Book Notes: The Power of Persuasion by Robert Levine|
Feb 5, 2006, 11:20a
The Power of Persuasion - Robert Levine
Dave got me this book for my birthday last year, and I finally got around to reading it several months ago. The Power of Persuasion is an excellent book that I highly recommend if you're interested in improving your persuasion skills and increasing your awareness of the techniques frequently used to persuade you to do things. It talks about a lot of the original research behind various sales tactics, such as why prices usually end in $.99 rather than rounding to the dollar. Read further to get the highlights - hopefully in a follow-up post I'll condense this into a coherent strategy + tactics for persuasion:
- "One-sided appeals are most effective when the audience is already sympathetic to your position; two-sided appeals work better when the audience is already considering a conflicting argument." (2)
- "Less-educated people are generally more susceptible to emotional appeals; better-educated audiences are more responsive to rational appeals." (2)
- "Over and over I learned that what is said is often less important than how it is said, when and where it is said, and who says it. It's the setup, the context, the non-direct, nonverbal features of the process that persuasion artists know how to exploit." (3)
1) We're more susceptible to persuasion than we think.
2) The most effective persuaders are the least obvious ("there's nothing stronger than gentleness")
3) The rules of persuasion aren't all that different no matter who is the source or the topic of persuasion (e.g. selling soap or selling candidates)
- Definition of persuasion: the psychological dynamics that cause people to be changed in ways they wouldn't have if left alone (4)
- Fundamental attribution error: incorrectly ascribing specific outcomes to an individual's traits rather than their situation, or vice versa. When asked to explain other people's problems, we tend to assign blame to inner qualities (e.g. you're easily deceived); when asked to explain our own problems, we tend to assign blame to the features of the situation (e.g. the salesman conned me). (13)
- "The least competent among us are often the most overconfident of their abilities." (14)
- Anosognosia: paralysis on the left side of the body caused by certain types of damage to the right hemisphere of the brain, specifically when the patient is unable to acknowledge the paralysis. "When asked to look at the paralyzed limb, the patient has no difficulty acknowledging it's his and there's something wrong with it. But he's unable to make an internal connection between the condition of that arm or leg and his physical condition."
- "The tendency for an event to occur varies inversely with one's preparation for it," where the preparation actually prevents its occurrence, e.g. wearing sun screen to prevent skin cancer. (16)
- "The demand of the situation - the particulars of the time, the place, and the social context - are often better predictors of how people will act than is the type of person they are." (17)
- "The power of the situation is the driving force in effective persuasion." (17)
- Advertising accounts for 40% of the avg. American's mail and 70% of newspaper space. American companies spend more than $200B on advertising each year. (18)
- Drug advertising significantly increases visits to doctors' offices for the symptoms advertised. "Between 1990 and 1998, visit for allergy symptoms were relatively stable at 13M-14M patients per year. In 1999, however, advertising for allergy drugs increased markedly - Schering-Plough spent $137M on Claritin alone, the most spent on any drug - and visits for allergy symptoms jumped to 18M (+30%)." (19)
- Advertising companies run "split-cable" tests where, with the help of the cable company, they're able to send different advertising to different people in the same market. In this way, they've shown that more than half of all advertising campaigns significantly increase short-term (within 6 months) sales. Success rates are higher for new products, where advertising leads to increased profits in 60% of tests; for campaigns that are successful, sales go up on avg. by 21%. After 1 year, groups that received the advertising were still buying 17% more of the product on avg., and 6% more on avg. 2 years later. (20)
- "2 decades ago, children drank 2x as much milk as soda. Thanks to advertising, the ratio is now reversed." (20)
- A survey by the Center for Science in Public Interest found that 8-12 year-old students could name more brands of beer than they could presidents of the US. Another survey found that almost every 6 year-old in America could identify Joe Camel, as many as could identify Mickey Mouse (20)
- Fewer ads for children's products means fewer arguments: one study found that 65% of the time when the parent denied their child a product they had just seen an ad for, the denial ended in an argument. (21)
