See Inside August/September 2007

Everyone Agrees

An oft-heard opinion seems popular even if it comes from only one person

With the 2008 presidential election only a year away, the merits of each candidate are becoming a common topic of conversation. But how do our brains, after hearing so many different opinions, gauge the popularity of each one? New research findings suggest that we judge a viewpoint's prevalence by how familiar it is—regardless of whether we have heard it five times from one person or once each from five different people.

Kimberlee Weaver, a psychologist at Virginia Polytechnic University, and her colleagues gave volunteers records of opinions from a fictional focus group that had supposedly met to discuss the preservation of open space in New Jersey. In some cases, multiple people expressed the viewpoints; in others, the same person repeated an opinion many times. Based on these records, they asked the subjects to estimate how the focus group, and the population in general, felt about the matter.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article