The one sentence summary

You can have a sharper sense of your own, and other people’s behaviour if you understand the hidden forces behind what we do.


  • The book is all about social psychology and how people behave. There are a number of important forces that shape behaviour.
  • It is a human tendency to imitate. That’s why people follow others even when they know the answer is wrong. Mimicking makes us better negotiators by creating empathy. Apparent success for films, books and songs makes them even more popular. Married people often look alike, and copycat waiters get bigger tips. It’s a case of monkey see, monkey do.
  • People like differentiation. Some just jump on the bandwagon, but many jump off as soon as something becomes too popular. Working class people are happy to blend in, but the more money you have, the more you want to stand out. Ordering food with others causes problems because when someone else orders what you want, you often change your mind.
  • Whether we imitate others or do something different depends on who they are. Many like to emulate the habits and products of certain celebrities, but if they are unappealing, then it becomes a case of: “Not if they’re doing it.” This is where the competing tendencies to imitate and differentiate combine. Some brands pay celebrities not to wear their products if their image is wrong.
  • Similar but different sums up the tension between familiarity and novelty. This is the value of being optimally distinct. Modern art grates the first time we see it, then we get used to it. Popular names for children correlate with hurricane names – not the identical name but those beginning with the same letter. Similar, but not quite the same.
  • Social influence shapes motivation. If something is relatively easy to do, we do better when in the presence of others (running faster in a gym). If it’s hard, we do worse (parallel parking). This is called social facilitation.
  • Being one goal down at halftime increases the chances of a soccer team winning because winning still seems possible. Tennis players who lose a tie break tend to go on to lose the match because they were so close, and then they are suddenly a long way behind.


  • Social influence has a huge impact on behaviour. By understanding how it works, we can harness its power. We can avoid its downsides and take advantage of its benefits. We can maintain our individuality and avoid being swept up in the crowd.
  • We can have more fulfilling social interactions, be more successful, and help others to help us make better-informed decisions. We can also decide when to resist social influence and when to embrace it.
  • Influence is a tool like any other. If we understand it, then we don’t have to stand passively by and just watch it happen.
  • Where do you see influence? How do the others around you shape your life and how are you shaping theirs?


  • Not much, but well-read students of social psychology may have seen a fair number of the examples before.