- The research unit of Nintendo US interviews 6,000 children each month (26)
- In supermarkets, about 20% of what's on the shelves is seen by shoppers as they move through
- 66% of consumer purchases are unplanned
Characteristics related to persuasiveness:
1) Perceived authority/expertise
Authority symbols Americans are susceptible to:
3) Luxury Cars
- "If you have nothing to say, have a celebrity say it." (32)
- "The inclusion of statistics, even when they're meaningless, can signal expertise." (33)
- Use of jargon also often signals expertise
- "Studies show that it requires many more good behaviors to alter a bad image than it does bad behaviors to alter a good image. In other words, good reputations are difficult to acquire but easy to lose; Bad reputations are easy to acquire and difficult to lose." (44)
- One of the most successful ad slogans, for Squibb: "The priceless ingredient of every product is the honor and integrity of its maker." (44)
- "The best way to overcome objections is to address them before they occur. When someone says, 'You're not going to believe this,' he's trying to defuse your disbelief in what he's about to say. If someone says, 'This may sound silly,' it establishes license to say something silly. This is the power of persuasion." (53)
- More than any single quality, we trust people we like
- It's a magic bullet: if you're audience likes you, they'll forgive just about everything else you do wrong
- Experiments by Jerry Burger and his colleagues have found we're more likely to comply with a request from a person who we know shares our first name, has similar fingerprints, or even has the same birth-date as our own. (57)
- Accepting a favor (such as a free taste of ice cream) activates the reciprocity rule, whereby we feel compelled to repay, in equitable value, what another person has given to us (65)
- An experiment by Dennis Regan demonstrating the reciprocity rule. Regan had subjects work in pairs on a bogus task supposedly measuring art appreciation. One of the subjects (let's call him Andy) was a paid actor working as Regan's assistant. During a short rest period in the middle of the experiment, Andy left for a couple of minutes. For half the subjects, Andy returned with 2 Cokes, saying "I asked the experimenter if I could go get myself a Coke, and he said OK, so I got one for you too." For the other half, Andy returned without a gift. In both conditions, Andy later asked the subject to do him a favor. Andy was selling raffle tickets for a school competition, and would the subject like to buy some? In clear support of reciprocity theory, Andy sold almost 2x as many tickets to people he'd given a free Coke earlier. This makes sense - you're nice to people who are nice to you. The interesting thing happened when they tweaked the study. Before the "experiment" began, Andy received a phone call. In one case he answered it pleasantly, and in the other he answered it rudely. Of course, he sold more tickets if he answered his phone pleasantly. Whereas the free Coke almost doubled raffle sales, acting obnoxiously (compared to acting pleasantly) reduced sales by only 20%. The free Coke had as much of an effect on ticket sales when Andy was an obnoxious person as when he was polite. In other words, when the need for reciprocity was aroused, it didn't matter whether they liked him or not. They "owed", and so they paid. (67)
- Hare Krishnas, before asking for money, will often hand a passerby a free flower, or pin one on their jacket. If the person tried to return the flower, the Hare Krishna refused. With free gift in hand, people were more likely to give a donation, and this "gimmick" made the Krishnas a wealthy organization. (71)
- The reciprocity rule can also backfire. "For example, employers sometimes give substantial raises to workers with the intention of reinforcing their hard work and, more important, motivating them to work even harder. Studies show, in fact, that if the raise is large enough, it does activate a brief feeling of obligation to please the employer. In the long run, however, it rarely leads to more output. Instead, it encourages the workers to rationalize why they deserve a raise. They might, for example, tell themselves that their job is more difficult than they'd previously thought, or dwell on how little they'd been paid in the past. As a result, if the raise is too steep, and the justification leak isn't plugged, the initial favor can backfire. The persuader may create new standards of entitlement, subsequent disgruntlement, and ultimately, lower production than before." (73)
- Time can also come under the reciprocity rule. If a salesperson spends a lot of time with a prospective customer, that increases the probability that the prospective customer actually buys something. Also, the scarcer a person's time, the more important they appear.
