Primal emotions like fear or romance override herd mentality, which is what governs people otherwise, especially when it comes to making choices.
Advertisers have taken advantage of the herd mentality, which often explains why specific products are best-sellers or are particularly popular.
But new research by Vladas Griskevicius, marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management (U-MCSM), shows that primal emotions like fear and romantic desire can override herd mentality.
Griskevicius and his co-authors found that whichever emotion we are feeling currently determines whether we conform or go against the grain.
For instance, "being afraid especially leads people to go along with the crowd, activating a 'safety-in-numbers' psychology", said Griskevicius.
"A feeling of lust, however, motivates people to go it alone, activating a desire to be seen as unique. Feeling scared or amorous can greatly change the way people make decisions."
To test the idea, the researchers had people watch a short clip from a frightening or a romantic film. Afterward, people viewed ads for a trip to Las Vegas that contained commonly used persuasive appeals either rooted in conformity ("over a million sold") or rooted in uniqueness ("stand out from the crowd").
After watching a scary film, people were especially persuaded by conformity-based appeals that presented the trip as a popular option.
Conversely, after people watched a romantic clip, they were not only less persuaded by the same conformity-based appeal, but such appeals were counter-persuasive.
The romantically inclined especially did not want to visit Las Vegas if they knew that many others are already going. Instead, they were more persuaded by appeals that presented the trip as a unique, unusual or exotic choice that others might not make.
The fact that emotions can dramatically influence people's tendency to go with or go against the group should not be overlooked by marketers, said an U-MCSM release.