The Psychology Of Selling

Consider the following scenarios:

Every day hundreds of people die due to a lack of treatment for preventable diseases.

Yesterday a woman by the name of Sarah Hart, a mother of three, was found dead outside her home after missing for twelve days.

Which one affected you more? The hundreds of dead, or wife and mother Sarah Hart?

Chances are you were much more affected by Sarah Hart than the untold hundreds. This is the identifiable victim effect, which is when we have a stronger emotional response to the traumas of a single identified person versus a group. But this isn’t limited to just traumatic experiences, it is also used when attempting to persuade someone to buy something, in that case it’s called testimonials.

Weight loss infomercials excel at this. It begins by presenting you with an ‘overweight’ everyday Joe or Jane and presenting a story that ties you emotionally to them. Once you have identified with the person they then show you what was achieved in thirty, or sixty days later. By changing things such as the music, lighting, angling of the camera, clothing, stance etc you are immediately filled with a sense of hope, excitement, pride, and within the next few seconds longing; as the narrator tells you, that you too can experience the remarkable transformation.

Identifiable victim effect is also one of the first forms of persuasion that we learn. Back when are children we quickly discover that by producing tears where there are none, or twisting our faces into the deepest frowns imaginable we can convince our parents to comply.

Another aspect to consider when persuading someone is source characteristics. Source characteristics are the attractiveness, perceived credibility, and expertise of the person delivering the message. This is when the halo effect can come into play and have a powerful role in determining whether we believe what is said.

In our infomercial example the source characteristics come from both  the narrator and the participants. Comparing the before and after pictures highlights the gains in attractiveness, this is heightened by showing the extremes of each case.

In the before pictures the person will appear in a general state of unhappiness, darker lighting, loose baggy clothing, slouching, these factors combine to gear our thinking toward unattractive. In the after picture the participant appears well dressed, usually in something that highlights their weight loss, they are beaming, the lighting is significantly better, even the music is more upbeat. All of this combines to gear our thinking toward attractive.

Credibility comes from the pictures and short documentaries that accompany these programs. Expertise comes from the narrator that rattles off a number of endorsements and statics which help to create the general appearance of being knowledgeable about the topic.

Top this all off with the influence receiver characteristics have and you now have a powerful piece of persuasion. These infomercials tend to play late at night or early in the morning, automatically targeting a certain population, and given the time we are more likely to have negative thoughts toward ourselves and be in lower states of arousal which can slow down our ability to fully think. It is no wonder we are willing to commit to three easy payments of $____, thanks to an offer that only last if we call within the next ten minutes.

Implanting the desire to be like the participants, and imparting a sense of urgency through a time sensitive offer is an excellent way to put a stop to our ability to fully process and think about what we are being told. Making us much more likely to go with whatever urges or desires we are experiencing at the moment.

The ability to persuade is a powerful tool that can be used anywhere and at any time, by setting up the correct source characteristics,  timing your pitch when the receiver is most susceptible, and supplying someone or thing for the receiver to identify with, it becomes surprisingly simple  to persuade.

Being aware of the fundamental aspects of persuasion will help you to better detect when it is occurring to you, and may even keep you from completing that impulse buy at four in the morning.

 

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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.

The Many Flavors Of Justice

We’ve all heard about the recent shooting in Colorado, and the much popularized and talked about Trayvon Martin case. In both instances we all have our own ideas and hopes of what kind of justice we want to see or not see delivered. Or maybe we’ve recently had an instance where we felt an injustice had been done to us, by being underpaid or undervalued at work.

However it may be, justice comes in a variety of flavors, social psychologist have taken these many flavors and narrowed them down to three types of justice. Distributive, which revolves around outcomes, procedural, which revolves around how things are determined, and restorative, which revolves around the actions taken to restore justice.

Distributive justice: satisfying the public’s rage. This type of justice is one of the most common the public is exposed to en masse. It is essentially the sentencing handed down by the judge and our reaction to that sentencing. Is ten years a long enough time for an alleged child predator? Is five years in prison too harsh a sentencing for downloading a movie illegally?

These are all examples of distributive justice. But you don’t have to be in the courtroom or in the eye of the media to experience it. It can and does also occur at home, in the work place, and among friends.  When you take away your child’s cell phone for texting at the dinner table, or get suspended from work due to the fallout of an angry customer, you’re experiencing distributive justice.

In the above examples distributive justice is presented in ways where social expectations or company policies keep the person handing out the justice in line. What about when a CEO or company board awards themselves million dollar bonuses, or spouses withhold funds or knowledge of an avoidable incident?