- "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated." - William James
- Reciprocity-of-liking rule: when people like us, we're inclined to like them back (81)
- The closer the kinship between the person giving a gift and the one receiving it, the less scrupulously the reciprocity rule was enforced. True reciprocity - value for value - only appeared between unrelated allies (89)
- Human minds magnify differences: when two relatively similar stimuli are placed next to each other, they'll be perceived as more different from each other than they actually are (95)
- "Consistent with the contrast principle, subjects asked to lift a heavy anchor judged the target weight lighter than they had before lifting the anchor; lifting a light anchor led to judging the target as heavier." (95)
- Lateral inhibition fools the visual system into seeing more contrast than actually exists
- In persuasion, you can manipulate either a person's anchor point or the features of the product you're selling. Both achieve the same effect. (99)
- "The anchoring trap" - set the anchor point and people's expectations and reactions change. For example: "It's not often you get good news instead of a bill, but we've got some for you. If you've heard all those rumors about your basic cable rate going up $10 or more a month, you can relax; it's not going to happen! The great news is ... the rate for basic cable is increasing only $2 a month." In other words, you're not getting charge $2 extra per month, you're saving $8. (101)
- "The base rate fallacy" - using the wrong anchor and ignoring the rest of the facts. This is an extreme version of the anchoring trap.
- "The decoy" - Showing the customer options he won't buy but which will reset his base rate so that other products look more attractive.
- Why is there often a very expensive version of the same product? Because it can actually increase sales of the cheaper products. The study: Itamar Simonson and Amos Tversky (PDF) studied customer responses to different microwave ovens. Half the shoppers in their experiment were given the choice of either a $179.99 Panasonic oven or a $109.99 Emerson oven, both of which were being offered at a 35% discount. The other half were also given a 3rd option: a $199.99 Panasonic at a 10% discount. Results showed that very few shoppers (13%) bought the third expensive option. When the expensive Panasonic wasn't an option, more buyers (57%) chose the Emerson than the $179 Panasonic (43%). But when the expensive Panasonic was added as an option, the results were reversed: 60% bought the $179 Panasonic and only 27% bought the Emerson. In other words, the addition of the relatively expensive, low-value microwave sold more of its sister Panasonics than it did of itself. (104)
- "just noticeable differences" (JNDs) are defined as the point at which two stimuli are recognized as different half the time. And it appears to be relative to the base - if asked to lift weights and to be able to tell if they're different, the greater the weight you begin with, the more must be added to see a JND. In fact, the JND between two stimuli is based on a precise ratio between the size of the increase and the size of the beginning standard (Weber's law). Of course, the magnitude of the ratio depends on what you're comparing. Studies have shown, for example, that it requires on avg. less than 0.5% change in the pitch (frequency) of a tone for the change to be noticed, a little less than 2% in the brightness of a light for it to be recognized as brighter, a 14% change in pressure on the skin surface to be felt, and 20% more salt to be added to food before it tastes saltier. (106)
- Now for the more interesting: What's the JND on pricing? Joseph Uhl found that, on avg., the JND for pricing is 5% (variations of at least 5% made a difference to 64% of the consumers tested). In other words, more than half of us will perceive a meaningful difference when a $1 item is dropped to $0.95 - 95 cents is a sale, 96 cents isn't. $5 -> $4.75, $20,000 -> $19,000. The JND for price is very elastic, though. (107)
- We're more sensitive to price differences when shopping for necessities than for luxuries.
- Women are more discriminating of price differences than are men.
- It takes a smaller price increase to deter poor shoppers than rich ones.
- Price drops are weighted more heavily for name brands than for generic store brands. A name-brand product requires a smaller discount to be perceived as a bargain than does a generic store brand.
- Odd-number prices (like $199 or $0.99) tend to be perceived as significantly lower than the next highest even, round numbers ($200 or $1). On the other hand, an equal price drop, when going from an odd to an even number, has less impact ($201 -> $200, $199 -> $198). (Original research from Lambert, "Perceived Prices as Related to Odd and Even Price Endings," Journal of Retailing 51, pp. 13-22)
- Prices ending with odd numbers create the impression of being more different from each other than do pairs of prices ending with even numbers. Consumers perceive the difference between $5.99 and $7.99, for example, as significantly greater than the difference between $6.00 and $8.00.
- For many products, we typically don't look past the second digit of the price. For example, consumers don't discriminate price-wise between a can of tuna selling for $1.59 and one selling for $1.53
- OVERALL STRATEGY: First win minimal commitment, then apply contrast principle from a reverse perspective, with the express goal of pushing you just short of a JND to a larger commitment. Surface features of the numbers are key elements in this strategy.
