How to trick dumb kids into eating less Halloween candy
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How can a mirror cause dramatic behavioral changes in kids?
First, I should acknowledge that the kids are not really dumb because of the psychological technique I’m going to describe below, but can’t we all agree that kids are pretty dumb in general? Come on. My parents just told me a story about how, when I was a kid, my Dad once cut a grapefruit for me and sprinkled sugar on it. I screamed and screamed for FIFTEEN MINUTES about how I didn’t want sugar on it. When my dad finally said, “Ok ok” and took the sugar off with a spoon, I still screamed because I didn’t want THAT grapefruit. I feel sorry for my dad, 24 years later, and I hope you see why I make fun of dumb kids now. So I’m delighted when I can trick them.
In 1979, researchers Beaman, Klentz, Diener, and Svanum wrote a terrific piece of research involving Cooley’s Looking Glass Self, which basically points out that we are not independent individuals as we like to think. Instead, we’re a product of our surroundings, including how we think others think of us, and we act accordingly. For example, if I believe other people think of me as an entrepreneur, I’m more likely to act entrepreneurially so I can continue developing that positive judgment.
They made this practical using an experiment with children and Halloween. Since I know many of you are illiterate and only read blogs for information, I took the trouble of going through the literature for you. Remember these from college?
The researchers decided to see how they could apply the looking-glass principle to change children’s behavior. To do that, they tested 349 children who were trick-or-treating by setting up a bowl full of candy and using the following manipulations:
- They would ask the children their names and ages to evoke self-awareness, or “individuate” them (e.g., “I am Ramit Sethi” and the accompanying connotations of ‘I am a good person’).
- In one condition, a woman told the children to only take one piece of candy.
- In another condition, a mirror was placed conspicuously so children could see themselves as they reached into the candy bowl.
- In a final condition, they combined the “warning” and “mirror” conditions.
There is a lot more to it, and while the methodology is interesting, I’ll just cut to the results.
What did they find?
- BASELINE: With no mirror and no warning to take only one piece of candy from the bowl, 75% of children took more than 1 piece of candy. Ok, makes sense. It’s sitting there in front of you.
- VERBAL WARNING ONLY: When the experimenters warned children to take only 1 candy, that number dropped to 34.2%. Good job kids, listen to your elders.
- COMBINED EFFECT: When the researchers (1) warned the children to only take one candy, plus (2) put a mirror in front of them, that number dropped to 11.7%. Astonishing.
Why would a mirror produce such a big change in behavior?
What are some of the other ways you can apply this to yourself?
I’ll be covering this — plus more principles of social psychology — in the I Will Teach You To Be Rich boot camp, launching November 3rd.
Get additional bonuses and an early-bird discount by signing up for the free pre-list here.