While the reasoning behind such actions may differ and vary on a case by case basis, the outcomes are all instances of distributive justice.  Those reasonings are what is known as procedural justice.

Procedural justice: This is the justice that is found in the process of dealing out rewards and punishment. It centers around whether or not structuring the requirements for awarding bonuses to be skewed in the favor of top managers is a justice or injustice.

Consider the following, a rich and powerful man has been convicted of rape. At the end of a well publicized and drawn out trial the jury concludes that the man is not guilty, (when in fact he is). Despite having committed the crime the man never worries about being convicted since he has managed to bribe the jury to vote in his favor. Years later at a retrial the man is convicted guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Has justice, procedural justice, been served?

While it was the second time, it was not the first time, by bribing the jury our wealthy rapest has managed to influence procedural justice.  The following is another example; you are in charge of assigning tasks for a group project at work, within your group is someone who you find very attractive. As you assign tasks you subconsciously decide to give this attractive group member the easier task. This is another example of procedural justice that has been influenced to the benefit of one and the determinate of many. Eventually you become aware of the group’s unhappiness and seek to make amends, this is known as restorative justice.

Restorative justice: the actions we take to make amends for a perceived wrong.  When your spouse or significant other confesses to cheating a number of things happen. They may begin to apologize profusely and lavish you with gifts which in their eyes might be enough, to them restorative justice has occurred. Meanwhile, you may subscribe to the belief of an eye for an eye. For you restorative justice will not occur until you feel that your significant other or spouse has suffered and felt an equal amount of pain. This can take the shape of many things from cheating yourself, to public humiliation, to depriving them of your affection.

What amount of punishment or amends must be taken in order for a victim to feel as if restorative justice has occurred can vary greatly depending on their attachment style and other factors. Whether it’s distributive, procedural, or restorative there are many different types of justice that can be handed out. Regardless of what they are they all revolve around our sense of morals, what we believe to be right and wrong. So the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of an award or punishment, directly involved in determining who deserves said reward or punishment, or attempting to atone or suffer for a wrongdoing ask yourself, is justice really being served.

Which Glue Holds You Together

Below are three statements, read them and chose the one that best matches how you relate to others.

1. It is difficult for me to trust or depend on others completely. I begin to get nervous when someone gets close, my significant other/romantic interest wants me to be more intimate than I am comfortable with.

2. It is easy for me to get close to others, I don’t worry about my significant other/romantic interest wanting to be too close and it is easy for me to depend on others and have them depend on me.

3. It is hard for others to get as close to me as I want. Sometimes I scare my significant other/romantic interest away because they think I’m “moving too fast,” I worry that my close friends aren’t as trusting as they seem to be.

Each of the above statements represents one of the three attachment styles that we form during childhood and are prevalent throughout life. The first statement relates best to those of us with the avoidant attachment style. Those of us who primarily have this form of attachment may sometimes be called loners, or described as being ‘not a people person.’ They tend to prefer working alone, may usually feel insecure in their relationships and when uncertain or threatened become withdrawn, detached, and dismissive of the issue at hand.

The second statement refers to those of us with the secure attachment style. These tend to be the ‘people persons,’ they are generally comfortable with intimacy and prefer to be with people they are close to when threatened or uncertain. As the name suggest they are secure in their relationships both with friends and lovers.

The third statement describes those of us with the anxious attachment style. Those of us who relate best to this are similar to the avoidants in feeling insecure in relationships. However, those of the anxious attachment style actively seek closeness with others, they might be described as ‘clingy,’ ‘controlling,’ ‘fast moving.’ When threatened or uncertain they tend to try to become even closer with their confidants or significant other, they also tend to continuously worry about their relationships.

Having an avoidant or anxious attachment style does not automatically spell doom, just as having a secure attachment style does not automatically mean success. Attachment styles represent only one aspect of our personalities, and it isn’t uncommon for someone who shows secure attachment tendencies in the work place to show anxious attachment tendencies at home.

Various combinations are a common occurrence, knowing what your attachment style is refers to the most prevalent, it is not the be all end all to your personality and future relationships. These attachment styles are based off of the attachment theory, which is a theory describing how the early attachments we formed as children with our parents continue to influence our relationships and personality throughout life.

There has even be a study conducted by Mary Ainsworth known as the strange situation. In the experiment she had a mother and baby  enter a room filled with toys. The mother placed the baby on the floor allowing it to play. While the baby played a stranger would enter the room and the mother would leave, soon after the mother would return and comfort the baby if it cried during her absence. The mother would then place the baby back on the floor to play with the toys, if the baby resumed crying she would comfort it once again and the experiment would be concluded.