- Begin your request at the highest level the purchaser has committed to in the past, and go up from there, just falling shy of the JND in the second request (109)
- A study by Richard Thaler found that executives were willing to pay $2.65 for a beer at a fancy hotel but only $1.50 at the run-down grocery, even if the beer was identical and consumed in identical surroundings. This runs counter to the economic principle of fungibility, which says that equal amounts of money and equal products are fully interchangeable. (116)
- Rule 1: Separate Gains - People are happier when they win a $25 lottery and a $50 lottery, than if they win a $75 lottery. This is because we respond less to the cumulative total of the gains than the fact that it is a gain. Every gain brings pleasure.
- Rule 2: Separate Small Gains from Larger Losses - To highlight their discounts, many markets give you "savings" information separately.
- Rule 3: Consolidate Losses - People prefer one loss ($150) over two ($50, $100), because every loss stings. The number of losses has greater impact than the actual amount of the loss, assuming the total loss is the same in both cases.
- Rule 4: Bundle Small Losses into Larger Gains - People are more likely to spend money (e.g. on insurance, charity, savings bonds, etc.) when it comes out of their monthly paycheck than when they're asked to write a big check for the year (119)
- Rule 5: Appeal to Risk Taking for Losses, to Safety for Gains - We get more upset over losing $100 than we feel happy about gaining $100. Bad emotions feel bad more than good emotions feel good. When it comes to gain, people usually prefer a small certain gain over a less secure larger one. On the flip-side, most people will risk an uncertain large loss rather than accept a more certain smaller one. For example, when given the chance between an 85% chance of losing $1,000 or accepting a sure loss of $850, the vast majority of people chose the 85% gamble. (121)
- Some equivalent scenarios that demonstrate Rule 5:
If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved
If Program B is adopted, there is a 33% chance that 600 people will be saved and a 66% chance that no people will be saved
72% choose A, even though the expected outcome is the same in both cases (demonstrates being conservative when gains are being made)
If Program C is adopted, 400 people will die
If Program D is adopted, there is a 33% chance that nobody will die and a 66% chance that 600 people will die
Only 22% chose C and 70% chose D, even though this is the exact same scenario as A/B above (demonstrates taking large risks when losses are to be averted)
- Rule 6: Let the Customer Buy Now, Pay Later - We hate giving up what we possess, and we're quick to assume psychological ownership. This is why sellers will often let you live with a product before you own it. They hope we'll assimilate the product into our baseline of normal life, so that no longer having it would feel like a loss. (125)
- Rule 7: Frame it as an Opportunity Forgone Rather than an Out-of-Pocket Loss - It hurts more to part with what we have in hand than with possessions we expect to obtain in the future. For example, people will be unhappier if they expect to receive a $300 bonus and a) they receive $300, but then next week are told there was an error and now they must return $50, than if b) they receive a $250 bonus.
- Rule 8: Emphasize Sunk Costs - For example, in one study ($29), investors were 1.5x more likely to sell stock on which they were ahead than those on which they were losing. Rationale: As long as they avoid selling a loser, they can rationalize that it will recover someday, thus vindicating the original decision to buy. By contrast, once they sell a stock, they cannot avoid the fact that they lost money. (127)
- Rule 9: List High, Sell Low - An example: In a study by Joel Urbany (limited access), customers were sent advertisements that listed a TV for sale. In all the ads, the TV was offered at a sale price of $319. The ads people saw differed in what was given as the list price for the TV. It was either $359, $419, a ridiculous $799, or no list price was indicated. People who saw the obviously inflated list price of $799 were the most likely to buy, even though they were also likely to agree to the statement "I do not believe that the among of this advertised reduction is a truthful claim." Not only that, but people in the $799 category were also
* More likely to estimate the price of the TV would be higher at other stores ($449, compared with estimates of $389 and $363 in the other 2 groups)
* More likely to believe the discounted price they were getting was a better value
* Less likely to take the trouble to telephone other stores for comparison prices
* More likely to go straight to the advertised store and buy the TV set
The study shows that a high reference price not only makes a dealer's discount more attractive, but even when people are skeptical about the list price they may remain more willing customers - basically, you can push the contrast principle very far (130)
- Studies show that they'll be more likely to buy the $1 pen if you show several higher-priced pens first, and less likely to buy if you show it before you show the higher priced ones. Catalogs should show products in the same category from most expensive to least, and stores should show the most expensive item at eye level and the sale items below. (130)
- Rule 10: Never Exceed the Reference Price - For example, most would choose a) station one, which sells gas for $1.39 but advertises a 10 cent discount if you pay cash, over b) station two, which sells gas for $1.29 but advertises a 10 cent charge if you pay with credit. By setting the reference point high, the first station offers the illusion of savings while the second only holds an in-your-face loss. Applied to fast food, extras on fast-food (e.g. guacamole) should be included in the price and can be removed by the customer, saving 50 cents. (131)
- Some choice is better than none at all.
