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The Burden of Social Proof: Shared Thresholds and Social Influence

90 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2009 Last revised: 14 Dec 2011

Robert MacCoun

Stanford Law School

Date Written: December 14, 2011


Social influence rises with the number of influence sources, but the proposed relationship varies across theories, situations, and research paradigms. To clarify this relationship, I argue that people share some sense of where the “burden of social proof” lies in situations where opinions or choices are in conflict. This suggests a family of models sharing two key parameters, one corresponding to the location of the influence threshold, and the other reflecting its clarity – a factor that explains why discrete “tipping points” are not observed more frequently. The plausibility and implications of this account are examined using Monte Carlo and cellular automata simulations and the relative fit of competing models across classic datasets in the conformity, group deliberation, and social diffusion literatures.

Keywords: norms, social influence, jury deliberation, conformity

JEL Classification: C92, D71, K42

Suggested Citation

MacCoun, Robert, The Burden of Social Proof: Shared Thresholds and Social Influence (December 14, 2011). UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper . Available at SSRN: or

Robert MacCoun (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-721-7031 (Phone)

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