5 fascinating experiments from the world of psychology and persuasion

January 19th, 2011 - 54 Comments

Much of what you know about human behavior and persuasion is wrong.

You believe you’re in control of your own behavior. Yet a skilled persuader could persuade you to not only positive goals — like donating to charity — but also unthinkably negative acts, including stealing, lying, and even killing.

You believe you know what you’re attracted to. For most women, it’s the classic “I want a man who makes me laugh” (and a laundry list of other generic characteristics). These “wishlist criteria” have little to do with the people we ACTUALLY end up with — yet we continue telling our friends the kind of guy (or girl) we want. Put simply, it’s unlikely that you can articulate what you actually like.

You believe that if “they” — crackpot Tea Partiers, or bleeding-heart liberals — just had the information you had, they’d realize you were right and come over to your side. You couldn’t be more wrong.

Today, 5 fascinating studies from the world of social psychology — and some of my favorites from my work in psychology at Stanford — that will show you the complexity of human behavior…and challenge what you believe about yourself.

* * *

Myth: “I know who I’m attracted to”

Reality: You often cannot articulate who you are attracted to, and your attraction is subject to many variables — including proximity and context — and subject to manipulation

Ask anyone what they’re attracted to — what their “type” is — and you’ll often get a laundry list of characteristics like “tall” “interested in the environment” and “he makes me laugh” (my favorite catch-all, since most guys are not funny).

Yet how many people do you know with a strict list of characteristics who throw them out as soon as they meet someone they’re attracted to?

It turns out that the characteristics we SAY we’re attracted to are quite different than what our behavior reveals. For example, in speed-dating trials by Simonson, Fisman, Iyengar, and Kamenica, there were substantial differences between what we “said” we wanted vs. what we actually found attractive.

From a report of the experiment:

“Men—rather predictably—said attractiveness, while women listed intelligence and sincerity.”
…However, when they moved through the speed dating process there was no appreciable difference between men and women. Both used attractiveness to make their decisions.
[...]

Another interesting finding was that women tended to be choosier the more options they had. In the smaller group (10 men and 10 women) both men and women said they would like to see any given person again approximately half the time. In the large dating group, men kept to the same proportion of yeses (10 out of 20 times). However, women only said yes 6.5 out of 20 times.”

Instead, here’s how attraction often works:

- We say we’re attracted to XYZ characteristics
- We meet someone and are attracted to them for whatever reason
- We cannot articulate precisely why, yet we believe we can, so we’ll create a list of reasons
- We systematically ignore or actively resist the suggestion that any external factors have anything to do with our attraction
- Later, we may return to our baseline claims of what we find attractive

The main point: Who you find is attractive is a mysterious force and is subject to many external forces. If you’re in a foreign country, or surrounded by many people, or online vs. offline attraction varies. Keep this in mind when you say the kind of person you’re attracted to. The next time someone asks you who you’re attracted to, a better response might be a shrug and, “I guess we’ll see.”

* * *

Myth: “I’m in control of my own behavior.”

Reality: Your behavior is highly susceptible to your environment and the context around you. You can unwittingly be persuaded to stay in a smoking room, shock someone to death, or donate more money — all things you would not “ordinarily” do.

In one 1979 study, researchers Beaman, Diener, and Svanum showed how a simple intervention could dramatically change behavior. On Halloween, research assistants answered the doors of local houses and told the kids they could take one piece of candy. Then they left the room.

34% of children took more than one piece of candy.

But when a mirror was present — forcing the children to see their own reflection — that number dropped to 12%.

Would you leave a room filling with thick smoke? You might think our behavior is predictable during life-and-death matters, but it’s not. In a study by Latane and Darley, researchers filled a room with thick smoke. In one case, 75% of people left the room as you would expect. But in another case through experimental manipulations, only 10% left.

Notice the clueless YouTube comments saying she was “dumb” for not leaving. These commenters miss the point — they likely would do the very same thing under the very same circumstances…which is a cornerstone of social psychology. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.

