Adults make life decisions based on advice from friends and family — not experts, a study shows

ADULTS make important life decisions based on advice from friends and family, not experts, according to scientists.

The study, which included more than 1,000 participants, examined the overriding influence of a person’s social environment on their life choices — known as “social proof.”

Research shows that seven out of ten people do not regret taking advice from friends and family


Research shows that seven out of ten people do not regret taking advice from friends and familyPhoto credit: Getty

It showed that contributors were, on average, 1.5 times more likely to listen to friends and family on a range of topics from restaurant recommendations to serious financial decisions than to an expert in the field.

Exactly half were more likely to ask friends and family where to invest their money, with 40 percent relying on their opinion, even when making risky investment decisions, over other sources, including experts.

The term “social proof”, coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini in 1984, refers to the unconscious influence that those around us have on our decision making, one aspect being the “wisdom of friends” – referring to the phenomenon that advice from peers carries far more weight than it does from important decisions is wise.

During the experiment, which was commissioned by new investing app &me – which gives consumers access to tailored portfolios and expert advice – researchers found that participants were largely unaware of this effect.

According to the results, even when people say they value expert knowledge, they often consult the opinions of those closest to them when making an important decision.

It also found that adults across all walks of life seek advice from friends and family 54 percent (1.5 times) more often than professional sources of advice, such as a financial advisor, restaurant critic, or an OFSTED inspector.

Interestingly, a banker’s opinion on budgeting is rated below average by 8 percent, while 19 percent are more likely to choose their partner for advice.

But TV shows featuring financial advice were the most influential – they were chosen 15 percent more often than a professional.

&me worked with Dr. Briony Pulford, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Leicester, to examine why people are so influenced by friends and family when it comes to making life decisions.

dr Commenting on the experiment conducted by behavioral scientists at Mindlab International, Pulford said: “We prefer the advice of friends and family because we instinctively trust them and believe they have our best interests at heart, as they know and embrace our preferences and personal values take into account in the consultation.

“Essentially ‘they speak our language.’

“But this research tells us that in many situations, we are overly influenced by friends and family rather than seeking experts.

“People have a ‘simplicity bias’ – they prefer a simple narrative to a more complex one, even if the complex one is more accurate, realistic, and balanced.

“Many want to fit in with their peers. So if you find out that others are doing something, you’re more likely to do it too – that’s ‘social proof’ and it gives people more confidence that they’re making the right decision.”

Further supporting research of 2,000 adults found that more than a quarter deliberately avoid expert advice, instead following the opinions of friends and family.

Only 32 percent said they would consider advice from both those they are closest to and a professional.

And nearly a third have made a major life decision, such as For example, getting married, leaving a partner, or changing careers based solely on the advice of those closest to them.

While seven in ten say they have never been badly advised by family or friends when making an important life decision, 22 percent say they have been badly advised by loved ones when faced with a problem.

And 72 percent said their advice actually produced a negative outcome.

In fact, half of those surveyed via OnePoll are no longer friends with someone who gave them bad advice.

Not surprisingly, four in ten respondents wished they had sought more expert advice before making a major life decision.

While 84 percent use gut instinct when making life’s biggest decisions, some people reveal that they use more unorthodox approaches.

Four in ten (41 percent) write a list of pros and cons, 12 percent delegate responsibility and leave the decision to others, nine percent flip a coin, and eight percent consult a psychic.

Riaan de Bruyn of investment app &me said: “Obviously the opinions of our friends and family are important, but this study proves that we need to be mindful and selective about when we take them and who we take them from.

“Everyone likes to think they are an expert, but sometimes that can lead to false confidence.

“When making serious decisions, whether personal or financial, it is often important to obtain expert opinions.

“Research has shown that 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 encourage you to use accessible financial expertise.”

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If you want to know who you rely on to make the big decisions in life, take this quiz. Adults make life decisions based on advice from friends and family — not experts, a study shows


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