Tag Archives: decision-making

Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion and the Importance of Recognising “Enforced Compliance”

Influ­ence: The Psy­cho­logy of Per­sua­sion is Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book dis­cuss­ing what he calls the six fun­da­ment­al psy­cho­lo­gic­al prin­ciples of com­pli­ance: con­sist­ency, recip­roc­a­tion, social proof, author­ity, lik­ing and scarcity.

The con­clu­sion to Cialdini’s book points out why, in this increas­ingly com­plex world, res­ist­ing attempts at “enforced com­pli­ance” (decep­tion) through these key prin­ciples is as import­ant as recog­nising and respond­ing to truth­ful instances of their imple­ment­a­tion:

Because tech­no­logy can evolve much faster than we can, our nat­ur­al capa­city to pro­cess inform­a­tion is likely to be increas­ingly inad­equate to handle the sur­feit of change, choice, and chal­lenge that is char­ac­ter­ist­ic of mod­ern life. More and more fre­quently, we will find ourselves in the pos­i­tion of the lower animals—with a men­tal appar­at­us that is unequipped to deal thor­oughly with the intric­acy and rich­ness of the out­side envir­on­ment. Unlike the anim­als, whose cog­nit­ive powers have always been rel­at­ively defi­cient, we have cre­ated our own defi­ciency by con­struct­ing a rad­ic­ally more com­plex world. But the con­sequence of our new defi­ciency is the same as that of the anim­als’ long-stand­ing one. When mak­ing a decision, we will less fre­quently enjoy the lux­ury of a fully con­sidered ana­lys­is of the total situ­ation but will revert increas­ingly to a focus on a single, usu­ally reli­able fea­ture of it.

When those single fea­tures are truly reli­able, there is noth­ing inher­ently wrong with the short­cut approach of nar­rowed atten­tion and auto­mat­ic response to a par­tic­u­lar piece of inform­a­tion. The prob­lem comes when some­thing causes the nor­mally trust­worthy cues to coun­sel us poorly, to lead us to erro­neous actions and wrong­headed decisions.

To Complete Goals, Concentrate on ‘The Big Picture’ (Not Subgoals)

To help con­trol and man­age pro­gress on a dif­fi­cult or long-term goal, we often split that goal into many indi­vidu­al sub­goals. Once we begin to com­plete these sub­goals, our con­tin­ued motiv­a­tion and pro­gress toward the main, or super­or­din­ate, goal can be com­prom­ised.

A study pub­lished in the Journ­al of Per­son­al­ity and Social Psy­cho­logy in 2006 shows that by put­ting people in mind of their sub­goal suc­cesses or on their main goal com­mit­ment causes drastic dif­fer­ences in their future effort (the lat­ter is bet­ter):

The authors show that when people con­sider suc­cess on a single sub­goal, addi­tion­al actions toward achiev­ing a super­or­din­ate goal are seen as sub­sti­tutes and are less likely to be pur­sued. In con­trast, when people con­sider their com­mit­ment to a super­or­din­ate goal on the basis of ini­tial suc­cess on a sub­goal, addi­tion­al actions toward achiev­ing that goal may seem to be com­ple­ment­ary and more likely to be pur­sued.

via Derek Sivers (Yep, via the post I linked-to in my pre­vi­ous post. I felt that this needed its own post as I wanted to provide a bal­anced view on the study, not just say­ing, some­what incor­rectly, “suc­cess on one sub-goal […] reduced efforts on oth­er import­ant sub-goals”.)

For Motivation, Keep Goals Secret

Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom for set­ting goals and fol­low­ing through on inten­tions is to make a pub­lic state­ment of intent in order to bring about some account­ab­il­ity. How­ever the research on the the­ory is mixed.

Derek Sivers sum­mar­ises a num­ber of stud­ies that sug­gest we should keep our goals private if we want to remain motiv­ated (espe­cially if that goal is con­trib­ut­ing to a per­ceived or hoped-for ‘iden­tity’):

Announ­cing your plans to oth­ers sat­is­fies your self-iden­tity just enough that you’re less motiv­ated to do the hard work needed.

In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a per­son announced the solu­tion to a prob­lem, and was acknow­ledged by oth­ers, it was now […] a “social real­ity”, even if the solu­tion hadn’t actu­ally been achieved.

