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Use This One Word Because It Makes You More Influential

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Don’t ask me to explain why the human brain works the way it does. And don’t ask me how scientists get the idea for some experiments.

Instead, take note of the most influential work in the English language, because I want you to be more influential.

What’s that one word?

It’s not “you” or “free” or “instantly” or “new.”  They’re very powerful words, as every copywriter knows. But they’re not the most influential.

The most influential word comes from The Wizard of Oz.

Because, because, because. This is amazing science that will make you more influential

Becuz becuz becuz becuz beCUZ!

Because Is the Most Influential Word, Because It Is

Researcher Ellen Langer wanted to see how to make requests more persuasive. She had her researchers approach lines to copiers in busy offices and asked if they could go next. Each time, researchers used a very specific request: “Excuse me, I have five pages. Could I use the copier next?”

When asked this way, sixty percent of the time the people already in line let the researchers butt in. Not bad.

When the researchers added “because I’m in a rush,” the number soared from 60 percent to 94 percent!

But here’s where the word “because” really earns its stripes.  Researchers realized “because I’m in a hurry” made sense.  What if the “because” clause was meaningless.

They ran the experiment one more time, this time asking, “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies.”  Well, of course, they had to make copies. Why else would they be asking to use the Xerox machine?

You’d think such a silly request would prompt the people in line to say “get lost.”  But that didn’t happen. What did happen was astonishing, and it made the word “because” easily the most influential word in English.

When asked “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies,” 93 percent of the people in line said “sure.”

Like I said, don’t ask me to explain why the brain works this way, just remember that it does.

When you ask someone to go vote on April 2, add a because clause.  “Will you vote on April 2, because it’s an election day,” will be as effective as “will you vote on April 2, because your liberty depends on it.”

Now, go find out:

Why the Sequester Was Worse Before It Happened

How Psychological Biases Hurt Government

And here’s the book that’ll make you more influential: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

Source:  The Xerox studies can be found in: Langer, E., Blank, A., and Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of “placebic” information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36: 639– 42. Retrieved from Goldstein, Noah J.; Martin, Steve J.; Robert B. Cialdini (2008-06-10). Yes! (Kindle Locations 2882-2884). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

If You Want Fewer Abortions, Stop Talking About How Many There Are

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m using abortion as an example, but this bit of science applies to all political messaging.

What’s wrong with this headline?

55,772,015 Abortions in America Since Roe vs. Wade in 1973 - LifeNews.com_thumb[2]

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It shouts: “Everybody’s getting an abortion!” Even if connected with messages that say abortion is wrong.

In numerous studies, messages intended to discourage a behavior by promoting the number of people engaged in the behavior (called negative social proof) actually caused the behavior to increase.

In the most famous study by Robert Cialdini, Steve Martin, and Noah Goldstein, researchers wanted to reduce theft of artifacts from the Petrified Forest National Park. Theft of artifacts is a serious problem, and signs installed by the park service hadn’t helped.

The scientists believed the signs in the park were actually encouraging people to steal petrified wood. The park’s signs read:

“Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.”

To test their theory, the researchers placed two different messages in different areas of the park and marked artifacts in the area to track them. Here’s a description of the experiment:

The negative social proof sign said, “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest,” and was accompanied by a picture of several park visitors taking pieces of wood. A second sign conveyed no social proof information. Rather, it simply conveyed that stealing wood was not appropriate or approved, saying, “Please don’t remove the petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” That sign was accompanied by a picture of a lone visitor stealing a piece of wood, with a red circle-and-bar (the universal “No” symbol) superimposed over his hand. We also had a control condition in which we didn’t put up either of these signs.

Goldstein, Noah J.; Martin, Steve J.; Robert B. Cialdini (2008-06-10). Yes! (Kindle Locations 372-378). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The results: the negative social proof sign caused the number of thefts to triple!  That’s right, three times as many people took petrified wood from the area with the negative social proof sign.

The theory held. The National Park Service was actually encouraging people to steal, and anecdotal evidence bore this out.  The researchers learned of the wood-theft problem from a former grad student who took his fiancée to the park.

. . .  a woman he described as the most honest person he’d ever known, someone who had never borrowed a paper clip without returning it. They quickly encountered the aforementioned park sign warning visitors against stealing petrified wood. He was shocked when his otherwise wholly law-abiding fiancée nudged him in the side with her elbow and whispered, “We’d better get ours now.”

This study has been replicated repeatedly. When you tell people that lots of people are doing something wrong, you increase the number of people doing the wrong thing.

Use the Science of Social Proof Effectively

The authors of the study point out that more effective message would be the opposite of negative social proof. Instead of talking about 55 million abortions, talk about the declining number of abortions. Find statistics that show how unusual it is for a woman to get an abortion.