Finally, when you accuse “those evil people” of doing bad things like beating prisoners, torturing others, or killing, know that it’s possible for most of us to do the same behaviors under the same conditions. This is one of the critical lessons of the famed Milgram experiment.

The main point: Most of us believe that we are in control of our actions, yet our surroundings exert powerful control over us. People get extremely uncomfortable when confronted with evidence that they are not in complete control of their behaviors. A skilled persuader — including companies, marketers, professors, or yes even bloggers — can cause you to take surprising actions. Recognize what is going on around you.

* * *

Myth: “If [the other side -- Tea Party crackpots, bleeding-heart liberals, union members, management] just had the same information I had, they’d see things as I do. They’re just ignorant.”

Reality: Even if they had your exact information, they would not come to the same conclusions as you. That’s because we filter information through our own biases.

If you’ve ever wondered how Republicans get poor people to vote for tax cuts for the rich, you may have said something like, “Ugh, these people don’t even read! They’re voting against their OWN self-interest. God if they just read XYZ, they’d realize…”

You could say the same for liberals who vote for budget-busting legislation.

We love to believe that if the other side simply had the same information — that if they “took the time to understand the issues” — they would get it.

In the principle of naiive realism, Lee Ross et al write how most people believe the world works like this:

1. I see reality, and my actions and beliefs are based on a rational interpretation of reality.
2. Other people would share my view and actions and opinions if they had access to the same information that I do and if they have processed that information in a reasonable way like I do.
3. If others don’t share my views, it’s because:
* they have different information, and by sharing information we can reach an agreement
* they are lazy, or are not making rational decisions based on the information
* they are biased by ideology or self-interest, or some other distorting influence

Indeed, people in politics are especially guilt of believing that the other side simply needs to “understand” and “get educated” about the issues — so guilty that I’ve created an entire section on political marketing.

Take this example, found on an internet forum:

He genuinely believed that she really needed to understand. But, of course, she didn’t.  And when he over-explained, her eyes glazed over.

Let’s take another example.

In a famous study, two researchers analyzed a 1951 football game between the Dartmouth Indians and Princeton Tigers. The game was unusually rough, with the Princeton quarterback being injured so badly that he had to leave the game.

One week later, researchers questioned students who had attended the game to understand their perception of what had happened. Who played dirtier? Who was responsible for the fouls and injuries?

When asked, “Do you believe the game was clean and fairly played or that it was unnecessarily rough and dirty?” a staggering 93% of Princeton students responded “Rough and dirty,” while only 42% of Dartmouth students agreed.
When asked, “Which team do you feel started the rough play?” 86% of Princeton students surveyed responded that Dartmouth had. Only 36% of Dartmouth students blamed their own team.

In a clever twist, the researchers then asked students to watch a film of the game and report how many infractions were made. Both groups watched the same game on video, but Princeton students reported twice as many infractions as Dartmouth students did.

These students watched the objectively same game, yet had astonishingly different perceptions of what “actually” happened.

Please read that last sentence carefully. You’ll notice that I wrote they perceived the game.

That is indeed what happened. Even though they physically “watched” the very same game, each set of students — Dartmouth and Princeton students — were unconsciously affected by their group membership and beliefs. Despite what we think, we do not objectively see what happens around us. You and I could be watching a clown walk across the street, and we would perceive two VERY different things. Our perceptions are colored by a variety of factors, including our beliefs, history, group membership, culture, and more.

The truth? Education is not the answer.

Even if your opponent has all the same information as you, they will likely still disagree with you because they filter information through their own biases and world view.

* * *

Myth: “I need more information to make the right decision.”


Reality: In many cases, having more information causes “analysis paralysis” and actually prevents you from taking action.

Americans love to believe that if they just had more information, they could make a better decision.

Yet more information can be crippling and cause us to delay taking action.

Sheena Iyengar studied contribution rates to 401(k) plans and found a surprising result: “For every 10 mutual funds made available, the rate of participation in 401(k) investing goes down 2%.”

