Social Influence: Why We Do What We Do…

Human beings are one  of the most social creatures on the planet. All of the major hallmarks in our lives are marked by a social event, and throughout everyday we are subject to a number of influences. So it is no wonder that even our behavior can and is dictated by our interactions with others, and our need to be social.

A few of these influences take the shape of conformity, compliance, obedience, and the chameleon effect. Any of these influences can occur at any given time and in any combination. They center around making us more appealing in the eyes of others, but not all of them are as simple as, I’m doing this because I want you to like me.


Conformity is: Changing your behavior to match others in response to real or imagined pressure.

If everyone is trying to go against conformity does that make everyone a conformist? Does anyone even know what conformity means, it’s a word tossed around often by teens going through their teenage identity crisis.  For the rest of our lives conformity is what influences us to paint our house a particular color, dress a certain way at work, face the exit door in an elevator.  It’s that invisible pressure that makes sure we behave certain ways, or that nagging, what will everyone else think, whisper that drifts in the backs of our heads.

So does that mean everything I do is conformity? 

No, conformity is only one type of social influence, and is a result of real or imagined pressure, while the rest are not.


Compliance is as the name suggest,  doing what has been asked of you. However, there are factors that influence compliance and help to determine a person’s likelihood to follow through. Most notably is the relationship between the asker and the receiver. If your spouse or significant other were to ask you to get them a glass of water you’ll comply. If, however, a stranger were to ask you to borrow twenty dollars you are extremely unlikely to comply.

In both instances there are a number of factors influencing your decision. Including ingratiating, has the person ‘warmed’ you up first. What groups, if any, are present. Your disposition toward the person, the mood you are in, and even the words used in the request. Our brains processes all of this information and more almost instantaneously which culminates in forming our decision to comply or not.

On a general level someone’s likelihood to comply can be broken down to three things:

1. Cost-how much effort will going along with the request need.

2. Disposition-how does the person feel about you, and how do they feel about themself.

3. Benefit-what does the person get out of this, and is it worth it (ties back to cost).

Being aware of these three things, and catering your request to maximize or minimize each will make those in question much more likely to comply.


Obedience is: Submitting to the will of someone perceived to be more powerful.

When we believe someone is in a higher position than us, an immediate and subconscious decision is made to submit to that person. This decision to submit also limits our ability to properly assess what is being demanded of us, and hampers our moral compass.

Military’s place such a strong emphasis on rank because it allows for efficiency, and for decisions to be made without question by subordinates. While this is good in some cases, such as rapidly mobilizing a response  team to an attack, it can also be harmful when the submissive parties begin to commit crimes under the guise of ‘following orders.’

Chameleon Effect

Chameleon Effect is the term used to describe a subconscious action in which we mimic the manners, expressions, and movements of the people we are interacting with. To put it simply, we become human chameleons.

The next time you and a friend are sitting across a table, pay attention to how both of you are seated. After a while, shift your own seating style to a more relaxed or tensed posture  and note how your friend mimics the posture soon after. This is the chameleon effect at its best.

But why does it happen?

As social creatures we naturally like and are drawn to people who hold similar beliefs and have similar behaviors to our own. The chameleon effect is our mind’s way of giving us a leg up when it comes to making friends, by subtly mimicking their posture of behavior we are enhancing the person’s disposition toward us, and ingratiating ourselves.

These are only a few of the factors that influence our everyday social interactions. Within each one are a number of subtle nuances that  influence how effective they are at any given moment. Being more aware of how you react to the people in your life and figuring out why will give you valuable insight into both your relationships and yourself. You”ll probably be surprised to find that some relationships are structure differently than you first assumed, but that’s part of the fun.



The Grass ISN’T Greener On The Other Side

Is it really greener on the other side?

Jealousy is an interesting thing; we experience it in our love lives, among our friends, at the work place, among family, and with our neighbors. It’s something that we pick up when we’re children and the other kid has the new action figure or Barbie doll. Psychologist have noticed and sought to find an explanation, what they’ve found is relative deprivation. A phenomenon that gives us some insight into why we tend to think the grass is greener on the other side.

What is it: Relative deprivation is the experience of feeling deprived when we compare ourselves to others that are in a same or similar situation as us. We see the person, in this case our neighbors, as doing better than us even though they may be doing the same or worse. While they may have just bought a new car, which looks good on the outside, the may be under a tighter financial budget than you are due to the added expense.

How’s it work: Relative deprivation works off of our natural tendency to evaluate ourselves through the eyes of others. It’s something that is programmed into us going as far back as childhood, parents and teachers encourage us to be more like (insert successful person here), our childhood friends encourage us to be more like our favorite super hero(ine). With all of this reinforcement to evaluate ourselves through comparison the relative deprivation phenomenon is a natural evolution of our psyches.

