South University at East University
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104

Cultural objects, like movies, books, and music, vary greatly in their success, suggesting that successful and unsuccessful objects are qualitatively different; yet, paradoxically, success in cultural markets appears highly unpredictable. In this talk I argue that social influence, in the form of information about the decisions of others, can resolve the paradox. To explore the counterintuitive effects of social influence, I will discuss the results of a series of four experiments (total n = 27,267), conducted via a website where subjects could listen to and download new pop songs. By controlling the information that subjects received about the behavior of others, we observed directly the effects of social influence, finding that it increased the inequality and the unpredictability of outcomes simultaneously; and that under some conditions the perceived success of a song became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Duncan Watts is associate professor of sociology at Columbia University where he leads the Collective Dynamics Group ( His research examines the ways in which theories and applications have come together in the Information Age. His books include Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, The Structure and Dynamics of Networks, and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness.

Official Website:

Added by emv on August 24, 2006