Social Identity Contradictions

Social identity contradictions, also known as reverse social proof or negative social proof are a way to decrease the value of an option/cut off that option by using social proof against it. Or in short, telling the person that “most people don’t do this”.

Underlying Psychology/Biases

This technique works in the opposite way that social proof does. While social proof validates an offering because most people do it, this technique restricts the value of an option because most people don’t do it.


As with social proof itself, it works better with a defined crowd. If the person is a high finance executive making $200-250k a year, it’s one thing to say:

  • Most people don’t choose this option”;
    • It’s another thing to say:
  • Most high finance executives making $200-250k a year don’t choose this option”;

There are five specific accelerators you can use to increase the value of a social identity contradiction:

  • Using supporting numbers
    • Saying, “97.1% of people do this” versus saying “90% of people do this”, versus “Most people do this”;
    • The more specific the number, the better;
  • Planting an ally
    • Having a friend or actor seem to be a past, successful customer can convert the current one;
    • Website popup plugins that create the illusion of multiple people buying every couple of seconds;
  • Labeling the injunctive norm (telling the person what they should do for their own good)
    • Telling them this is the right choice for their future;
    • The more you can illustrate the person’s future self, the more this will work;
      • Principle of future self-continuity;
        • We can view our future self as either a different person, or just “us in the future”;
        • Accomplishing the latter has a lot more persuasive power;
        • This is why making the person visualize the future, using altered self-portraits to show old age and more all work to persuade in this case;
  • Inquiring on deviation
    • Actively asking the person, “Why are you different?”;
    • It puts them on the spot. In most cases, they won’t be able to crystalize the reason;
  • Giving a negative example
    • Telling the person something such as, “John was planning on doing the same as you, and look where he is now”;


Mentioned in UPP:

  • “Everybody does it”
    • The most common form of using this technique is saying, “Hey, most people do this, why don’t you do it as well?”;
  • “You’re against us?”
    • Especially present in tight-knit groups, such as the military;
    • Anytime that someone disagrees even a little bit, and threatens the consistency of the organization, people will actively ask, “So, you’re against us?”, putting them on the spot. Inquiring on deviation;
  • “Why are you different?”
    • Another example of inquiring on deviation;
    • When someone is going against a group, and you turn to look them in the eyes and actively ask, “Why are you different?”, you’re putting them on the hot seat. It’s this at work;
  • “Everyone’s saying it”
    • An example used by Donald Trump. Even without any valid argument, this was very effective;
    • Whatever the objection would be, Trump would just keep insisting. “Everyone’s saying it. Everyone says it. Everyone I talk to. Everyone I meet. Everyone says it”;
  • Website popups
    • An example of planting an ally;
    • Some plugins will show, on the corner of the screen, on your website, every 2-3 seconds, a small popup saying something like, “Michael viewed product [ABC]”, or “John bought”;
    • These are automated and fake, but they create a scarcity effect that gets others to buy;


  • Making an example out of someone
    • When someone has a disproportionate response, for example, in a company, to “make an example out of someone”, they are doing precisely this. They are illustrating one specific negative example so that everyone else knows what not to do;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • Social identity contradictions work by contrasting the person’s expected action against a bigger group, which makes their argument lose strength;
    • They can be used to weaken an objection, or to actually cut off someone’s exit at the closing stage;
  • The closer the group is to the specific target, the more effective this technique will be. Just like in social proof the person wants a recommendation from “another me”, here they want a negative recommendation from “another me”;
  • There are multiple accelerators, but they rely on making the person feel weird or unnatural by deviating from the majority;
  • Specifically when illustrating the injunctive norm – what the person should do for their future, the more you can illustrate the person’s future self, the more they will feel connected to it and make the right choice;