- Fewer choices frequently lead to greater satisfaction than more choices. Social psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper ($12) conducted a study where they gave one group of college students a choice between 6 different flavors of chocolates. A second group was given 30 different flavors and asked to select one. Subjects given the greater flavor choices rated their selection as less tasty, less satisfying, and less enjoyable than did the limited-choice group. (138)
- Fewer choices are also more attractive: 60% of customers who passed by a 6-flavor table stopped for a sample while only 40% of customer who passed by a 24-flavor table stopped. And 30% of customers who stopped at the 6-flavor table subsequently made a purchase while only 3% of those who stopped at the 24-flavor table did so. This is a net purchase rate of 18% for 6-flavors vs. 1.2% for 24-flavors (139)
- Too many choices can be overwhelming, leading to what Barry Schwartz calls "the tyranny of freedom" - the resulting anxiety leads to a desire for simplicity
- Situations where we're highly susceptible to persuasion:
1) When we believe the consequences of our actions aren't important (e.g. being asked whether to buy the 3 or 5 year warranty when the difference in price is small, even when the 3rd option of no warranty isn't being offered to you)
* Another example: Robert Cialdini and David Schroeder conducted a study where students were sent around asking for donations to a charity. When the students used the phrase "even a penny would help...", they received 2x the contributions and the avg. contribution was the same size as the avg. in the other group. (141)
2) When we're pressed to act quickly
* Urgency activates what Cialdini calls the rule of scarcity: we ascribe more value to items we believe are less available.
* Study by Stephen Worchel: Consumers were given a chocolate chip cookie from a jar. For half the people, the jar contained 10 cookies. For the other half, it held only 2. Those whose cookie came from the 2-cookie jar rated their cookie as more desirable and more attractive and thought it should cost more than cookies from the 10-cookie jar. When something is too easily available, it can seem less attractive (142)
3) When there's too much information to process
* People are more likely to trust the competence of long messages over shorter ones (142)
* "5x as many people read an article's headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents of your dollar." (Ogilvy) (142) ... The most effective ads should include long, authoritative-looking copy. It's not important that people read the copy - it just has to be there.
4) When we trust the person making the request
5) When we're surrounded by social proof
* Studies show that audiences laugh longer and more often when a laugh track accompanies the show than when it doesn't, even though we know the laughs we hear are contrived. (143)
* Some churches practice "salting the collection plate", whereby ushers throw several bills onto the plate before it's passed around. Research shows that salting with tens and twenties brings in more than salting with ones and fives (144)
* "Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd" - P.T. Barnum
6) When we're uncertain and confused
* There's no single cult-prone personality type. But there similarities in the immediate circumstances that surround the modal joiner. First, they tend to be at an unhappy point in their lives when they're recruited. Second, they're frequently in limbo between meaningful affiliations.