NYU psy­cho­logy pro­fess­or Peter Goll­witzer has been study­ing this since his 1982 book Sym­bol­ic Self-Com­ple­tion (pdf art­icle here) – and recently pub­lished res­ults of new tests in a research art­icle, When Inten­tions Go Pub­lic: Does Social Real­ity Widen the Inten­tion-Beha­vi­or Gap?

Four dif­fer­ent tests of 63 people found that those who kept their inten­tions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them pub­lic and were acknow­ledged by oth­ers.

Once you’ve told people of your inten­tions, it gives you a “pre­ma­ture sense of com­plete­ness.”

The research art­icle in ques­tion con­cludes that “Iden­tity-related beha­vi­or­al inten­tions that had been noticed by oth­er people were trans­lated into action less intens­ively than those that had been ignored” and that “when oth­er people take notice of an individual’s iden­tity-related beha­vi­or­al inten­tion, this gives the indi­vidu­al a pre­ma­ture sense of pos­sess­ing the aspired-to iden­tity”.

Mundane Decisions and Premature Deaths

Deaths in the United States res­ult­ing from “fairly mundane per­son­al decisions” have ris­en from a rate of around 10% of all pre­ma­ture deaths a cen­tury ago to 44.5% today*. This shift sug­gests that by improv­ing our decision-mak­ing abil­it­ies, we can dra­mat­ic­ally reduce a main cause of pre­ma­ture death: ourselves.

44.5% of all pre­ma­ture deaths in the US res­ult from per­son­al decisions – decisions that involving among oth­ers smoking, not exer­cising, crimin­al­ity, drug and alco­hol use, and unsafe sexu­al beha­vi­or. […]

Using the same meth­od to exam­ine causes of death in 1900, [the research­er, Ral­ph Keeney] finds that dur­ing this time only around 10% of pre­ma­ture deaths were caused by per­son­al decisions. Com­pared to our cur­rent 44.5% of pre­ma­ture deaths caused by per­son­al decisions, it seems that on this meas­ure of mak­ing decisions that kill ourselves we have “improved” (of course this means that we actu­ally got much worse) dra­mat­ic­ally over the years. And no, this is not because we’ve become a nation of binge-drink­ing, mur­der­ous smokers, it’s largely because the causes of death, like tuber­cu­los­is and pneu­mo­nia (the most com­mon causes of death in the early 20th cen­tury) are far more rare these days, and the tempta­tion and our abil­ity to make erro­neous decisions (think about driv­ing while tex­ting) has increased dra­mat­ic­ally.

What this ana­lys­is means is that instead of rely­ing on extern­al factors to keep us alive and healthy for longer, we can (and must) learn to rely on our decision-mak­ing skills in order to reduce the num­ber of dumb and costly mis­takes that we make.

via @kylecameron

*Look­ing exclus­ively at 15- to 64-year-olds, this becomes 5% in 1900 and 55% in 2000, accord­ing to Thomas Goetz.

Hand Washing Leads to Rational Evaluations

Post­de­cision­al dissonance–an extremely close rel­at­ive of both post-pur­chase ration­al­isa­tion and the choice-sup­port­ive bias–is the phe­nomen­on whereby once we have made a decision we per­ceive our chosen option as the most attract­ive choice and the dis­carded altern­at­ives as less attract­ive, regard­less of the evid­ence.

Some intriguing recent research sug­gests that the phys­ic­al act of clean­ing one’s hands helps us ration­ally eval­u­ate our past decisions–clean­ing our hands cleans our minds, too.

After choos­ing between two altern­at­ives, people per­ceive the chosen altern­at­ive as more attract­ive and the rejec­ted altern­at­ive as less attract­ive. This post­de­cision­al dis­son­ance effect was elim­in­ated by clean­ing one’s hands. Going bey­ond pri­or puri­fic­a­tion effects in the mor­al domain, phys­ic­al cleans­ing seems to more gen­er­ally remove past con­cerns, res­ult­ing in a meta­phor­ic­al “clean slate” effect.

The art­icle is behind the Sci­ence pay­wall but there is an inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion in the com­ments of Over­com­ing Bias (via).