How to be aware: With something such as relative deprivation that has permeated almost all of our thought processes being able to successfully modify it can be difficult. One of the simpler ways to go about doing so is to notice when the thoughts are occurring and ask yourself if what they have really is better for you. Take a moment to think about if the item or ability in question would really improve your life, and if it’s worth investing the necessary resources.

If your car works just fine, and shows no intention of breaking down in the next year or so, do you really need to add the extra costs to your finances? Will buying the new pair of shoes that your friend is wearing really make that much of a difference? Chances are you’ll find that everyone likes you the same whether you have the item in question or not. So instead of thinking of yourself as deprived when comparing yourself to others, think of yourself as unique, because that same person is wishing they were you.

Mind Reading 101

Knowing what you are going to do before you do. We all do it, read minds, while we may not be able to pick up on the actual thoughts the person is having we can and do predict their behavior with various degrees of success. When we say such and such is going to (insert reaction) when (insert action) happens, we are predicting someone’s behavior, and since behavior originates in the mind…

Take a look at John, John is a hardworking family man with strong moral values, he is moderately religious and a social drinker. Today John has to walk home from work since his car is in the shop. During his walk a man pushes past him as he rushes out of a store, John recognizes him as one of his neighbors. Later that night John is out drinking with his longtime friends and hears on the news that there a string of robberies and a murder has occurred earlier that day.

One of the stores listed is the store the man who shoved John aside emerged from. There is a request for anyone with information to call the police. John informs his friends who thinks that he should call the police, a friend of a friend is one of the store owners who was robbed. Later John informs his wife and asks her opinion on the matter. His wife tells him that she doesn’t think he should call, she’s afraid that the thief will find out that John tipped off the police and come seeking revenge. Understanding his wife’s worry, her father was killed years ago in a robbery gone wrong, John gets ready for bed undecided on what to do. What will John do?

If you guess there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll be right, but with a bit of mind reading it is possible to change that 50-50, to something more in your favor. Setting aside that the limitations of the example, it is still possible to form an accurate prediction about what John will  do.

There are four basic components to the mind reading.

The Components:

Attitude-A person’s attitude toward something, whether they think it’s right or wrong, whether they like or dislike something, and whether they believe in it or not, plays a strong role in predicting how they are going to behave. If for instance I believe that McDonalds fries are better than Wendy’s fries you can safely say that if I ever end up at Wendy’s I’ll be unlikely to order or eat their fries. You can also safely say that buying me McDonalds fries is an easy way to get on my good side.

Approval-Humans are extremely social creatures and much of our behaviors and skill sets revolve around increasing our ability to be social. Even our most popular technologies are based off of our need to socialize, websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress are not incredibly successful because of design ingenuity. A large part of their success is because they allows us to socialize with others at a faster pace than we can if we have to physically visit each other.

Our need to be social has also given rise to our need for approval, why is something as simple as the Facebook like button throughout the entirety of the internet? Because it allows us and others to show their approval for whatever we’ve done. In the world of psychology our need for approval of our actions is known as subjective norms.

Belief-Remember the song “I believe I can fly,” even if you weren’t alive when it first came out chances are you’ve heard the song at least once. There’s something incredibly inspirational about that song that’s allowed it to permeate so many generations of people, and that is belief. If someone believes they can do and succeed at something they are that more likely to engage in that behavior.

Athletic coaches refer to this as heart, having enough heart to score that last touchdown, or run that last yard, or hit that last ball. Creatives refer to this as passion, the business world refers to it as ‘wanting it,’ in the end it all boils down to belief. When someone believes that they are in control of something, even though they may not be, they are much more likely to work harder than normal to succeed.

Thought-The last component to mind is thought. You can’t predict anything without putting some thought into it, even if you aren’t aware of it. Thought is the glue that brings it all together.

Before continuing make your decision about what you think John will do and why you think so, write it down then continue.


In order to determine what John will do I first looked at John’s attitude, he has strong moral values which leads me to conclude that he has a strong sense of justice, he is also hardworking which makes me think that he is not a fan of underhanded get rich quick schemes. Combine this with him being moderately religious and I start to think of someone who values “honest to God work,” while this is a stereotype/heuristic it does prove useful in the example. However, that same combination of strong moral values and religion also leads me to believe he has strong ties to his family and takes their thoughts/opinions into consideration when deciding what to do.

Approval-In our example John’s strong social ties are to his family, especially his wife who helped him create their family. As any husband would, he seeks her approval and experiences varying levels of distress when he doesn’t get it. On the other hand John considers his friends to be brothers, some of them he knew before even meeting his wife, he worries how they will react if he follows his wife’s advice and remains silent.

