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Divergence in Cultural Practices: Tastes as Signals of Identity

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Abstract

Divergence is a fact of social life; people select different tastes to distinguish themselves from others and they abandon tastes when others adopt them. But while we know a great deal about conformity, it predicts convergence, and thus is less equipped to explain why people diverge. We suggest people diverge to maintain clear signals of identity. Our approach emphasizes that the meaning of signals is set at a social rather than individual level. Tastes gain signal value through association with groups or types of individuals, but become diluted when members of more than one type hold them. Thus different types of people will diverge in the tastes they select, and they will abandon tastes they previously liked when they are adopted by members of other social types. (127 words)

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... Observational learning, mimicry of others behavior [10] Visible actions in networked interactions increase greater imitability (e.g., [2]) Imitation and divergence in behavior as a means of identity signaling [9] Dynamics of idea propagation, a result of two sided interaction in social media [36] ...
... It has been posited that individuals tend to imitate others behaviors though mechanisms such as localized conformity [10], observational learning [10], mimetism [23,39] and identity signaling [9]. Imitation of behavior, when those choices are visible to others, is a form of seeking conformity and convergence with others they identify with and a way of signaling affinity [9]. ...
... It has been posited that individuals tend to imitate others behaviors though mechanisms such as localized conformity [10], observational learning [10], mimetism [23,39] and identity signaling [9]. Imitation of behavior, when those choices are visible to others, is a form of seeking conformity and convergence with others they identify with and a way of signaling affinity [9]. In online social networks, ideas or content act as memes (e.g., [44]), defined as a contagious unit of cultural information (e.g., [17]). ...
... But idiosyncratic differences in stereotype relevance or personal importance are less useful in explaining why across groups people tend to diverge in certain domains (Studies 6-7). Different groups may have different idiosyncratic stereotypes, and particular individuals may find certain domains personally important, but across individuals and groups, people diverge more in domains that everyone uses to communicate identity (also see Berger & Heath, 2007; Berger, Heath, & Ho, 2008). Most honors students would not list clothing as personally important, and clothes are not particularly relevant to the group stereotype, but even so, they may abandon clothing tastes that are co-opted by outsiders because other people use that domain to make inferences about them. ...
... This paper has focused on why people diverge when their tastes are poached by outsiders, but more research is necessary to examine why outsiders poach the tastes of others in the first place. People often want others to identify and treat them like the type of person they actually are, but sometimes they may want to be treated as members of other groups, and to reach this goal, may poach the cultural tastes of those groups (e.g., Berger, Heath, & Ho, 2008). Researchers know little about the poaching portion of the process. ...
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