The incidence of abortion has been declining for over a decade, and it plummeted 5 percent in 2009 alone. The ratio of abortions to live births declines every year. The rate of abortions declines every year. Two-thirds of women never have an abortion. If trends continue, someday there will be no abortions in America.

Smoking Turned The Corner When They Stopped Talking About How Many People Smoke

For years, the CDC and the Surgeon General and all sorts of health groups complained that people just refused to listen to their messages on the dangers of smoking. As evidence, in the 1980s, they decried the large number of teens taking up cigarettes.  But they were wrong. People were listening. And here’s what they heard:

  • More teens smoking
  • Smoking up in 43 states
  • Despite the risks, Americans smoke more than ever

All of those messages told people “everybody’s doing it. Why aren’t you?” Or, as the grad student’s fiancée said, “we better get ours now.”

In the 1990s, the messaging shifted. Instead of talking about all the people smoking, they started talking about all the people quitting.

Suddenly, quitting became the in-thing. And fewer people smoked.

This Isn’t Just About Abortion Messaging

Back to Cialdini, et al:

More generally, political groups of all sorts misunderstand the impact of their communications by condemning the rise in voter apathy and then watch their communications backfire as more and more voters fail to turn up at the polls.

You should see all the emails, blog comments, and tweets I get that use negative social proof. “Most kids will vote for Obama no matter what.” “Most teachers are socialists.”  “Every kid under 30 was indoctrinated to hate Republicans.”

Those messages only increase the outcomes you don’t want.

I understand why people—even professional marketers—use negative social proof. They see a problem that’s big and growing, and they want to alert others of the danger.

That works if it’s an agreed upon danger. An angry giant descends the beanstalk. The wicked witch brews a potion to turn everyone into toads. The Cubs win the World Series.

But it doesn’t work if the danger is not agreed upon. Thirty-eight million Americans wear contact lenses! Okay.  So what?

To the 51 percent of Americans who call themselves “pro-choice,” the LIfenews headline is as ho-hum as the contact lens headline. To the smoker, hearing that more teens are smoking is a yawn.

Instead, flip the message over.  Only 16 percent of Americans smoke. Since 2002, there are more former smokers in the US than smokers. Eighty-eight percent of Americans do not wear contact lenses.

Back to Martin, Goldstein, and Cialdini:

If the circumstances allow for it, focusing the audience on all people who do engage in the positive behavior can be a very influential strategy.For instance, imagine you are a manager recognizing that attendance at your monthly meetings has gone down. Rather than calling attention to the fact that so many people are missing the meetings, you could not only express your disapproval for that behavior, but also highlight that those who don’t attend the meetings are in the minority by pointing out the large number of people who do actually turn up.

Goldstein, Noah J.; Martin, Steve J.; Robert B. Cialdini (2008-06-10). Yes! (Kindle Locations 390-391). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I hope this news helps. I know there’s a tendency to shout out big numbers, but don’t shout big numbers unless you want them to get bigger. People do what they think others are doing. Call it the bandwagon effect, social proof, or monkey-see-monkey-do, the science is clear: calling attention to a behavior’s frequency will only increase it.

Don’t Miss The Brain Study That Tells You How to Influence Democrats

Reading Time: 2 minutes

One of the most powerful tools of influence is fear.

Decades of research shows that fear of loss is about three times as motivating as hope for gain. (This changes under certain situations, like conditions of certain loss, but that’s for another time.)

So political message writers often use negative messages to influence voters to take a chance on a cause or a candidate.

This tactic works well with Republican voters, and less well with Democrats. New neuroscience research tells us why—and what you can do about it.

Republicans and Democrats Assess Risk With Different Parts of Their Brains

When assessing risk, Republican voters use their amygdala, while Democrats use their left insula.

republican-democrat-brains-on-risk

The amygdala are the brain’s primary danger triggers. They kick off the flight-fight-freeze response.

The left insula’s primary function involves consciousness of self and others. It processes social information.

This is critical to understand if you’re asking people to take a risk.

This Study Is a Remarkable Predictor of Party Affiliation

The study by Dr. Darren Schreiber of University of Exeter with colleagues from University of San Diego shows that fMRI imaging during risk tasks predicts party affiliation with 82.9% accuracy.

That’s stunning. In fact, few other methods of predicting political preference even come close.

Read more about the study on Science Daily, and you can see the whole paper on PLOS One.

How To Influence Republican Brains

Say you want people to stop freaking out over the sequester. If want to influence Republicans, talk about the dangers of freaking out. For example, if the House Republicans freak out about the political consequences of automatic spending cuts, they’re likely to accept a really bad demand from the White House.

In other words, double down on their highly activated amygdala by reminding them (truthfully) that freaking out will only make things worse. There’s more to lose in compromise (surrender) than in standing firm.

How To Influence Democrat Brains

The White House has done a fabulous job activating the left insula in Democrats by talking about how sequestration will hurt them personally and people they care about.