* Edgar Schein has found that mind control programs take their subjects though a 3-step process: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing
* Diesel Jeans: "We didn't design our stores to be user-friendly because we want you to interact with our people...The more a prospective customer is overwhelmed, the better the connection is when you help them out." (146)
- One study found that adding "it's for a good cause" after an appeal increased response rates considerably, when in a trustworthy social context: when asked "Would you like to buy a cookie", only 2 of 30 made a purchase, but when asked "Would you buy a cookie? It's for a good cause" 12 of 30 made a purchase. (149)
- Study showing that the word "because" does wonders for persuasion: Ellen Langer's subjects were people waiting in a crowded line to us a photocopy machine. In the 1st condition, an experimenter walked to the front of the line and asked "Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?" 60% agreed. Next round: "Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I'm in a rush?" 94% agreed! Third round: "Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?" 93% agreed! The on-off switch for these helpers was the word "because" - the context did the rest of the work. (151)
- "Nestle is the same company that was later caught shipping huge quantities of "free samples" of their infant breast milk substitute to Third World hospitals - just enough freebies to allow time for a new mother's breast milk to dry out, making her dependent on buying the powdered formula. Unfortunately, when powdered formula is mixed with contaminated water - which is unavoidable in these countries - it often leads to malnutrition, disease, and death in newborns, about a million such deaths per year, according to UNICEF. A costly world boycott forced Nestle to agree to change its marketing policy, but international watch groups later found that the company continued to ship as much of the free formula as before, and even more of it in some areas of eastern Africa." (155)
- "The philosophy behind much advertising," observed advertiser William Feather, "is based on the old observation that every man is really two men - the man he is and the man he wants to be." (155)
- Gay men and women tend to consume considerably more alcohol on avg. than straight people (this is also the case for many other oppressed groups). (157)
- Common salesperson line when you ask for something they can't offer: "If I could, would you?" (166)
- Instead of saying "May I help you", which invariably leads to "No, I'm just looking", offer your name and a handshake: "I'm Bob Levine, and you are....?" Invariably nearly everyone takes the handshake and responds with their first name.
- Avoid questions that can be answered with "No". Instead of asking whether the customer liked a specific car, ask "Would you prefer the economy of the 4-cyl engine or the power of the 6-cyl?" (167)
- The passage of time almost always works in favor of the salesman.
- "A door in the face" technique: The salesperson begins with a large request he expects will be rejected. He wants the door to be slammed in his face. Looking forlorn, he now follows this with a smaller request that, unknown to the customer, was his target all along. (176)
- Another study that demonstrates the power and efficacy of the contrast principle coupled with the "door in the face" technique: Students were asked if they would be willing to take a 15 min survey. Only 25% complied with the request. In a second approach, students were asked if they would be willing to take a 2 hr survey. Then, after the student declined, the experimenter retreated to the target request: "Look, one part of the survey is particularly important and is fairly short. It will take only 15 minutes to administer." Now, almost 50% of students complied!
- "That's not all" works wonders, because it combines both the contrast principle and the reciprocity effect of a bonus gift. In one study, one cupcake and two cookies were sold for 75 cents together. In another situation, only the cupcake was on sale for 75 cents, but as the price was told to the prospective customer, another salesman held up his hand and said "Wait a sec", briefly consulted with the first salesman, and then announced ("that's not all") that the price today included 2 cookies. The bonus worked magic: 73% bought cupcakes in the "that's not all" condition while only 40% purchased in the first condition. (180)
- However, if the initial request is too high, the subsequent bonus is ineffective.
- Obedience to authority is best achieved through demands that are escalated slowly, instead of directly demanded. Milgram's electric shock experiment is a great example of this. In the Milgram experiment, 65% of students apply the maximum shock of 450 volts to someone in another room who is screaming in pain, at the request of an authority figure. As Milgram observed "People become integrated into a situation that carries its own momentum. The subject's problem...is how to become disengaged from a situation which is moving in an altogether ugly direction." (185)
- Research shows that it's in human nature to want what we can't have. Sharon Brehm and Marsha Weinraub conducted a study where 2-year-old boys were placed in a room with a pair of equally attractive toys. One of the toys was placed next to a Plexiglas wall, the other was set behind the Plexiglas. For some boys, the wall was 1-foot high, which allowed the boys to easily reach over and touch the distant toy. Given this easy access, they showed no particular preference for one toy or the other. For other boys, however, the wall was a formidable 2-feet high, which required them to walk around the barrier to touch the toy. When confronted with this wall of inaccessibility, the boys headed straight for the forbidden fruit, touching it three times as quickly as the accessible toy. (190)
- "What I learned was that power is all perception, that its nonuse is its most powerful use. The trick is to use the least amount of power to create the maximum amount of change. Someone who has elegance can apply power selectively, like a laser, and carefully, almost unobtrusively, so that you don't feel that you're being overpowered. You feel like you're being motivated." (192)
- Another study showed that external rewards can stifle internal motivation: Mark Lepper, David Greene, and Richard Nisbett identified a group of nursery schoolers who, left on their own, enjoyed spending lots of time drawing. Some of these students were told that a visitor was coming to observe their work and they'd win a special "Good Player Award", with a big gold star and a bright red ribbon, if they drew pictures for him. Other students were also asked to draw pictures for the visitor but were told nothing of the reward. After the visitor left and the first group got their awards, the teachers found that, over the next 2 weeks, students who'd been given an award were now half as likely to spend their free time drawing as were students who'd received no award. Further, according to ratings by outside observers, the quality of the award students' pictures was considerably worse than those drawn by the no-award students. Once you're a pro, the students seemed to say, it's hard to get excited about what you used to do as an amateur. (194) Further questions worth investigating: How long is the performance change sustained? Who's more content with their work?
