real life, in the majority of situations, individuals have pre-existing knowledge or preconceived opinions about a topic or potentially about the person whose post they are viewing, impacting their response and opinion equally or stronger than simply reading comments. A large amount of literature goes to support that ranging from bias affecting the perception of information (Winter, Brückner, & Krämer, 2015) to social resistance factors (Lopez, Corona, & Halfond, 2013) and opinions about the social media platform itself (Meier, Reinecke, & Meltzer, 2016).
First, it is viable to examine how users interact with the Facebook platform itself. Continuous access to social media such as Facebook imposes self-control challenges to internet users in various demographics. Furthermore, studies find that there is a negative relationship between conscientiousness and the use of Facebook which suggests that low self-control is present in social media use (Meier et al., 2016).
Social media is a strong socializing force that shapes how individuals, particularly young populations, view themselves in relation to cultural ideals. This includes everything from physical characteristics to popular entertainment and opinions on key issues (Lopez et al., 2013). Social comparison theory suggests that individuals gain information about themselves through comparison to others. Social comparisons can occur for a variety of reasons such as self-improvement, self-enhancement, and self-evaluation.
The motivation to the comparison directly impacts its direction. Those seeking to compare themselves for self-evaluation, tend to compare themselves to superior individuals (upward domain), while self-enhancement occurs with inferior targets (downward domain). People usually engage in comparison to individuals who are similar to themselves (Kim & Park, 2016).
This is important since a person’s perception and opinions are formed through comparisons. Tsay-Vogel (2016) discusses what is known as the third-person effect (TPE) hypothesis present on social media where the perceived consumption and impact of Facebook on users results in comparison of themselves to others. The best characterization of TEP suggests that others are more vulnerable to media influence than others. The mediated messages have less effect on oneself but a greater impact on others. Therefore, the key assumption of TPE suggests that media effects are distinct entities, with users being able to differentiate communication effects on themselves and others. This discrepancy is identified as ‘perceptual distortion’ due to it being a logical inconsistency.
TPE is driven by cognitive processes which evaluate how and why social comparisons occur. Based on attribution theory, TPE is based on the desire to preserve a positive self-concept also known as self-serving bias. This is the reason why we make downward comparisons, in order to maintain or enhance self-esteem. People make social comparisons to the point of upholding unrealistic positive images of themselves in comparison to others. However, TPE diminishes as the social distance from others decreases.
For example, when evaluating other individuals on Facebook, they are perceived based on their status on the social network, as either friends or general individuals, in which case TPE amplifies (Tsay-Vogel, 2016). It is these comparisons and the concept of TPE that drive many perceptions on social media, affecting opinions potentially beforehand social conformity begins to take place making it a powerful consideration.
Facebook has become a platform for all types of information ranging from news to personal exchanges via posts and messages. There are underlying psychological mechanisms that should be considered in the context of this information processing. In terms of online comments, users tend to rely on this feature to assess the credibility of the information, and contradicting opinions can change a reader’s opinion. Comments are seen as relevant statements of peers that exert influence on public opinion even if they are not directly representative of it.
Since Facebook uses public profiles, comments are seen with names and avatar images next to the comment allowing for others to identify them and compare themselves in aspects such as age, demographics, and others. In some cases, it may lead to differentiation of opinions, but in others, it may result in credibility to their statements. Negative media and comments often have greater persuasive effects, even in reducing the credibility of established figures or media sources. Meanwhile, supportive commentary did not result in increasing the persuasive effects (Winter et al., 2015). This was partially explored in Study I and demonstrated levels of social conformity.
Based on the Cultivation Theory, people exposed to media content on socialization agents, begin to adopt and cultivate world perspectives that coincide with the messaging of the media that they have viewed (Lopez et al., 2013). In the context of the theory and comments discussed earlier, this effect occurs largely due to the ceiling effect with the original post or article already causing high levels of agreement or negativity bias with its topic (Winter et al., 2015).
Thus, it demonstrates the importance of forewarning as a potential influence since it results in the activation of personal biases. Facebook with its outreach and socio-cultural influence can be considered one of the biggest socialization agents on the planet, and users cultivate strong viewpoints based on previous interactions on the platform. Research does indicate that individuals can form resistance factors to media ideals dominant in society. These are seen through self-determination, non-conformity, and rejection of stereotypes. It helps young individuals to define their own opinions outside mainstream social media exposure (Lopez et al., 2013).
However, one aspect that has proven to be effective in creating resistance to persuasion is forewarning. Warning individuals of an upcoming message, position, or topic leads to increased resistance in persuasion. A cognitive analysis of this phenomenon suggests that a warning subconsciously motivates individuals to engage in anticipating a counterargument before the message is even received. The level of resistance is also determined by the level of responsibility. High achieving individuals with significant responsibility showed significant resistance regardless of whether a warning is given due to heightened levels of tension and negativity.
Individuals of low importance demonstrate greater resistance to messaging when given a proper warning. These findings suggest the importance of cognitive processes in “mediating the effect of message content warnings on resistance” (Zuwerink & Devine, 2000, p. 21). In the context of social media, this plays a tremendous role by offering an insight into how individuals would react. Negative attitudes on the topic can be triggered with a forewarning, leading to virtually no influence of existing comments on the social media posts.
Preconceived biases and opinions can be easily triggered by forewarnings. In combination with aspects discussed earlier such as comparisons, social perception biases also exist with the assumption that others think similarly to oneself. Biases are essentially faulty cognitive processes which are an example of social projection. These often appear around ethically challenging issues such as gun ownership or birth control in the context of the modern social media environment.
Furthermore, on social media people tend to interact with those who share similar opinions, particularly on divisive issues. It is an effect known as ‘homophily’ which is used in models to study social perception bias. Most ideological groups, regardless of which one, tend to overestimate themselves and underestimate others (Halberstam & Knight, 2016). It is also important to consider that pre-existing individual biases about an aspect have an impact on future behavior. Bias serves to be an information blocker in numerous contexts, limiting an individual’s decision-making as well as exposure to the opinions of others (Luse, Townsend, & Mennecke, 2018).
The hypothesis for the current study seeks to examine the two main effects of priming conditions and the presence of forewarning and their interaction on dependent variables. The first independent variable for the current study is a priming condition which is either supportive or mixed responses to an ethical dilemma in a social media post. The second independent variable is forewarning. When it comes to the first independent variable, the priming condition, we predict the social conformity with participants in supportive responses is higher than those with mixed responses. In the second independent variable, the presence of forewarning, the social conformity to Facebook post responses will be higher for those subjects who were not warned than the participants that had been forewarned.
Also, we predict an interaction effect between the priming condition and the presence of forewarning. That is, a participant with no forewarning and supportive responses priming condition will show greater social conformity in ratings. Meanwhile, a participant with forewarning and mixed responses priming condition will show higher independence and be less likely to conform to others’ social opinions. The other two conditions of forewarning/supportive and no forewarning/mixed will fall between these two extremes.
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Appendix A Demographics
Appendix B Crosstabs and Chi-Square
Appendix C ANOVA Descriptive and Post Hoc test