Ainsworth used this experiment to study the three attachment styles. When the mother returned if she quickly comforted the crying baby, the baby was said to be forming a secure attachment style. If while playing the mother intruded on the baby and/or rejected the baby, and the baby cried or showed anger when placed on the floor with the toys the baby was said to be forming an anxious attachment style. If the baby ignored everyone in the room and rejected the mother when she attempted to intrude or offer comfort the baby was said to be forming an avoidant attachment style.

Mary Ainsworth’s strange situation study was only the first of studies looking to further our understandings of attachment styles, and personality. Our personalities are multilayered  and complex, and there is no one theory that can describe it in whole so it is important to not generalize one aspect of your personality to the entire thing. Knowing our primary attachment style can offer us interesting insight into ourselves that we may otherwise not be aware of. It can also make for an interesting conversation piece with your close friends to find out which attachment style each of you are.

Estimating and Guesstimating The Power Of Mental Shortcuts

Everyone likes a shortcut, whether its a faster way to get home from work in the evening or a quick weight loss diet plan. We all like to get results fast. Our brain’s are no exception to this. While there are some things such as regulating heartbeat and blood pressure that our brain’s can’t skimp on there is plenty that it can. This is estimating and guesstimating come in, in the psychology realm their known as heuristics.

Heuristics are the processes the brain uses to make estimations about something but only after it has stockpiled enough support through previous instances. While heuristics are helpful since they allow for snap judgments and ‘gut feelings’ they can also be very damaging since our snap judgments and ‘gut feelings’ are not always right.

Right or wrong heuristics come in three basic variations, representative, anchoring, and availability.

Representative Heuristics: Where stereotypes are born…

The representative heuristic is what allows us to say, if it looks like a dog, and smells like a dog, it’s a dog. It’s also what allows jurors to decide that the blurred man they watched on the video of the store robbery is the same man sitting in front of them awaiting conviction. Or that the brown-skinned man speaking on his cell phone in line behind you is a terrorist, despite those conclusions being entirely false.

Anchoring Heuristics: Why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind…

As the name suggest the anchoring heuristic involves making estimations on how likely an event is to occur based on a previously determined likeliness. Consider the following, it has rained all week, it’s now Saturday morning and you’ve been invited to the beach. You may have already decided that it is extremely likely that it is going to rain today. Your friend tells you that it’s a beautiful day outside and that there isn’t a rain cloud in sight, you may now shift  from thinking it is extremely likely to thinking it is likely. This subtle shift based off of your previous estimation is the anchoring heuristic at work.

Availability Heuristic: The media’s best friend…

Take a moment and recall as many instances as you can of the media reporting a successful flight.  You probably can’t think of many if at all, now take a moment and recall as many instances as you can of the media reporting an unsuccessful one. This is much easier to recall, if you’re having trouble with that one try this one. How many instances can you recall of the media reporting economic growth an increase in jobs etc. Maybe a handful of instances, now try to recall instances of the media reporting economic collapse, decreases in jobs, increases in unemployment etc. Those instances are so fresh that they require almost no effort to bring forth.

This is the availability heuristic, it is the mind’s tendency to make decisions and judgments based on how easily it is to recall something, regardless of how often it occurs in life. The availability heuristic is why it’s so easy for you or your significant other, or parent, or child to recall all the instances of wrong doing, and to label each other as a ‘horrible person.’ For the most part the majority of people treat their loved ones good, so good that good becomes the norm, and the few times something that is perceived as wrong occurs it becomes a spectacle in the victims mind that will be remembered.

Heuristics are only one of the many techniques used by the brain to process all the information we are constantly exposed to. And while for the most part they are employed to our benefit, such as skipping the first gas station in favor of the second which is usually cheaper they can also be used against us. Being aware of them and being able to identify when your brain is relying on them is one more step in becoming more aware of how your own mind works.

Whether you are anchoring yourself like a ship coming to a stop, allowing your affection for someone to grow by recalling their love, or relying on stereotypes and assumptions to avoid dangerous situations, heuristics are there to be used. So use them.

Are You Really In Control

John, a sophomore in college is about to take a chemistry test. He’s fairly comfortable with the information but worried that he won’t do well, (he went partying the night before and the professor has a reputation for being a somewhat difficult grader). The next day John finds out that he barely passed the test. Which of the following do you think is the reason for John’s success?

  1. The professor was lenient in grading
  2. He’s a good student and studied well

Did you answer 1 or 2?

