Spotify has revolutionised the way we listen to music with millions of songs available to listen to at our leisure. But with this online service comes the social influence of other Spotify users, influencing which songs we choose to listen to.
The Social Identity Theory (Tajfel,1981) states that part of our self-concept comes from our membership to a social group. We create ‘in-groups’ which we see ourselves belonging to and ‘out-groups’ who we perceive as being different from us. Membership to the in-group contributes to our self-esteem, so we perform behaviour which ensures that we are similar to the in-group.
Solomon Asch (1955) famously demonstrated that people change their opinion to match the majority of the group. This study involved participants judging which of 3 lines is the same length as another corresponding line, taking into account the other members' inaccurate opinions. People frequently chose the incorrect line to match the majority opinion. Another study demonstrated conformity in deciding whether a colour is blue or green in a group situation (Moscovici et al, 1969). Again people frequently chose the incorrect colour, changing their opinion to match the majority opinion.
Since our Spotify account can be linked to our Facebook account, we can view our friends’ listening activity on the right sidebar and they can view ours. These friends may form part of our perceived ‘in-group’ and therefore we may choose to listen to similar music they are listening to. Asch (1955) showed that it only takes a majority of 3 members for us to conform our behaviour to match theirs.
We may also follow social norms in listening to what is ‘the norm’ such as Drake, and avoid listening to songs that go against social norms when we are on a “public” listening session.
Another display of conformity is the playlists which Spotify recommends such as ‘Today’s Top Hits.’ In listening to playlists like this, we assume that we will like the songs for no reason other than because other people do. We then believe we do like these songs more as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A study which used an artificial ‘‘music market” showed exactly this (Salganik, Dodds & Watts, 2006). Participants downloaded previously unknown songs either with knowledge of previous participants’ choices or without any information about previous downloads. The success of a song was more unpredictable in the social influence condition than in the independent condition. It is hard to predict when social influence will cause one particular song to gain popularity and take off as a ‘hit’.
What can we learn from this? We are more influenced by others’ music preferences than we perhaps think and our music choices are less independent. I have started to stay on a “private” listening session and I have turned off the right sidebar. If we take out of consideration what everyone else is listening to, we can choose what we ourselves want to listen to and not worry about being judged.
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
Moscovici, S. and Zavalloni, M. (1969). The group as a polarizer of attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 125-135.
Salganik, M.J., & Dodds, P.S., & Watts, D.J. (2006). Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market. Science, 311(5762), 854-856.
Tajfel, H. ( 1981). Social stereotypes and social groups. In J. C. Turner & H. Giles (Eds.), Intergroup behaviour (pp. 144-167). Oxford: Blackwell.