Belief-There is no doubt that John believes he can make the call, it’s as simple as picking up the phone and dialing a number.

In the end my prediction is that John will make the call and inform the police, while he may not do it right away I believe that after sleeping on it, and thinking about it throughout his work day he will decide that the best course of action is to inform the police. His strong sense of morals and belief in ‘honest to God work,’ are contributing factors, as well as the immediate closeness brought to the dilemma by his friend’s indirect involvement. While his loyalty to his wife and need for her approval are strong factors, the disagreement resulting from him going against her wishes at first glance is not strong enough to cause any significant or long-lasting damage to their relationship. On the other hand, should he have sided with his wife, their could be significant conflict among his group of friends, causing a possible division within the group.

There are a number of other factors that can be considered in determining what John chooses to do however, using these four basic components can for the most part successfully predict behavior and bring you one step closer to being a mind reader.

Having CD And What It Means For You

Studies show that one million out of one million people have, continue to have, and experience CD, a state of distress also known as Cognitive Dissonance. CD can occur at any point in life and is not  dependent on age, race, health, social economic status, marital status, or pet ownership status. CD can occur at any time, anywhere, there have even been instances of CD occurring in sleep during dreaming.

Signs include:

Experiencing various levels of anxiety and distress depending on the degree of CD

Tightening around the eyes and mouth


Ruffling of the hair

Bouts of anger

And other distressing behaviors

What causes CD:

CD is caused by a misalignment between what someone believes, and what they do. For instance, say you go shopping with the intention of not spending more than sixty dollars since you need the rest to pay off a pending bill. At the end of your shopping day you’ve spent one hundred and twenty dollars, twice the amount you intended. The subsequent feelings of anxiety, distress, and maybe disappointment are all manifestations of CD.

However, there are defenses against experiencing CD, and techniques that can be used to decrease the amount of CD experienced. The simplest is to view your belief from a different perspective, or to even modify your belief. Viewing from a different perspective is akin to looking at the silver lining, instead of ruminating on the fact that you’ve spent twice what you were allowed, you can instead focus on the value of the items purchased and how they will help improve your life.

If this doesn’t help then it’s probably a good idea to return the items before it’s too late.

Modifying your beliefs: This is a bit more energy intensive with the amount of energy needed to do so varying depending on how deeply held and fundamental the belief is to your identity. If for instance you believe that car brand X is the best, purchase a car from brand X and then within a month that car develops an unforseen problem. It is easy to say, well car brand X may not be the best, but they are one of the best.

This takes relatively little energy to do, and can be made easier by keeping the admission private. However, if you hold strong beliefs against same-sex marriage, and a close family member, (your child perhaps) wants to have a same-sex marriage you will find yourself experiencing an extreme amount of dissonance as two fundamental beliefs collide. The first being your belief/wish for your child to be happy and have the best life possible, and the second being your stance against same-sex marriage.

If the first belief wins you will have to invest a considerable amount of energy into changing not only how you think and feel about same-sex marriage, but also behaviors that express your dislike for it, such as facial expressions, body stances, gestures etc.

CD is a fundamental aspect of life that occurs dozens of times throughout someone’s day whether its having cereal instead of the intended eggs for breakfast, or lying to your significant other or spouse when you normally tell the truth. It can also have varying effects on our psyche, and body language. While in some instances it is easy enough to keep one’s thoughts to oneself, subtle clues in body language reveal things that we aren’t even aware are being revealed.

Cognitive Dissonance is experienced by everyone, and being aware of it and what causes it can help us to be that much truer to ourselves, and can also help reveal beliefs and stances that we may not have been previously aware of.

Animal Training, Human Robots, and Fluffy Bunnies

Why was it that back when we were in high school the sound of the bell stripped us of all further desire to work. Or how when we think we feel a vibration we immediately reach for our phone searching for the next text message, Facebook or twitter update. Or why we immediately respond with “fine, you,” when asked how we’re doing?

The quick and easy answer is that it’s a habit, or it’s proper social etiquette. The long and complicated though infinitely more interesting answer is that we’ve been conditioned. Within behavioral psychology there are two fundamental concepts that play a role in assisting in understanding the complex behaviors we engage in every day. They are classical conditioning, and operant conditioning.

Conditioning? Are you trying to call us robots, or animals to be trained?

No, not exactly. We are animals, and sometimes we do engage in repetitious actions like robots but no, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

Adhering to KISS I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible.

Classical Conditioning: There are 4 pieces to classical conditioning. The CS:  conditioned stimulus, the UCS: unconditioned stimulus. The CR: conditioned response, and the UCR: unconditioned response.

Stop all the medical mumbo jumbo, and give it to me straight doc:

To keep everything simple we’re going to use an example, it’s actually a famous example about a man named Ivan Pavlov and his dog.