There are other variables more important than “more information” that help ensure compliance.

For example, “high-fear” appeals are known to work well in particular situations such as smoking reduction. But there’s something even more important.

in an experiment by Howard Leventhal, he tested how to persuade students to get a tetanus shot.

In one case, he simply provided them information. 0 students got the shot.

In another case, he provided a “high-fear” appeal and 3% of students got the shot.

But when he added the “high-fear” appeal plus specific instructions — a map to the health center, times shots were available, and a request for the students to plan what time they’d go and what route they’d take — the number of students who got the shot soared to 28%. Even though these students likely knew where the health center was!

The main point: Simply giving people more information rarely leads to behavioral change. In fact, more information can decrease the chances of someone taking behavior, a finding you can investigate further in the excellent book, The Paradox of Choice. Another terrific book is Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. There are many other, far more persuasive, techniques besides “more information” to motivate change.

* * *

Myth: “I know what I saw”

Reality: Your memory is unreliable and easily influenced

If you believe that you remember what happened during childhood, that conversation last week, or even in that commercial you watched yesterday, you may be in for a surprise.

Many of us think of our memory like a videotape — it records what it sees. But we “filter” the information before it comes to us, affecting the memory before it’s ever “recorded.” To complicate things, time and other variables also alter our memories.

In Pratkanis and Aronson’s “Age of Propaganda,” they write about the way that memories are easily altered:

“For example, in her research on human memory, cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus frequently demonstrates that memories of, say, an accident or a crime scene can be modified and changed simply through the questions asked about the incident.”

Loftus has shown that asking carefully phrased questions — “How fast were the cars going when they smashed together?” — can produce distorted memories of watching the film. (In this case, as Aronson writes, “Subjects who were asked about smashing cars, as opposed to hitting cars, estimated that the cars were going significantly faster and, a week after seeing the film, were more likely to state that there was broken glass at the accident scene (even though no broken glass was shown in the film.))”

The main point: Your memory is not a videotape. Instead, think of it as a constantly changing ribbon of material, easily susceptible to suggestions and rewriting.

***

Interested in learning more about the psychology of persuasion?

I released a 1-hour call with Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg, one of my mentors who taught me much of what I know. We discussed how to apply psychological techniques on a day-to-day basis, along with unconventional ways to influence others, get your dream job, and become an expert.

 

thx @ramit + @bjfogg for webinar. Amazing scientific insights on getting foot in door, becoming an expert, persuasion & behavior change.less than a minute ago via web


Join my private mailing list — for free — to get:

  • A recording of my audio session with BJ Fogg
  • A bonus psychology study, where I reveal a surprise insight about attraction and arousal

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54 Comments

 

Comments

  1. Good stuff. It’s about time people start realizing how susceptible they are to psychological plays from experienced persuaders.

    Ramit, working off of your mirror study, there was another one performed where researchers displayed a picture of two eyes looking at people. The two eyes and mirror had a similar effect… they both lowered unethical behavior.

    Also, you mentioned the “shock” study, which demonstrates the human beings and their unwillingness to go against authority. There was another interesting study, that you may have heard about…

    A reporter dressed up as a security guard, went near an ATM, put an out-of-order sign on the ATM that said “give all deposits to the security guard,” and would you believe it? People actually gave deposits to the security guard. Heh.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing this stuff to light. I’ll sign up for the webinar with BJ Fogg and I’m sure I’ll learn some new, interesting things.

  2. Ramit, I think you missed a good opportunity to reinforce part of your ongoing message and added in a piece of useless anger here:

    But when he added the “high-fear” appeal plus specific instructions — a map to the health center, times shots were available, and a request for the students to plan what time they’d go and what route they’d take — the number of students who got the shot soared to 28%. Even though these students likely knew where the health center was!

