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Social Psychology and Recruiting for Public Discussions

Back in March I described recruiting single individuals to IF public discussions as a “dead end.”  I meant not that it couldn’t be done, but rather that IF’s experience so far is that it’s easier and more effective to work with groups that already exist in the community.

I don’t think it’s any great mystery, but it may be helpful to remember why this should be the case.  As the bestselling book Switch, which is about getting people to do things differently, reminds us, perhaps the most robust finding in the entire field of social psychology is that people follow the herd.  “Behavior is contagious”, as the book’s authors Chip and Dan Heath put it (New York: Broadway Books, 2010; p. 227).  This applies to getting people to a discussion as much as anything else.

To this I would only add this corollary: the degree to which behavior will be contagious will be a function of the trust, respect, and feeling people have for “the herd,” all of which are higher in organized groups than in loose collections of individuals.