This study examines the relationship between social influence and recommendation decisions among adolescents in the new media environment. Participants were asked to complete the ´App Recommendation Task´, a task that captures neural processes associated with making recommendations to others, with and without information about peer recommendations of the type commonly available online.
Sharing opinions, ideas and information is an important aspect of communication. It has a substantial impact om human preferences and behaviors (Tzourio-Mazoyer et al., 2002). People frequently make recommendations about using specific products and services to share their experiences and opinions with others. Word-of-mouth recommendations can significantly shape consumer decisions (Anderson and Magruder, 2012). This phenomenon is particularly highlighted in the new media environment, in which people can instantly share with a wide range of people. In the online space, consumers are able to make recommendations for everything.
The current study
The researchers combine two previously reviewed literature streams on the neural mechanisms underlying recommendations and social influence to test predictions about mechanisms that lead participants to update their recommendation in response to feedback about peers’ recommendations. They developed the ‘App Recommendation Task’ for the participants of the study to examine the intersection between recommendation decisions and social influence on such decisions. The task captures neural processes associated with sharing online recommendations for a mobile game. The ‘App Recommendation Task’ uses real world game app titles, images and descriptions from the iTunes App Store. Actual apps were used to maximize the external validity and engagement for the participants. Only games from one category were used, to prevent strong preferences for specific game categories. Participants were asked to review information about the game that is available at the App Store: game titles, logos and descriptions of the game. The measurements consisted of two rounds. First, the recommendation intentions were recorded during a prescan session which participants learned about the games. Participants had to answer questions such as “How likely would you be to recommend the game to a friend?” with a five-point Likert scale (1 = “would not recommend, 5 = “would recommend”). In total, 80 different game applications were reviewed, which were randomly selected for the participants.
The results show that increased activity in the striatum and orbitofrontal cortex in response to peer recommendations is (significantly) correlated with participants changing their recommendation to be more consistent with the feedback of other people for that specific subject. Also, individual differences with activation of the temporoparietal junction during feedback of peer recommendations varied from those of the participant correlated with individual differences in susceptibility to influence the recommendation decisions for the different subjects. These are brain regions that have been implicated (in previous research) to be implicated in social influence and have been associated with being a successful idea salesperson.
The study asked all participants to write a recommendation on 80 different applications. However, most users of application never/seldom write a recommendation. This suggest that most people that participated in the study never write recommendations. An improvement for this study could be to use more experienced writers of reviews, because their opinion will be less dependent on the recommendations of others. This will probably influence the results, which would be a very interesting addition to this research.
Anderson, M. and Magruder, J. (2012) Learning from the Crowd: Regression Discontinuity Estimates of the Effects of an Online Review Database, Economic Journal, 122 (563), pp. 957-989.
Cascio, C.N., O’Donnell, M.B., Bayer, J., Tinney, F.J. and Falk, E.B. (2015) Neural correlates of susceptibility to group opinions in online word-of-mouth recommendations, Journal of Marketing Research, August 2015, Vol. 52, Issue 4, pp. 559-575.
Tzourio-Mazoyer, N., Landeau, B., Papathanassiou, D., Crivello, F., Etard, O. and Delcroix, N. (2002) Automated Anatomical Labeling of Activatons in SPM Using a Macroscopic Anatomical Parcellation of the MNI MRI Single-Subject Brain, Neuroimage, 15 (1), pp. 273-289.