    It’s not the fact that he gave them a map to the health center (like you pointed out, more information doesn’t help), which you then get angry over in your last sentence, “Even though these students…!” The change in percentage wasn’t about them knowing where it was. You know it was because they got the times (something they likely DIDN’T know) and more importantly, because they scripted it (i.e. made a plan of when to go and what route to take). Which, coincidentally, fits in very well with your “Automate your way to desired results” message. I think that’s the point you should be emphasizing there.

  3. All these studies are great. I love to know about persuasion all the time, when I went to work for a door-to-door company selling vacs I know NOT a cool gig, but I learned a ton about persuasion. Although I wouldn’t recommend any of their sneaky ways of getting people to buy their $3,000 product.

    Anyway thanks for the link, I’ll go learn more tonight!

  4. I would agree with all of these except for the “I’m not in control of my own behavior” myth. The study presents subjects with a set of information and then measures their response. In this case the sets of information are different, but so is the type of response being measured.

    People act different when (they think) they are alone versus when they are being watched. This is perfectly rational because what people think of us affects our opportunities. For example, Ramit can make more money from this site if readers trust him and less if they don’t.

    In other words, this “study” is practically worthless, even in the realm of the soft science of psychology. We don’t even know whether subjects choose to stay in the room because the others give them confidence they’re not in a dangerous situation or because they think the others will think less of them if they get up and leave.

    The question of whether or not we control our own behaviors may never be definitively answered because a definitive test is impossible.

    Still, there are valuable lessons to be learned from psychology even though we have to abandon the strict guidelines of science to make the discoveries. But you shouldn’t wander so far from science that your conclusions have no value whatsoever.

    • I’m agreeing with both Ryan and Ramit on this myth. People can control their behavior on a outside level but not an inside level.

      People have developed this distrust of sales people just for this reason. They know they can keep themselves from listening to a sales person so thats what they do. In situations where they listen to a sales person they always get duped into buying something. The great negotiaters live in the middle area. They are able to listen longer before getting pulled in by the behavior tricks.

      Another example: if you’re on a diet don’t buy snacks or plan them out (depending on if you’re an abstainer or moderator).

      So people have developed ways to change their behavior to avoid others changing it for them. People who are self aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and triggers have adjusted their lives to produce good behaviors. This is exactly what Ramit is going for with his automation advice. Set things up for success. Shortcut the areas where you know you can’t control your behavior and reap the rewards. These areas will be different for everyone so the real trick is to learn your own pitfals and work around them.

  5. Hey Ramit,

    I think it’s crucial to point out assumptions that most people take for granted as “knowledge” and show them the truth. You and Tim are great at this ;)

    It’s incredible that even first-hand eye witnesses aren’t reliable sources because our own brains can’t be trusted to remember like a tape recorder.

    Really interesting stuff.

    Psychology and Making Money goes hand in hand!

    Jordan

  6. I just finished reading a couple weeks ago an awesome book by Dan Ariely titled Predictable Irrational. The book describes several experiments showing how we make irrational financial (and other) decisions all the time.

    I think understanding why we make decisions helps us to make better ones. I’m hoping that for my birthday tomorrow I get his other book, The Upside of Irrationality. (If not, I’m definitely buying it next week.)

  7. Great stuff Ramit, This world is full of the weak vs strong

    For as the room filling with thick smoke study, most people are embarrassed to do what the feel. It’s always easier to conform

  8. I loved your point about the Dartmouth vs. Princeton game, so many factors influence your perception of events, topics etc… I played a small game on my very Italian friend and my Asian friend. I showed them each a picture of an Olive Garden then asked them to write down 5 words, I didn’t say that had to relate to the picture of Olive Garden. The words my Italian friend wrote were much more negative than that of my Asian friend. Coming from an Italian family, he hated Olive Garden on principle, my other friend didn’t. Just goes to show how your association with a visual stimulus can be completely different depending on experience. Neither are wrong, just simply different. People are often cautious of different options and don’t go through with a choice (and do nothing) because it was different than person A, however, that often doesn’t make your choice wrong. People should be more relaxed about making their own choice.

    • All good points!

      Until you said the S word — “Should.”

