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

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:

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 

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.

Right?

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.

 

Would You Jump Off A Bridge If……

…..All your friends were doing it?

Yes, when I was seven.

Welcome to the power of the group, one of the most useful tools and weapons at humankind’s disposal. Virtually all of our major decision-making occurs in a group setting, from the government to party attire it comes down to one thing, the group.

Why groups are powerful:

Groups pull their power from four major areas, responsibility, acceptance, thought, and polarization. In group settings it’s easy to think someone else will do it, or to feel so empowered (by the support of other members) that you’re able to ask for that number or accept that death.

Diffusion of Responsibility-This is the sense we feel when acting out at a bar with our group of friends. It’s the feeling of anonymity provided to us by a group, outsiders won’t know which one of us in the group shouted that obscenity, or pulled that prank just that it occurred. It’s also the sense we feel when walking down the street with friends and ignoring the homeless asking for change. Someone else will give it to him. When we’re in a group there is always someone else.

Social Acceptance-Whether we are in a group of criminals or a group of church-goers being accepted by the group, particularly the influential members is a powerful motivator. If we believe our actions will garner approval we become extremely more likely to do it, even if it’s out of our comfort zone. An ambitious new getaway driver will still participate in the high stakes bank heist if he believes it will get him an ‘in’ with the boss. A struggling middle class family in a strong church community will still donate money they might not have, if they believe they will appear more pious for doing so.

Group Think-How is it that ants or termites are able to build such massive complex structures to live in without a floor plan, or a head insect directing them to their tasks? While the exact reason remains a mystery to me, it is still an excellent example of group think. A cognitive phenomenon that occurs when decisions that are believed to influence the group as a whole need to be made. This is something that large organizations of any kind excel at; when something grows too large for one person to manage more managers are created. As the managerial group increases so does the likelihood of group think. While group think is something that occurs in a state of deindividualization it is powered and maintained by the individual.

Group Polarization-In today’s society this event is portrayed as extremist. This brings with it all the negative connotations of a rioting populace, terrorist, displeasing politicians, or religious groups that are even rejected by their non-extremist counterparts. This is only the stereotype of group polarization it does occur in less publicly known circumstances. Imagine yourself going out with a group of friends; all of your friends swear that the restaurant you all are going to is amazing, while you on the other hand are on the fence. By the end of the night you may not think the restaurant is amazing, but you’ll at least think it’s better than most.

All of these components combine to act as the fuel the gives groups their power, and each one is fueled by its own set of components, ranging from the individual to the environment, to the voice of the weakest minority or powerful majority. While groups are capable of unspeakable evil they are also capable of unheard of good and in the end it is up to the individuals in that group to determine what and where they’ll be known for. In the end, it is up to you.

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.

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.