human behavior

Books in 5 Quotes: Robert B. Cialdini

Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

Cialdini's book explains with alarming insight all of our human foibles and how they are so easily exploited. Given the new year and the focus on change, I thought I would highlight his quotes on commitment and consistency, in particular, and how the value humans assign to them can be leveraged for behavior change.

1. “It is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”

2. “Whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person. For appearances’ sake, then, the more public a stand, the more reluctant we will be to change it.”

3. “The more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.”

4. “It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behavior when they are active, public, and effortful.”

5. “Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures. A large reward is one such external pressure. It may get us to perform a certain action, but it won’t get us to accept inner responsibility for the act. Consequently, we won’t feel committed to it. The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.”

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

For Shame

Shame, it seems, does nothing to deter certain human behavior. A new study out of USC states that "the more we anticipate wagging fingers, public pillory and guilt, the worse we're likely to do when it comes to self-control. If we focus on the pride that comes from good behavior, we make better choices." How did the researchers come by their results? With cake, of course. (My kind of scientific study!). Researchers offer study participants chocolate cake. The participants who focused on the pride they would feel in resisting the cake, fared better - they ate less of the cake. Said more scientifically: "when it comes to self-regulation, anticipated pride outperformed anticipated shame as well as unconsidered, heedless consumption."

Why should this be so? "Simply put, anticipating pride makes us feel good, and anticipating shame makes us feel bad."

Focusing on the positive effects of our actions can help us to act in the ways we want to.

Hmmm. I'm going to think of how proud I'll be of my abs when I skip a cupcake. I'll let you know if it works!

More on Language

Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist from Stanford University is taking the concept of Linguistic Relativity even further in her study of linguistic differences and their implications for human behavior. For example, in English, if a person were to knock a table and break a cup, one would say, “she broke the cup” but in Spanish the literal translation of the accident would be “the cup broke itself.” So as outlined in a recent issue of Stanford magazine, “Does the fact that one language tends to play the blame game while the other does not mean speakers of those languages think differently about what happened?” Lera’s ground-breaking work aims to find out.