      Whenever you say “People should…” you have already lost.

      Careful!

  9. Ramit

    I signed up but won’t be able to join tonight due to a prior commitment. I want to get access to the recording, should I cancel?

  10. Hi, Ramit. Great information as usual. Another insight I’d like to contribute about perception and memory differences is that it’s not just about where you stand and what you see. An individual’s ability to perceive and recall accurately is also affected by the level of “presence” at the event. For example, if you are standing on the sidewalk, waiting to cross, and thinking about the argument you just had with your partner, or thinking about the party you’re planning for that night, you will not really be present in that moment and you will have a very different experience of a car crash in the intersection than a person who was standing next to you focused on watching the signal lights change and following the flow of traffic.

  11. I managed to convince myself (briefly) that people want to help me and give me advice. I sent an email and now I have a 15-minute appointment to talk to the department head of the school where I want to teach tomorrow afternoon.

  12. Very interesting info Ramit!

    Reminds me of the blog You Are Not So Smart. I like reading these things because they challenge my preconceived notions and I’m better for it. Recognizing how the mind works and how we can be influenced is the first step towards our own utilization.

  13. Ramit, would love to hear you interview Dan Arielly, the guy who wrote “predictably irrational.” It’s another great book on why people sometimes act and think in ways that seem irrational. He also includes some tips on how to avoid or take advantage of this behavior, depending on your goals.

    Bottom line for me though, by becoming aware of these issues, I can better cope with them.

    Hope you can record the live interview.

  14. Please record the video, it’s 3-4am here in holland at that time! I have an interview tomorrow which I set up because of your taking action and doing scripts so don’t want to mess it up by not sleeping well!

  15. I love this stuff. Thanks for putting together this webinar. I’m looking forward to it. I definitely need to learn to persuade myself to get my head out of my ass and create my dream job!

  16. Thank you!

    I have been thinking lately about the myth nr 2… Totally agree…

    It’s not nice to know our “weaknesses” this way, but it’s kind of conforting in a “Socratic” way to know them…

    “I just know that I know nothing…” (In portuguese looks nicer :D)

  17. Great post!

    I’m guessing you’ve read Philip Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect (if you haven’t then you should). He mentioned one thing in it that stuck in my mind as one of the major filters that we might be looking at the world through:
    We don’t like to think of ourselves as bad people, so whenever we commit a small act of immorality our brains work overtime to twist around our sense of logic to prove to ourselves that our immoral act was actually okay to do. Interestingly enough this doesn’t happen when we commit something we consider highly immoral (murder) but it’ll let us get away with small things like backbiting, small lies, or stealing a pack of gum.

    Over time those tiny twists in our logic add up and can severely distort our perspective of right and wrong, making people consider various types of good things bad, and bad things good. (Crack cocaine anyone?)

  18. Ramit, I’m really excited for this. Before starting Dental School, I had a masters in biomedical science, and before that an undergrad in Psychology, and I LOVE me some psychology. So I’m aware of some of the experiments you mentioned above, and super excited to learn more tonight. :-)

  19. Ramit it’s nice to see that you’ve decided to tape this weeks webinar. Thank you. I have to wake up at 3AM tomorrow morning so this will give me about 5 hrs of sleep but I’ll be there.

    PS. The Scrooge in you will love the fact that I’ll be using Google Voice to make my long distance call.

  20. So I’ve been languishing (my own fault, entirely) in the twilight area between finishing coursework and taking exams for two years now. My [faulty] reasoning has always been that I have no guidance from my directors and the paperwork for things is scattered around on different areas of websites. But. I told myself it was no longer an excuse (that, in fact, it never had been), and that if I actually asked, someone would be willing and pleased to point me in the right direction.

    I emailed a few people who were in charge of various parts of the filing task, and none of them got back to me. Instead of saying “oh well” and letting it slide another week, I went by their offices one by one until I found one of them, and then asked for ten minutes of his time. Not only did he have those ten minutes, but since I was prepared with the dates and information I needed for the forms, we took care of all the scheduling right there! It took me years to get off my rear end and take that initiative. The ball is rolling, Ramit. Thank you!

