Adults are making life decisions based upon unsubstantiated advice from friends and family rather than experts, according to a study by scientists.
The research, featuring more than 1,000 participants, looked at the excessive influence the opinions of their social circle had upon their life decisions – known as “social proof”.
It revealed that, on average, contributors were 1.5 times more likely to listen to friends and family across a range of issues, from restaurant recommendations through to serious financial choices, over that of an expert in the field.
Exactly half were more likely to ask friends and family about where to invest money – with 40 per cent relying on their opinion even when it comes to high-risk investment choices over any other sources, including experts.
The term “social proof”, coined Dr. Robert Cialdini in 1984, refers to the unconscious influence those around us have on our decision-making, with one aspect being the “wisdom of friends” – which refers to the phenomenon where advice from peers carries much more weight than is wise in important choices.
During the experiment, commissioned by new investment app “&me” – which gives consumers access to tailored portfolios and expert advice – researchers found participants are largely unaware of this effect.
According to the findings, even when people say they value expert knowledge, they often revert to the opinions of those closest to them when making a key judgement call.
It also emerged adults turn to advice from friends and family 54 per cent (1.5 times) more in all areas of life, ahead of professional advice sources such as a financial adviser, restaurant critic, or an OFSTED inspector.
Interestingly, a banker’s opinion was rated as eight per cent lower than average on the topic of budgeting compared to other financial advice sources, with 19 per cent more likely to pick their partner for advice.
And TV shows giving financial advice were more likely to have an influence – being picked 15 per cent more often than a professional.
&me collaborated with Dr Briony Pulford, associate professor of psychology at the University of Leicester, to delve into why people are so unduly influenced by friends and family when it comes to making life decisions.
Commenting on the experiment carried out by behavioural scientists at Mindlab International, Dr Pulford said: “We prefer advice from friends and family because we instinctively trust them and believe that they have our best interests at heart, knowing our preferences and personal values, and taking those into account when advising us.
“Essentially, they “speak our language”.
“But this research tells us that we are overly influenced by friends and family in many situations, rather than seeking out experts.
“People have a “simplicity bias”, preferring a simple narrative rather than one that has more complexity – even if the complex one is more accurate, realistic, and balanced.
“Many want to fit in with their peers, so finding out that other people do something makes you more likely to do it, too – this is “social proof”, and it makes people feel more reassured that they are making the right decision.”
Further supporting research of 2,000 adults revealed more than a quarter (28 per cent) deliberately avoid seeking advice from experts in favour of going with the opinion of friends and family.
And only 32 per cent say they would consider the guidance from both those they’re closest to, as well as a professional.
Almost a third have made a big life decision – such as whether or not to get married, leave a partner, or change careers – based solely on the advice of those closest to them.
But while seven in ten claim never to have been given bad advice on a big life decision by family or friends, 22 per cent say they have been badly advised by their nearest and dearest on issues – with 72 per cent saying their advice actually led to a negative outcome.
Half of those polled, via OnePoll, have even stopped being friends with someone who gave them bad advice.
Unsurprisingly, as a result, four in ten confessed to wishing they’d sought more expert advice before making a big life decision.
Gut instinct is critical to 84 per cent when it comes to making life’s biggest decisions – while some people reveal they use rather more unorthodox approaches.
Four in ten (41 per cent) write a list of pros and cons, 12 per cent delegate responsibility and let someone else make the decision for them, nine per cent flip a coin, and eight per cent consult a clairvoyant.
Riaan de Bruyn, from investment app &me, which provides access to a team of dedicated consultants to help people invest, added: “Of course the opinion of our friends and family matters, but what this research proves is that we must be mindful and selective about when we take it, and who we take it from.
“Everyone likes to consider themselves an expert, but sometimes this can cause misplaced confidence.
“When it comes to serious decisions, whether they be personal or financial choices, it is important in many instances to take on board expert opinion.
“The research showed many would turn to their friends and family for advice on where to invest their money.
“We would caution you to think twice about this approach, and recommend taking advantage of accessible financial expertise.”