The question has to do with helping to determine your locus of control. Locus of control is one of the four elements of core self-evaluation, which is used by psychologist as the foundation for understanding personality. It pertains to determining to what degree someone thinks they can control events that affect them. Someone with an internal locus of control would explain their success at something by saying they worked hard, studied hard, prepared, etc. Someone with an internal locus who failed at something would say that they didn’t prepare enough, or didn’t try hard enough.

As a whole these are the people we tend to admire, the ones we refer to as having ‘character’ or ‘drive.’ In stories those with an internal locus of control are our accomplished heroes, they are the ones we admire for going from an external to an internal locus.

But what is an external locus of control? Those of us with an external locus of control tend to attribute our successes and failures to as the name suggest external reasons. “I failed because such and such did x, I succeeded because I’m lucky, or Fran went easy on me.” These are all explanations that focus on outside influences and fall into the external locus space.

Despite what our very base locus of control may be, we go through both external and internal phases throughout the day. Consider when you are out shopping at the mall and see sale sign, or come across what seems to be a really good deal. In these instances of excitement and high stimulation our locus of control shifts to external. We are no longer aware of how much our budget is, or what we originally came to the mall for, we’re now focused on the external stimuli, such as that nice shirt or those new shoes.

Even when doing something as simple as watching a game, that feeling of being ‘involved’ in the game, when we feel as if we are actually there. Those are instances of external locus of control, we are no longer aware of our selves, but rather of the group that we are watching.

Think back to the last time you felt accomplished, tired, energetic, happy, sad, powerful, these are all instances of internal locus of control. Thinking back about what you’ve done today is another instance of internal, feeling sleepy, waking up, feeling invigorated after your cup(s) of coffee. Internal locus of control simply means we are paying more attention to our self, rather than to what is going on around us.

When going to make a major purchase, such as a car, we may go in thinking, “ok I want this car, with such and such feature,” or “I’m not looking at cars that cost more than $$$) these are all internal focuses. However, when we meet the car salesmen we are immediately shifted and most likely kept in an external focus. The smile, the warm handshake, the clear confident voice, allowing ourselves to be led by someone, the dazzle of the polished cars, the leather seats, the nice sound system, the chance to take the car for a spin.

All of this keeps our focus externally, which can be a dangerous thing when it comes to major expenses or purchases. Keeping the focus on the car, and how much it’ll supposedly improve your life is a great way to forget your internal focus and the things that matter in the long run such as costs.

While there are instances where it is good to have and maintain an internal focus, such as making life impacting decisions. There are also times when its good to have an external focus, ever have a good time at a party when you were preoccupied with thoughts of your ex? Or of the list of things you have to do the next day? That’s an instance where having an external focus works in your favor as it allows you to forget everything and just “go with the flow,” as they say.

Regardless of whether you are primarily external or internal, being aware of and utilizing both at the right times will only work in your favor. Also being mindful of yourself, will help you to become more mindful of others and lead a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

How Not To Be An SSB

Have you ever noticed how easy and natural it is to associate your accomplishments in life to some internal factor about yourself, “yeah all that hard work I put in really paid off.” But when it comes to a failure the blame is suddenly switched to an external factor, “well if he/she hadn’t ______ this never would’ve happened.” While this may be true sometimes, it isn’t always, and those occasions when it isn’t is when your SSB truly shines.

Self-Serving Bias, What Is It?

It is, as the name suggest, the tendency to attribute success to our self (self-serving), and failure to anyone or anything else (bias), when in reality, that may not be the case.

Well that’s interesting, but what’s the point?

The point is, that this can be a cause for conflict between coworkers, couples, friends, and any other social combination you can imagine. If, for example, a group of friends get together to complete a project and fail, the members of that group will immediately shift the blame onto each other. They will also believe, that had they done the project alone, or with a different group, they would have succeeded.

SSB makes us blind to what the facts really are, it’s much more easier and appealing to believe that failure is due to someone or something else’s mistakes/presence rather than our own. The upside to this is that we maintain whatever self-esteem we have. The downside is that we avoid all opportunities to learn from our mistakes, grow, and develop stronger and healthier types of self-esteem.

So if it’s such an automatic process what can I do about it?

Plenty actually, while SSB is for the most part ingrained into the very way we interpret our surroundings and construct our version of reality it is hardly something that can’t be changed. The key is to remember that everyone, even you, can, and does make mistakes. Keeping this in mind will go a long way the next time failure or even success rears its head. Don’t immediately throw the blame onto everyone else, or attribute all of the success to yourself. Take a second to really look at the situation and decide if you really did play a part in the failure or success and if so how much.

After all no one wants to come off as an SSB (Stupid Son of a ****)right?