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Special Education Director's Blog

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Social Proof

There is a professional conference that I attend every year that has a special appeal for me. Yes, it has great sessions and opportunities for professional growth, but my first stop on the first day is always the exhibit hall. In addition to all of the special education vendors, there is always ONE booth that sells unique jackets and shirts. I look forward each year to coming home with new treasures!
This year I was down in the exhibit hall as it opened to get the first look at all the new goodies. I was the only person in the booth. Well, I looked at, touched, and even tried on multiple pieces, but nothing jumped out to me. A bit sad, I finally walked away to get some breakfast.
Later at the first break, I walked past the booth and it was packed. Women everywhere! They were pulling down clothes, seeking support from their friends as to how great they would look in it, and lining up to purchase. Now I had just spent a good portion of time having a private tour of all the racks and had found nothing, but suddenly I felt an urge to dive back in to look again. Certainly all these ladies couldn’t be wrong!  What if they bought all the good stuff?
You know what I did . . . I went in! This time with expectations of finding something fabulous. Others obviously had!
Well, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. I am now the proud owner of two new jackets . . . that don’t fit . . . yet!
So only when I was driving home did I realize what had just happened. There is a psychological principal of influence called social proof. It means that we are influenced by what others do and value. If we see someone else liking something, we are more likely to do so as well. It is why new restaurants allow a line to form outside the restaurant even though there might be room for people to sit. People driving by see the line and think that it must be a really good place to eat and will be more likely to eat there in the future. It is why toothpaste ads say “Four out of five dentists recommend . . . ”  We think, “If dentists like it, surely I will too!”
As a psychologist I still fell prey to that powerful principle! So on my drive home I thought a lot about social proof. If it is so powerful, how can we use it for good? It is not a secret that the collective reputation of special education is not at a high right now. How could social proof help in that? Could we encourage our satisfied parents to tell their stories at PTA meetings or a Board meeting? How about highlighting a successful program or student in the school/district newsletter? Perhaps making friends with the local newspaper to get some positive press?
You guys are very creative! You will come up with even better ideas! Principles of influence exist. We might as well use them to our benefit. You have some great achievements to brag about!
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