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How Online Reviews Make us Better People

Online reviews are functionally our most reliable way of telling if a product on offer is worth our time and money. A recent survey has shown that 88% of online consumers trust online reviews to the same degree as a personal recommendation. Only 12% claim not to regularly read reviews. These numbers are astounding.

We do, however, have a few moments of mental bias when going over these many product reviews, but they aren't the kind you'd expect.

The Negativity Bias

The human brain has a way of preferring bad news over good news. We not only better remember the bad, but actively seek it out during the day. This is why the daily news tends to forget that life is not just doom and gloom.

Oddly enough, the negativity bias tends to be put on hold when dealing with online reviews. As we read up on a product, we seem not to put any more weight onto negative reviews than positive ones (Wu, P. F, 2013).

A lack of negative reviews does make us suspicious though. As long as they are not overwhelming the positive, negative reviews are welcome. Too many positive reviews actually lower the likelihood a product will be purchased, simply because it seems faked.

More is Better

When browsing online, the more reviews the better. A review is a form of social proof. The more there are, the more people have used the product and felt strongly about it. More reviews, good or bad, equal more conversion.

Not only the number of reviews, but their length also makes an impact. We tend to ascribe more value to reviews that are longer to read. A long form review will receive more viewers and be considered more helpful to us (Mohammad Salehan, 2015).

This, of course, goes against everything we know about humans in the wild. The same species that can't get past the headline to read an article, and only responds to policy presented in soundbite form, is suddenly a scholar when it comes to online reviews.

A Racial Element

One study attempted to measure how different ethnicity reviewers affect the reviewing process (Carolyn A. Lin, Xiaowen Xu, 2017). As we would expect, we tend to find reviews from members of similar ethnic groups to be more trustworthy, when making our purchasing decisions, however, in the end, the best predictor of conversion was the valence of the review itself. If a review is long, clear, and positive, it makes a larger impact on purchase, no matter who wrote it.

The human brain is biased in many ways. It will tend to prefer the negative over the positive, and look for shorter quicker answers rather than taking the time required to process long form arguments. This is true, it seems, everywhere but in online reviews.

When deciding which product will make us happy, we act completely unlike ourselves. We prefer a good long review over the snappy ten word variety, we reasonably balance the positive and negative, and even get over any inherent racism we might have harbored.

It seems that when purchasing products online, we are the best versions of ourselves.

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