What drives people to like things outside the boundaries of Facebook’s walls if the action is not accompanied by a social reward?
Here, the answer lies in the concept of voice. Voice is the opportunity you have to present your opinion in the decision-making process, before a final decision is made; as such, it can enhance your sense of satisfaction with your decision, as well as the process that led to it. Voice is instrumental because it helps you to increase control over the decision-making process, which in turn leads to a better outcome.
Numerous studies conducted both in the lab and in natural settings have shown that having a sense of voice can deepen positive feelings, even when it has no direct impact on a decision.
One such study that was designed to observe the effects of voice on both the sender and receiver, found that voice increased satisfaction because it heightened the perceived value of the interaction (Margalit, Suleiman and Samid, 2011 ). The study simulated a negotiation in the context of resource allocation, in which one group of participants was given the opportunity to voice their opinion prior to the final decision, and the other group was not. The results indicated that in comparison to a no-voice condition, the voice condition (which yielded the same negotiation results) increased satisfaction with the decision, and generated positive feelings towards the process in both the sender and the receiver. This is exactly what the like is all about – it enhances satisfaction as it gives value to the whole engagement process.
Having a voice in the decision-making process has been found to enhance satisfaction on both sides – the side that has the opportunity to voice an opinion (the sender), and the side who hears the voice (the receiver). Pressing like after engaging in a personal activity online (reading an article, purchasing an item, watching a movie) is a way of expressing your voice.
There are two levels to the relationship between like and voice – explicit and implicit. At the explicit level, people press like to voice their positive feedback. At the implicit level, the phenomenon relates to the subconscious level of behaviour. People value voice because it suggests that their views are worthy and have a positive impact on their social status and self-worth. The opportunity to voice an opinion is interpreted as an expression of respect and appreciation, and thus creates positive feelings.
Clicking like after reading an article, for example, is like saying: "I read this article, and I liked it. I want to express my views on the matter because my opinion is worth mentioning". The possibility of sharing your opinion online suggests that someone is interested in what you have to say, which in turn has a positive effect on your sense of self-worth. Moreover, it provides the website with a social context, giving it a sense of online socialization. Having the option to like something signals the presence of a real person on the other side, rather than just a virtual figure. The ability to talk back, send comments or share a link (all of which generate positive impact with minimum effort) has the same psychological effect, which is why an increasing number of websites are choosing to use this technique.
It is also possible to learn about the importance of voice from people’s reactions when there is no voice. The frustration effect refers to circumstances in which, despite the possibility for people express an opinion, the decision maker does not take those opinions into consideration. In such cases, people typically end up feeling worse than they would have, had they not been asked to voice their opinion in the first place.
Another implication of the like is self-persuasion. Because our actions secretly influence our opinions, clicking like can encourage positive thoughts we might have towards a brand or person. Research has shown that after having people actively present persuasive arguments as part of role play, they tend to express positive views that support that argument. Asking someone to say something, even if it contradicts their own views and opinion, can secretly twist their beliefs into favoring what they are saying. Likewise, even if people are not fond of a particular post, object, person, or view, the simple act of clicking like, even when done with no profound intention or conviction, can lead to a rationalization process that will subconsciously make them feel positively about that post, object, person, etc.
The like has become so much more than just a positive reaction we express towards something someone has posted or updated. This simple function has become an incredibly influential tool both for the sender and the receiver. Used in a positive way, it can promote self-esteem, self-worth, feelings of acceptance, and online socialization. Its significance stems from both social and individual incentives: social incentives, because like affects the way other people perceive us; and individual incentives, because it impacts how we feel about ourselves.
Margalit. L, Suleiman. R, & Samid. Y, (2011). Behavioral and Emotional Reactions to Voice Unanswered. In press