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Social Isolation Affects Consumer Choice

Lonely people behave differently in the marketplace than people with strong social networks, U.S. and Canadian researchers found.

Jing Wang of the University of Iowa, Rui (Juliet) Zhu of the University of British Columbia, and Baba Shiv of Stanford University said almost 25 percent of respondents in a social survey in 2004 said they had no one to discuss important matters with.

"Despite the popularity of Wi-Fi technologies and social networks such as Facebook, Americans are more socially isolated than two decades ago," the study authors said.

The researchers asked participants to evaluate products based on information that included social consensus information—the percentage of previous consumers that liked the products. They measured participants' feelings of loneliness and found that to a large extent, non-lonely people preferred majority-endorsed products—preferred by 80 percent of previous consumers.

However, lonely people preferred minority-endorsed products—preferred by only 20 percent of previous consumers—but they switched to majority-endorsed products once their preferences became public.

The findings are scheduled to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research in April.

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