Matthew Sagalnik, a Princeton sociology professor, has been testing if things become popular on their merits or because of social influences. One study took two groups of teenagers and allowed them to listen to unsigned artists and download their favorites. One group didn't see what their friends were downloading, and the other did. For example, one song finished 40 of 48 in one group, and was the most downloaded in the other.
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(Image credits: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso via Wikipedia)