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After this post was published, the writer and editors discovered that the scholarly article from Social Psychology Quarterly by Diederik Stapel that is cited herein has been retracted.

From Retraction Watch:

Social Psychology Quarterly has retracted “The Norm-Activating Power of Celebrity: The Dynamics of Success and Influence,” cited twice:

Social Psychology Quarterly retracts the article “The Norm-activating Power of Celebrity: The Dynamics of Success and Influence,” by Siegwart Lindenberg, Janneke F. Joly, and Diederik A. Stapel, which appeared in the March 2011 issue (74(1):98–120; DOI: 10.1177/0190272511398208). This retraction stems from the results of an investigation into the work of Diederik A. Stapel (, which finds strong evidence of fraud in the dataset supplied by Stapel. His coauthors had no knowledge of his actions and were not involved in the production of the fraudulent data.”


Will Bristol Palin’s second out-of-wedlock pregnancy change teenagers’ attitudes toward sex or contraception? Did Caitlyn Jenner affect the way we see transgender people?

In a 2011 paper for Social Psychology Quarterly, Siegwart Lindenberg, Janneke F. Joly, and Diederik A. Stapel set out to find out how famous people influence the public.

If you’ve seen TV ads for soda or sneakers, it’s no surprise that celebrities can influence some people’s decisions. The authors note that other researchers have found that fans who identify with public figures will often adopt their beliefs and behaviors. Lindenberg, Joly, and Stapel set out to test something a bit different—whether a much larger group of the public, those who are not fans, are equally as affected by celebrities.

Their specific notion was not that most of us would change our hairstyle or buy shoes because we happened to see a Beyoncé video but that celebrities may be able to “activate social norms.” What that means, is, basically, make us focus on a particular rule about appropriate behavior that we already believe in.

To test this out, the researchers gathered 156 students at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and ran two similar experiments. One featured a male speed skater (apparently speed skating is big among the Dutch), the other a female television personality. In each experiment, the students were divided into three groups. One saw an image of the celebrity with a message about not littering. A second saw just the celebrity, and a third did not see any image or message.

The three groups were then asked to fill out a questionnaire asking about various social norms. The students who had seen the celebrity image paired with the no-littering message endorsed that norm more strongly than the other groups. They also were more likely to feel strongly about other norms related to cleanliness and environmental goals (buy organic, blow your nose instead of snorting). But they were no more invested in other norms (don’t ride your bike through a red light, be on time for appointments).

But did the celebrities’ status as successful public figures really account for the activation of the social norm? Lindenberg, Joly, and Stapel investigated that question in a second set of experiments. Here, they showed two groups of participants the same images and anti-littering messages. One group was also asked to read an account of the celebrity’s life that emphasized their declining success and unattractive qualities. The other group read a more positive account.

They found that the group receiving the positive story still got a boost to their opposition to littering. But the one that got the negative story actually subscribed to that belief less than a control group. That suggests that the influence of celebrities extends far beyond the people who subscribe to their YouTube channels—at least as long as they’re generally perceived as decent and successful.