The researchers were able to conduct a field experiment into how the introduction of technology changed the content of customer orders. According to the data, online customers chose pizzas that were more complicated and expensive, containing 33 percent more toppings and 6 percent more calories. Instead of just ordering a pepperoni pizza, they chose pies that featured highly unusual toppings, such as “quadruple bacon” or ham, pineapple, and mushroom. (When orders were placed online, bacon sales increased by 20 percent.)
Females are more attracted to males that have other females close by. Sage grouse hens are more likely to choose to mate with a male if other females have already chosen him. The likelihood of a female fallow deer or sage grouse entering the territory of a male is positively associated with the number of females already present. In a particularly clever experiment, scientists found that placing a stuffed female black grouse in the territory of a male who had failed to mate resulted in an increase in the number of females who enter that luckless male’s territory. Females are influenced by the preferences of other females.
At the human level as well, our automatic, nonconscious mental system uses the preferences of others to help us form our own preferences and even to help us evaluate how happy we are with a choice we have already made.
Excerpt from: 7 Secrets of Persuasion by James Crimmins
Additional experiments, growing out of Asch’s basic method, find large conformity effects for judgments of many different kinds. Consider the following finding. People were asked, ‘Which one of the following do you feel is the most important problem facing our country today?’ Five alternatives were offered: economic recession, educational facilities, subversive activities, mental health, and crime and corruption. Asked privately, a mere 12 percent chose subversive activities. But when exposed to an apparent group consensus unanimously selecting that option, 48 percent of people made the same choice!
My favorite example of this gap between the behavioral self and the aspirational self has nothing to do with reading, but usefully extends the foodie metaphor beyond doughnuts. In the early to mid-2000s, McDonald’s got more aggressive about promoting healthy options like salad and fruit on its menus. But its revenue growth in those years was due entirely to people eating more greasy fare, like cheeseburgers and fried chicken. New healthy options seemed to lure wannabe dieters into the restaurant, where they would order fast-food basics. In 2010, a group of wordsmithing Duke University researchers called this phenomenon “vicarious goal fulfillment.” Merely considering something that’s “good for you” satisfies a goal and grants license to indulge. People say they want hard news in their social media feeds, but mostly click on funny photos. People say they want to eat greens, but mostly order greasy sandwiches at salad-serving restaurants. People aren’t lying— they do want to be the sort of person who reads news! They do want to see salad options!—but mere proximity to good behavior satisfies their interest in behaving well.
One day Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son tried to get a calf into the barn. But they made the common mistake of thinking only of what they wanted: Emerson pushed and his son pulled. But the calf was doing just what they were doing: he was thinking only of what he wanted; so he stiffened his legs and stubbornly refused to leave the pasture. The Irish housemaid saw their predicament. She couldn’t write essays and books; but, on this occasion at least, she had more horse sense, or calf sense, than Emerson had. She thought of what the calf wanted; so she put her maternal finger in the calf’s mouth and let the calf suck her finger as she gently led him into the barn.
Excerpt from: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
In a provocative exploration of this idea, nursery school children were asked to draw a picture with what was then a novel drawing tool: felt-tip markers. Some were offered a prize for drawing a picture with the markers; others received the prize unexpectedly, after they had already drawn their picture; still others were offered no incentive at all. When the markers were later introduced into a free play period, the children who had drawn a picture in order to get a reward played with them significantly less often that children who had not been “bribed” to draw their picture. In essence, the promise of a reward turned play into work. But when the prize was unexpected – when it was experienced not as a bribe but as a bonus – it did not decrease the children’s interest in playing with the markers.
An elaborate multivariate analysis showed:
The results provide firm support for the major hypothesis that verbal humor leads to greater compliance. Subjects who received a demand accompanied by humor made greater financial concessions than no-humor subjects… Humor was equally effective as an influence technique when used by both sexes, and when directed toward both sexes. Our compliance data provided no evidence that joking was more appropriate for males.
Ideas that are allocated no attention at all – those that are never exposed to anyone – make no impact on the world, by logical extension, since no one sees them. The 50 per cent of YouTube videos with less than 500 views don’t individually make much impact on culture. So attention is a powerful thing – but what kind of thing is it?
Fundamental attribution error was conducted in 1967 by Edward Jones and Victor Harris at Duke University. They had students read speech transcripts of debaters both in support of and in opposition to the political ideologies of Fidel Castro. (Today they might have used Osama bin Laden.) The students correctly attributed the speechwriter’s ideas as influenced by the speechwriter’s internal feelings when told the person who gave the speech had chosen his own position. If, for instance, the debaters said they disagreed with Castro, the students said they believed them. When the students were told the debater had no choice in the matter and was assigned the position as either pro- or anti-Castro, the students didn’t buy it. If the debater was assigned a pro-Castro position and then gave a pro-Castro speech, the students reading that speech told the researchers they thought the debater really believed what he or she was saying. The situation’s influence didn’t play into their assumptions; instead they saw all the debaters’ words as springing from their character.
In their field experiments Keizer and his colleagues tested to what extent various subtle signs of disorder in an environment could influence the proliferation of other undesirable behaviors. In one study the researchers found the perfect setting for their test: an alleyway near a Dutch shopping mall where shoppers typically parked their bikes. While the shoppers were at the mall, the researchers affixed one of the store’s advertisements on the handlebar of each bicycle with an elastic band. In one condition, the researchers left the alleyway just as they found it; in a second condition, they added graffiti to the alleyway. Because there were no garbage bins in the area, shoppers returning from the mall to find a printed advertisement attached to the handlebars of their bicycle had a simple choice. Do they remove the advertisement and take it home with them—or do they instead drop it on the ground?
The results revealed that 33 percent of the bicycle owners littered the paper when there was no graffiti to be seen in the alleyway. However, 69 percent did so when graffiti was present.
Several studies have demonstrated that we are more likely to help those who dress like us. In one study, done in the early 1970s when young people tended to dress either in “hippie” or “straight” fashion, experimenters donned hippie or straight attire and asked college students on campus for a dime to make a phone call. When the experimenter was dressed in the same way as the student, the request was granted in more than two thirds of the instances; but when the student and requester were dissimilarly dressed, the dime was provided less than half the time. Another experiment shows how automatic our positive response to similar others can be. Marchers in an antiwar demonstration were found to be not only more likely to sign the petition of a similarly dressed requester, but also to do so without bothering to read it first. Click, whirr.
One of the first experiments on the topic was run in the USA by Solomon Asch. He asked subjects to evaluate a person simply on the basis of a list of six adjectives describing him. They might be told that he was ‘intelligent, industrious, impulsive critic, stubborn and envious’. Other subjects were given exactly the same six words but in the opposite order, ‘envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent’. All subjects were then I asked to fill in a rating sheet in order to evaluate the person. For example, they had to indicate how happy they thought he was, how sociable he was, and so on. The subjects who heard the first list, which began with favourable adjectives evaluated the person considerably more highly than did those given the list beginning with the derogatory words. This effect – being more heavily influenced by early than by late item – is called the ‘primacy error’.
Excerpt from: Irrationality: The enemy within by Stuart Sutherland