  21. Even though I have been on Ramit’s mailing list since May of 2010, I didn’t receive an invitation to tonight’s webcast; did this happen to anybody else?

    • We identified an error that prevented emails from going to a small sliver from my list (about 2,000 people). Unfortunately it looks like you were in that segment, so I apologize.

      We fixed the problem and I’ll be sending out a recording of the event.

    • It’s alright, as I can still watch the recording.
      Thank you Ramit!

  22. I’m currently a psych graduate student and while I feel research is important, I also think not enough is being done to share the results of classic studies like these with people outside the field. Great post!

  23. Week 2 Results:
    I identified three people to meet with. The one person I met with started his own band and produced 2 records so far. His wife has been working with small businesses and knows their needs. I met with him for lunch and told him about my idea to start and IT consulting business. As I told him about my idea, I found myself narrowing in on my target market and determining why my business would be different than other businesses in the area. I determined that I will be offering a very specific package that would include a 5 page website with email and docs in google docs. This would be a very packaged offering that gives people less choices and narrows in on a price instead of offering to do work at an hourly rate. We talked more about how I would pitch the value to a small business owner. I determined that a video would be the best option to show them how a website and google docs would help a small business.

    Just practicing giving a sales pitch with him allowed me to narrow my focus to anything IT related like Antivirus, networking, troubleshooting and support to being very specific and differentiating myself in the marketplace.

    Thanks for the material. I like the video with Tim Ferris. I used the ideas to target time in the morning to work my action plan for my business. I created a new logo that works better on my site this week. I am working on a design for business cards so I can start working on personal advertising of my services.

  24. Oh, i got so excited about the Google calendar sms notifications thing. But it doesn’t appear to exist. That would be a really cool way to remind myself to do stuff.

  25. Fantastic call with BJ Fogg. Some things really clicked into place with what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks, and a lot of great new things to implement. Really crystallizes some ideas to use for approaching potential clients for freelancing. I’ll be digging back into my notes for weeks.

    Thanks so much!

  26. Great webinar–but it was my first ever and I couldn’t figure out how to ask a question. (And I didn’t try too hard because I didn’t want to miss anything.) Years ago my interest in American women’s relationship to outdoor spaces led me to read a lot in risk perception theory and behavioral decision research, so I was familiar with some of those studies y’all mentioned. I was intrigued by the discussion of context. The research I read about risk/benefit perception emphasizes that stories and experiences affect our choices and perceptions more than facts or information. As a writer and lit teacher who freelances in PR and fundraising, I have focused on this. I’m wondering what you or BJ would say about the power of context either vs. the power of story/experience/image or its compatibility with it. Thinking about women and the outdoors, I’ve always known I could change women’s perceptions about risk and benefit if I could learn their stories/past experiences and then take them on an excursion that I planned. But it seems to me now through this new lens that the change would be created at least as much by being around me–a woman experienced and comfortable outdoors who didn’t have grand, macho goals or expectations of the excursion. So are stories partly a way of changing context from afar? If I can’t be around the type of people who do X but I want to change my behavior to X, does reading their stories and embedding them in my pool of associations have the same affect? Or close? This is very scatter shot but I’d appreciate your reactions. I know you’ve thought way more about this stuff than I have and can help me make leaps faster (and more correctly). Thanks!

    • Check out the Fluent Self’s Rally concept for an interesting look at changing context. http://www.fluentself.com/rally/

      There are a ton of people who would benefit from a non-macho trip to the outdoors. There are lots of opportunities to extent their comfort zones in not terribly difficult ways. It also – like any vacation – gets people away from their guilt and responsibilities. Freed of that they have the mental energy to make discoveries about themselves (notice patterns) and truly rejuvenate.

