On December 1st, 2016 we learned about

Supposedly ‘personal’ opinions are shaped by perceptions of price, prestige and popularity

Even if you don’t know much about art, you probably know who’s opinions you like. As much you might feel a gut reaction to a painting or sculpture, your impression of it is likely shaped by what you think the world thinks of it. Being impressed by qualities external to the art itself isn’t exactly a proud notion if you’re interested in making up your own mind, but experiments were able to confirm how malleable our opinions are such matters of “taste.” Price and prestige, measured along a couple of different lines, were all found to make a difference to how well people found an otherwise unchanged painting.

Swayed by others’ status

University students were asked to take a look at a series of paintings and share their opinions of each. Before they saw the paintings, researchers were set them up with potential biases by sharing what a third party thought of the collection. Those fictitious viewers were described as belonging to one of three groups— art experts, the students’ peers, or college dropouts essentially described as doing nothing with their lives. Compared to test subjects who were not primed with any social context about the art, these participants generally made a point of agreeing with the opinions of the experts and friends, while disagreeing with the dropouts. These biases could work either as positives or negatives, indicating that people’s opinion can be nudged in any direction as long as there’s a social incentive to do so. Basically, endorsements from respected groups work.

Persuaded by prices

The second form of bias tested concerned the paintings’ supposed monetary value. Rather than having opinions primed by fictitious social consensus, test subjects’ opinions were pushed by fictitious sales prices. As you might expect, more expensive art was more likable than cheaper pieces. This is in line with similar studies of how people rate their enjoyment of wine, with the a single wine receiving more praise when it has a higher price attached to it.

This may not seem horribly relevant if you’re not actively shopping the art market, but it demonstrates psychological tendencies that likely shape our experiences more than we realize. It seems that even when our “personal opinion” may feel personal, there’s a good chance it has a lot to do with our desire to fit in with the opinions of other people.

Source: We like what experts like — and what is expensive, Scienmag

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