To get Democrats to stop freaking out about the risk of the sequester, remind them that the more money the government takes, the less money people have to spend on important things like the environment, caring for the poor, and taking care of their families. Remind them that, someday, Congress and the White House will be in conservatives’ hands, along with all the spending power. Remember Bush?

You Are Not Your Voter

This is just more evidence that you are not the voter you’re trying to influence. And it’s only one aspect of brain science that needs to be considered when developing a marketing strategy.

What’s clear, though, is that messaging that mobilizes people who think like you might turn off people who don’t.  But carefully designing your campaign with multiple messages that trigger different parts of the brain will increase the number of people who at least consider your side.

Ambition Comes In Good and Bad Flavors

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When I was in high school I wanted to be a US Senator.

Wait, that wasn’t the punch line.

That ambition changed, and I’m glad it did. It was a bad ambition.

Steve Jobs wanted to build an enduring company that made insanely great products that people loved. Thank God he pursued and achieved his ambition, because it was good and noble.

What’s the difference? It’s not that one ambition was personal and one involved others. Nor is the difference between public and private sector.

What makes ambition good or bad is neither the object nor the subject, but the verb.

I wanted to be something great. Jobs wanted to do  something great. Wanting to be corrupts and limits, while wanting to do strengthens and expands.

Getting Better Beats Being Good

Research shows that people perform better when pursuing getting-better goals than when pursing being-good goals. It’s wonderfully organized by Heidi Grant Halverson, PhD, in her useful and readable ebook Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.

in one study I conducted a few years ago at Lehigh University with Laura Gelety, we found that people in pursuit of be-good goals (i.e., trying to show how smart they already were) performed very poorly on a test of problem solving when we made the test more difficult (either by interrupting them frequently, or by throwing in a few additional unsolvable problems).

But getting-better crowd wasn’t deterred.

The amazing thing was that the people who were pursuing get-better goals (i.e., who saw the test as an opportunity to learn a new problem-solving skill) were completely unaffected by any of our dirty tricks. No matter how hard we made it, these participants stayed motivated and did well.

The Unbearable State Of Being

The common factor to both ambition and goal-pursuit seems to be . . . being. being

When we decide that we want to be something—rich, thin, happy, Speaker of the House, Emperor of the North—we set off on a terminal path. God forbid we should achieve that goal young. Orson Welles wrote, directed, produced, and starred in his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, at 26. He wanted to be a great director.

When a person wants to be a Senator, he might accomplish the goal at the expense of everything he might have done. And at the expense of everything he once believed.

A person who enters politics to fight corruption and promote liberty wiil behave differently from one who runs to be governor. The trade-offs of campaign contributions for a vote in the legislature won’t tempt the person wants to do great things, but will easily sway the one who wants to be great.

Pay Attention To Their Verbs

Listen closely to a person’s ambitions. When they tell you want they want to be, ask them what they want to do. If they can’t answer that question with the same enthusiasm they showed in being, watch out.

 

Halvorson, Heidi Grant (2011-10-24). Nine Things Successful People Do Differently (Kindle Locations 234-238). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Why The Sequester Is Worse Now Than It Will Be After It Happens

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Welcome Dr. Gina Show Listeners!

Republicans should announce “the sequester won’t be so bad” and shut up, and science tells us why.

Obama, the Dems, liberal pundits, the press, and even John Boehner are running around yelling about how horrible the sequester will be.

In some deep recesses of our minds, we agree.  “Oh, my God! We’re all going to do die!”

Fear-mongering only works in the future because, in short, nothing is as bad (or as good) as we think it will be when we think about it.

Meet Affective Forecasting and Your Impact Bias

That’s a shorthand explanation of affective forecasting—or predicting how happy or sad something will make us. Marketers and politicians want us to predict our future feelings Dan-Gilbertabout some event and to apply impact bias to that prediction.

Impact bias is the tendency to overestimate how good we’ll feel if we get what we hope for or how bad we’ll feel if we don’t. Here’s a great, short video by Dan Gilbert explaining the importance of affective forecasting.

Obama uses the science of psychology better than anyone, and the Republicans refuse to even consider it a science. This is one of the reasons why Obama beats the GOP at almost every turn.

The Sequester Won’t Be As Bad As Any Alternative

If the Republicans try to strike a deal with Obama, they will do so under the duress of extreme impact bias. In other words, their imaginations will make monsters of the sequester, and their minds will agree to a deal that mostly benefits Obama.

Obama and his advisers study the science of human behavior. Republicans don’t. In every negotiation, Obama has knowledge that Republicans lack – knowledge he uses to take advantage of the GOP.

The losers in these negotiations are the public in general and the young in particular as the GOP trades their future wealth and choices to the President.

So think about something else and let the sequester happen. It won’t be nearly as bad as you think it will when you think about it.