  27. Tonight’s webinar was EXCELLENT. Thank you so much for inviting such a high-quality, well-spoken guest. I particularly loved BJ’s answer to the question about changing one’s relationship with money: have gratitude. I also found myself connecting some of the topics you all discussed from a scientific perspective to mindful living “techniques” that I’ve gleaned from reading books on Buddhism and trying to meditate. Again, thanks! It was a great presentation and I am glad I rushed home to hear it.

  28. I was madly writing notes on the webinar and I missed a word in one sentence about becoming a ”world’s expert” in something. It went something like, “pick a subject that with study 20 hours of studying you can know more about than anyone else in the world…”

    Did I get that right? Was the proposed scope “20 hours”? It seems to make sense given the follow-up example, but I wanted to make sure I understood the deeper script there.

    If it is 20 hours, it is a tantalizing constraint. As an IT Security professional, it could possibly take only 20 hours of study to be the world’s expert in testing ASP webpages of small companies designed by entry-level web designers in North America. And, there is a significant (and well-defined because of the artificial constraint) market for someone with that level of expertise, and the market testing scope crystal clear. Constraining myself this way also informs me of the ‘behaviors’ I want to prompt in potential and realized customers.

    Skillset, mindset, market, testing system, and foundation for interaction with customers all wrapped up in one neat and tidy package…

    Now, what was my excuse for inaction again? :)

  29. Thank you for a fascinating interview Ramit. Cracked up when you and BJ talked about putting gym clothes on shoes or floss near the toothbrush. I take the floss one step further. I wrap a piece around the bristles after I use the toothbrush so I have literally can’t brush without taking off the floss that has been placed there from the time before and by then I might as well floss. To break my TV habit and increase exercise, I started storing my hand weights in front of the TV and my yoga ball next to my favorite chair. Every time I want to watch a show, I evaluate whether it is worth giving up exercise time, or if I need to have a brain numbing session, I watch TV and exercise at same time.

  30. Dear Ramit,

    Thank you so much for doing these incredible interviews and recording them!

    Sincerely,
    -Olivia Lin

  31. Great stuff!!! I loved the first Webinar, but missed this webinar unfortunately (ugh!!!). Will this be archived Ramit?

  32. Yeah, thanks for recording it this time! I didn’t get the email until this morning (meaning that you sent it out late last night in my time, or early evening your time), so by the time I clicked on the “sign up” it was already filled.

    If I’ve already signed up to receiver your hustling emails, do I have to sign up for the video again?

  33. This post is an ironic backdrop for a larger point that I’d like to make about your approach.

    I’ve several times before complained about your use of ‘anecdata’ to justify your assertions and make guarantees about the quality of your product.

    Supplying free information to readers obviously helps them decide for themselves whether they’re able to find value in your product… to a point. My argument hinges here on the belief that what sells isn’t necessarily what’s most beneficial. I believe you use techniques to increase your odds of selling to people who would not clearly benefit from your product. For reasons I’ll explain below, this really interests me.

    For example, at the beginning of the month you asked people to list hustling goals, though (I hope) you know that a recent, solid study shows that public affirmation of goals actually reduces adherence to them. (It probably makes people feel better, though, at least temporarily. To your credit, you’ve tried to shift the discussion to accomplishments rather than plans.) Your last-minute webinar last week was a great tool to increase your fraction of very loyal followers at the expense of frustration to most and (this is critical) somewhat independently of the quality of the offered content: You made the webinar unnecessarily costly in terms of time, as most people would have had to rearrange their schedules to make it. As you know, the cost of something increases its perceived value. As a final example, you here fail to cite basic pop psychology books, much less the studies they describe, increasing the alleged uniqueness of your perspective. These are cheap tricks to me.

    Why does this matter? The best analogy I can find is that we don’t allow this kind of approach for things that “really matter.” For example, the US FDA exists partly so that we don’t have to rely on anecdata to, say, treat cancer or disease (though some fraction of the population will always rely on stories–”OMG, so-and-so in Minnesota did this really simple stuff for a week and she’s totally better now!”). We’d probably consider it a tragedy if someone came out with a less effective antiviral but, due to aggressive marketing, convinced some large percentage of people to switch from a more effective drug to this less effective one. This is what controlled, independent studies are for. (I’ll assert again that such studies are really not that hard to do in psychology.) A major caveat is that you’re fortunately not trying to cure cancer: you’re just trying to encourage people part with some of their money and time.