- Guilt and shame are more powerful than rules of law
- Another study: Leon Festinger and J. Merrill Carlsmith had subjects work for an hour on an extremely boring task, and then were asked to tell the next subject that was waiting that the task was actually very interesting. Half of the subjects were offered the equivalent of a paltry $5 to lie (the insufficient justification group), the other half a nice some of the equivalent of $100 (the sufficient justification group). After lying to the next subject, the current subject was then asked to fill out a survey asking how interesting he found the experiment. So which group is more likely to believe its own lie? Common sense says the more you pay someone to tell a lie, the more they'll believe it. Cognitive dissonance theory, however, predicts the opposite: if someone is paid a lot of money he has sufficient justification for lying; there's little dissonance, so no need to rationalize. But if someone is paid only $5 - the minimal pressure group - he needs to come up with a reason for lying. The most convenient rationalization is to persuade oneself that it wasn't really a lie after all. That's exactly what was found. Subjects paid only $5 to lie rated the task more than twice as interesting as did those who were paid $100 to lie. (202)
- "Cognitive dissonance is the mind controller's best friend. If dissonance can be created between what you think and what you do, you'll try your best to change one or the other. And changing your thoughts is usually the easier way out. Once the wheels of self-justification begin turning, the persuader sits back and watches you do his work for him." (202)
- "The leaders cannot command someone else's thoughts," ex-Moonie Steven Hassan observed, "but they know that if they command behavior, hearts and minds will follow." (204)
- Forcing specific behavior is more powerful at changing a person's thoughts than directly forcing a change in a person's thoughts.
- People adjust their presentation to please the listener and, in so doing, convince themselves in the process (e.g. answering questions at the end of a job interview you're conducting)
- Another consequence of cognitive dissonance is that a belief may actually get stronger when it's proven wrong (205)
- "We're compelled to justify our commitments. If there's no justification in sight, you'll look to your own motives for an explanation. There lies the biggest problem of all: once the process begins, it becomes self-perpetuating. If I did it, I must believe it. And if I believe it, I'm more likely to do it again, and more so." (207)
- Some methods for resisting persuasion:
1) Stinging: tell subjects they're susceptible, then show in their behavior how they were susceptible. They'll be more aware and less manipulated in the future.
* 75% of children with no training in child abduction prevention agreed to go off with a stranger. Even worse, among children who were given prevention training, 75% agreed to go off with a stranger. However, by actually simulating an abduction (sting) and video-taping it for showing to the child and parent later, children learn more effectively (though the author didn't provide an abduction rate for these "stung" children) (230)
2) Inoculation: if you subject people to weak versions of a persuasive message, they're less vulnerable to stronger versions later on.
* In a study by William McGuire, people were asked to state their opinion on an issue. Then they were mildly attacked for their position and given an opportunity to refute the attack. When later confronted by a powerful argument against their initial opinion, these subjects were more resistant than a control group.
- To avoid group-think, Alfred Sloan Jr. offered "Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here...Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about." (238)
- "Invention has been turned into the mother of necessity...Buy me and you will overcome the anxieties I have just reminded you of." (239)
- "The whole destiny of human society depends upon the influencing of human behavior." - Floyd Ruch
- "The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence." - Bronson Alcott
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- Feb 5, 2006, 9:04p
Sounds like an interesting book. I think I'll check it out.