Bjorn Carey in LiveScience.com:
A new study reveals that we make our music purchases based partly on our perceived preferences of others.
Researchers created an artificial “music market” of 14,341 participants drawn from a teen-interest Web site. Upon entering the study’s Internet market, the participants were randomly, and unknowingly, assigned to either an “independent” group or a “social influence” group.
Participants could then browse through a collection of unknown songs by unknown bands.
In the independent condition, participants chose which songs to listen to based solely on the names of the bands and their songs. While listening to the song, they were asked to rate it from one star (“I hate it”) to five stars (“I love it”). They were also given the option of downloading the song for keeps.
“This condition measured the quality of the songs and allowed us to see what outcome would result in the absence of social influence,” said study co-author Matthew Salganik, a sociologist at Columbia University.
In the social influence group, participants were provided with the same song list, but could also see how many times each song had been downloaded.
Researchers found that popular songs were popular and unpopular songs were unpopular, regardless of their quality established by the other group.