You’re in a movie theater or a large event space, when smoke starts coming into the room from an air vent.

It isn’t clear what the smoke is, if it’s dangerous, so it is, from your viewpoint thus far, an ambiguous situation.

Whether you or anyone else — another participant or security person — decides to stay or leave the room to get help isn’t all up to you or them it seems.  Instead, it all depends on the Other:
1. The behavior of Other people in the room.

2. How many Others are in the room (the more Others in the room and the more Others who ignore the smoke, the more likely you would also ignore the smoke.

3. If you were alone, you would leave the room and go to notify someone; but, if there were Others in the room not reacting, you would also, most likely, not react.

Although none of us likes to admit that we are easily influenced by others, the truth is that we are. This is why when we are unsure about what to do — what movie to go to, restaurant to try, book to buy, hotel to book, trail to hike — we look to testimonials, ratings and reviews to tell us how to behave.

In Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? there is evidence reported that this tendency to look to others to decide what to do is called social validation. In one study, a participant is brought into a room of people taking a survey.

The most powerful ratings and reviews include information about the person writing the review – a mini “persona”. This is effective because the person reading the review will give more credence to a review written by someone who is like them. Stories are also powerful, because they “talk” to our emotional brain. Ratings from people like us are more powerful than ratings from “experts.”

Google calls it the zero moment of truth. Whatever you might call it, it’s that critical moment in the marketing-sales-revenue timeline when the buyer decides, “I’m in, I’m buying.” Or not.

Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior; Latane, Bibb, and John M. Darley. The Unresponsive Bystander. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Originally published on


Latest Update: Jul 19, 2016