    If you were unconvincing, this wouldn’t matter. I do believe you probably have some products with value, though they’re hard to disentangle from your potentially harmful pitches. I do worry that you encourage so much faith among your readers and literally mock the doubters who would like firmer evidence. I was in Tim’s undergrad class and my sister was in yours, so I’m no stranger to ambition and consider you both in my reference group. That said, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with the way you use your power (a sharp contrast to my approach, which I’m reevaluating)–I wonder how much it’s actually helping other people.

    • Sarah, I like your comments because they bring academic and intellectual rigor to this blog. But you’ve made similar points for the last few months. I know your background and you’re obviously very qualified. But you seem to be constantly critical of my methods. Unfortunately, while you are focusing on minor details, my blog readers are passing you by. You have only to look at the successful comments of Week 1, Week 2, or even my readers’ list of what they’ve accomplished using this blog.

      Is it all academically controlled? Of course not.

      Does it work? Look at the evidence.

      And yes, I do cite my sources.

  34. I want to apologize for being flagrantly wrong with one of my points–you do cite several of your sources, including pop psychology books, in the article above. That’s great. It would be a bit more honest to feature them near the top, where you make your central thesis (one made by many psychologists already).

    • Sarah,

      I find it interesting that the academic blinders are on! I have worked with many people with enough letter behind their names to create several alphabets and one of the things that I learned from them is that the information is what counts. Not structure. If this was a university course, I could see the need for such critical componants and structure, however, when dealing with the layman, if the information rings true and stands with support (which Ramit does), then who cares about where the source citing is located. I can’t speak for everybody but for myself, keep it simple, informative and supported. If you want to impress an academic, take this to a university and stand within its hallows for validation. Personally, this information is taking me to the next level regardless of where his sources are placed in the article.

      Thanks!

  35. I always say this when people argue, in politics or personal situations that it is hard to come to an agreement sometimes not because someone is smarter or knows the facts, but rather it comes down to each person perceptions.

    Perception is how we view everything around us, and two people could have the same information and could have very differing options.

    The perception we have is formed through experience and our own experiences.

  36. Hey Ramit–just wanted to let you know that using the techniques from last night’s webinar, as well as other tips you have on your blog, I was able to negotiate to boost my credit line and get cash back on my card (with a lower APR!) this morning. I was also able to negotiate my way out of a $50 late fee at my university (I first asked what the hours of the office were, a la the salesman first asking for a drink of water). Boom!

    Thanks for the “trigger” to get off my butt and make some changes!

  37. [...] 5 fascinating experiments from the world of psychology and persuasion, where I showed you how little behavioral control we actually have — and how we can use ethical persuasion principles to influence yourself and others [...]

  38. So we can be persuaded to believe and do almost anything. What can we do to be one of the 10% who still leave the smoke-filled room despite an examiner’s subtle persuasive efforts? I think we all fantasize that we would be the one who is resistant to such techniques, but how can we at least make our selves more resistant?

  39. Great info, right to the point with good content. Now if we can find ways to apply these persuasive factors to our daily routines…

  40. A wonderful example for “I know what I saw”: Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Great, great movie.

    It really makes you think if everybody is lying or if their perception of reality has changed.

  41. [...] We have less direct control over our actions than we think we do.  Our environment controls our behavior. [...]

  42. Interesting post, thanks!

  43. [...] friend forwarded me an article on the psychology of attraction (note: there is a pop up on the page). It totally blows a hole in the on-line dating world since [...]

  44. [...] we share a love of testing, psychology, human behavior, and ridiculous [...]

  45. [...] 5 fascinating experiments from the world of psychology & persuasion @ IWillTeachYouToBeRich [...]