One day Ivan noticed that when his dog saw dog food, (dog food=UCS) he would begin to salivate in anticipation, (salivation=UCR). So Pavlov began to wonder, is it possible for me to make my dog salivate before he sees the food? A lot of scientific thought ensued, and the result was this, Pavlov decided that when it was Fido’s lunch time he would ring a bell (CS) moments before presenting the food.

Some days or weeks passed and Pavlov decided to check and see if there was anything to his little experiment. So one day during lunch time he rung the bell and noticed that his dog immediately began to salivate (CR) even though there wasn’t any food in the room!

That is, the core, and simplest version of what is known today as classical conditioning. Pairing a ‘generated’ stimulus with a ‘natural’ stimulus in order to cause the ‘natural’ response to occur on the ‘generated’ stimulus.

Say what?

Here’s an example that I’ve found helps me keep it all straight in my head. Imagine a friend, any friend will do, now imagine yourself smiling (CS) at the friend, follow up this smile with a pinch on their arm (UCS) your friend will then feel pain and anxiety, (UCR). Do this often enough and eventually your smile alone will be enough to make your friend feel pain and anxiety (CR).

The dark side of classical conditioning:

When I first learned about conditioning back in high school I also learned about an experiment done by a notable psychologist of his day (whose name eludes me) on a young girl, and the disastrous aftermath.

The psychologist gave the girl a fluffy white bunny (a teddy bear not the living animal) once the girl began playing with the bunny he would make a loud noise behind her, startling her and causing her to cry. After enough pairings of this, white fluffy bunny, and loud noise, he observed that just the sight of the white furry bunny would make the girl cry.

Knowing of extinction he assured the parents that the girl would be fine within a few days. Then generalization occurred. One day at home the girl came across a white fluffy blanket, upon spotting it she immediately began to cry. It was soon discovered that a white fluffy anything would make her cry, even though according to calculations extinction should have occurred.

What happened here is generalization, and that is when our conditioned stimulus spreads to everything resembling it. This is less likely to happen with older people (those of us who aren’t toddlers), although being conditioned with a stimulus that has multiple identifying features can trigger it.

OKAY…So that’s classical, what’s operant? 

Operant conditioning is a way of influencing our behavior based on the reward or punishment we receive from engaging in that behavior.

Here’s an example: we are siting in our cubicle at work when suddenly the fire alarm goes off. (This is our environment acting on us), in response we escape the building, (this is our behavior reacting to our environment), and we are then rewarded with our life and health.

That reward of safety will act as strong positive reinforcement to engage in that exact behavior the next time we hear a fire alarm.

But doc I still don’t get it!

I know, it took me a while too, and by the way I’m not a doctor, just a psychology nut.

For this example we turn to children: children go to school and receive homework. They then chose whether or not to do this homework, doing the homework rewards them with good grades and praise, not doing the homework punishes them with a loss of privileges and disappointment in those they look up to.

Or if you don’t have kids, or remember what it was like to be kid turn to your puppy.

Puppy decides that your brand new living room carpet is prime real estate to relieve himself. You catch him in the act and scold him, while hastily carrying him to the nearest exit.

Eventually puppy learns that going in the house is bad, and becomes less likely to engage in the behavior because of the associated punishment. Puppy also learns that going outside is good and becomes more likely to engage in the behavior due to the subsequent reward of pats and praise.

But wait, does this mean that every conditioning I’ve ever had stays forever:

Absolutely not, conditioning both operant and classical has a shelf life. That can vary from days or weeks to years, it depends on how strong the conditioning and associations are. However, if you are repeatedly exposed to the CS, a dog without a leash, but the dog doesn’t do anything hostile to illicit fear, soon enough that particular conditioning will fade away.

The flip side to conditioning of just about any type, is that, once you’ve been conditioned even if extinction does occur it’s a lot easier to become reconditioned with the same stimulus and response.

Where can I use this?

You can and do use both classical and operant conditioning all the time. Just about every action we engage in has an associated reward or punishment, all of those instances are instances of operant conditioning.

When we’re driving somewhere and the car in front of us suddenly breaks we react by slamming on our own breaks and having a spike in heart rate and arousal.

Then later on when we’re riding as a passenger and a car slams on the brakes in front of us, we may mimic slamming on our own invisible brakes and we have that spike in heart rate and arousal. Or if we’re watching a movie and we see a car brake abruptly, we experience that tension of the body and heightened arousal.

All of that, is classical conditioning. So you see we’re not robots, or animals, well we are animals but we’re usually not robots. Conditioning is just a way to explain our behaviors, and help us further understand why and how we end up doing the things we do. Even not feeling awake until your morning coffee is conditioning, to an extent…

It’s never that simple is it doc?