We conform with our peers on numbers-based aspects of food orders but not quality-based aspects, such as flavor, in order to prevent social discomfort, according to research by Kelly Haws, Vanderbilt professor of marketing at the Owen Graduate School of Management.

Haws and her colleagues conducted an experiment to explore the phenomenon of selective peer pressure on our food choices, aiming to tackle questions about how we eat when we’re with others and how our choices are impacted by what others do.

The research found that consumers are more likely to adjust their own choices to match others’ if the options can be ranked. For example, single-scoop and double-scoop ice creams differ in ice cream quantity, so they can be ranked. These qualities are called ordinal attributes; other examples include quantitative values like price or calorie count. However, consumers will less often match others’ choices on attributes that cannot be ranked, such as flavor. These qualities are called nominal attributes.

According to the study, the reason that a consumer might choose to match their peers on ordinal attributes is not necessarily because a certain choice is better but rather to minimize social discomfort, such as to avoid seeming too indulgent by ordering too much ice cream or not indulgent enough if the mood is more celebratory. 

The concept of “hot-desking” – a kind of office design in which workers are not assigned to a regular cubicle or desk but rather are encouraged to sit in different locations each day at work – isn’t super popular. And, it might not be a good idea for employers.

Why? Employees experience it as a bit abnormal, says Trevor Foulk, assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and research has shown that employees who consider their work settings to be abnormal are more likely to view their organizati...