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.
The licensing effect is the phenomenon whereby positive actions or decisions taken now increase negative or unethical decisions taken later. I’ve written about this previously, before I was aware of a general effect:
A Taiwanese study has provided us with a new instance of the licensing effect in action, this time with vitamin supplements. The study found that taking vitamin pills or dietary supplements for health protection increases unhealthy and risky behaviour.
Afterwards, compared with placebo participants, the participants who thought they’d taken a vitamin pill rated indulgent but harmful activities like casual sex and excessive drinking as more desirable; healthy activities like yoga as less desirable; and they were more likely to choose a free coupon for a buffet meal, as opposed to a free coupon for a healthy organic meal (these associations held even after controlling for participants’ usual intake of vitamin pills). […]
The vitamin-takers also felt more invulnerable than the placebo participants, as revealed by their agreement with statements like “Nothing can harm me”. Further analysis suggested that it was these feelings of invulnerability that mediated the association between taking a postulated vitamin pill and the unhealthy attitudes and decisions.
BusinessWeek also points out that this loop of benevolent and self-indulgent behaviour is plainly evident in the shopping habits of consumers… something that marketers know all about.
Hours after writing about the duration-of-exposure effect (whereby merely touching an unowned object increases our attachment to it and how much we value it), a post came into my feed reader pointing out how Apple Inc. take advantage of this effect in their “painstakingly calibrated” stores.
Carmine Gallo, providing a glimpse into his upcoming book, The Apple Experience, explains how every aspect of an Apple Store is designed to foster “multisensory ownership experiences”. This on the (very specific) tilt of laptop screens (from another great article on the topic):
The notebook computers displayed on the store’s tabletops and counters are set out, each day, to exactly the same angle. That angle being, precisely, 70 degrees: not as rigid as a table-perpendicular 90 degrees, but open enough — and, also, closed enough — for screens’ content to remain visible and inviting to would-be typers and tinkerers.
The point […] is to get people to touch the devices. “The main reason notebook computers screens are slightly angled is to encourage customers to adjust the screen to their ideal viewing angle,” [Gallo] says — “in other words, to touch the computer.”
A tactile experience with an Apple product begets loyalty to Apple products, the thinking goes — which means that the store exists to imprint a brand impression on visitors even more than it exists to extract money from them. “The ownership experience is more important than a sale,” Gallo notes. Which means that the store — and every single detail creating the experience of it — are optimized for customers’ personal indulgence. Apple wants you to touch stuff, to play with it, to make it your own. Its notebook computers are tilted at just the right angle to beckon you to their screens — and, more importantly, to their keyboards.
When Apple do it right, they do it perfectly.
The endowment effect is old news: the amount that we value an object increases once we take ownership of it. The ‘extended version’ shows that the impact of the endowment effect increases with time: our valuation of an object increases more and more as the amount of time that we own it also increases. This is known as the length-of-ownership effect.
A recent study published in the journal Judgement and Decision Making1 has taken an even deeper look at this effect: studying how touching an object increases both our attachment to that object and how much we value it… even if we don’t own it (also in pdf). Here are the key findings of this ‘pre-ownership exposure study’:
- Touching an object will increase our attachment to it and valuation of it, whether we own it or not.
- The longer we touch or handle an un-owned object, the greater we will value it and feel attached to it.
- Simply thinking about an un-owned object increases our valuation of it and how much we feel attached to it.
Related findings, cited in this article:
- If an object is being sold at auction, the amount that we value the object will increase as the length of the auction increases.
- Owning a coupon for an object increases our emotional attachment to that object.
- Making an item the “focus of a comparison” increases its attractiveness and the probability that it would later be selected. We will also feel more attached to the item and will value it higher.
via @stevesilberman and Lifehacker (suggesting that this duration-of-exposure effect’ is an explanation for why we have cluttered homes.)
1 What, you’re not reading Judgement and Decision Making? You should; it’s bimonthly and open access.
Taking a systematic approach to implementing findings from behavioural economics into a sales cycle can “unlock significant value”, according to McKinsey’s Ned Welch. To help business do exactly that, Welch–in what, at times, reads a bit like a ‘dark patterns guide for marketers’–has written an article looking at four practical techniques from behavioural economics that marketers should use to persuade purchasers. The techniques:
- Make a product’s cost less painful.
- Harness the power of a default option.
- Don’t overwhelm consumers with choice.
- Position your preferred option carefully.
There’s not much new here, but the summaries are nice and succinct. From item four, I found this bit of grocery store choice architecture interesting:
Another way to position choices relates not to the products a company offers but to the way it displays them. Our research suggests, for instance, that ice cream shoppers in grocery stores look at the brand first, flavor second, and price last. Organizing supermarket aisles according to way consumers prefer to buy specific products makes customers both happier and less likely to base their purchase decisions on price—allowing retailers to sell higher-priced, higher-margin products. (This explains why aisles are rarely organized by price.) For thermostats, by contrast, people generally start with price, then function, and finally brand. The merchandise layout should therefore be quite different.
(If you don’t have a McKinsey account, you can read the article here or here (PDF).)