Psychology corner: Why you eat too much
August 22nd, 2011 - 24 Comments
Not long ago, I came across what may be the single best interview on behavorial change ever given. This interview is PACKED with insights on what actually motivates our behaviors (as opposed to the incorrect, surface-level reasons we think are behind it).
For example, many people believe they are in control of their own behaviors. Ironically, these people are persuaded every day to buy certain things, feel certain ways, and communicate in certain ways…yet thanks to their worldview of control, they never acknowledge how susceptible we are to influence.
Yet here’s a classic example of how a seemingly minor change can cause huge changes in behavior:
“So we put candies either on their desks or six feet from their desks in either a clear or an opaque bowl, and every day we refilled the candy dishes. And we found that a typical secretary on a typical day would eat about nine Hershey’s Kisses–which is about 225 calories–if they were sitting on her desk.
But if we moved the candy dish six feet away, they ate only four candies–or about 125 fewer calories a day. Over the course of a year, that would translate into 11 to 12 pounds of extra weight they would gain by having the candy on the desk instead of six feet away.
We asked the secretaries if six feet was just too far to walk, but they said, “No, it’s just that the six feet gave me pause to think, ‘Am I really that hungry?’” And half the time, they said no.”
The lay person could use that example to alter a few things in their lives to substantial effect (think of how to persuade yourself to eat healthier, or use the gym more frequently).
A skilled persuader would understand the principle beneath the example, and could systematically apply persuasion principles to achieve dramatic behavioral changes — for themselves and others.
Points to consider:
- The experiment shows that people ate more not because they were hungry/sad/stressed, but because they were PROMPTED TO by external cues (bigger buckets, a candy bowl being right on your desk vs. 6 feet away, calling it “Belgian Black Forest Cake” instead of just “Chocolate Cake”, etc.)
- This calls into question the entire premise that you are in control of your spending (or eating, or health) behavior. In fact, we all have some level of control…but a skilled persuader can dramatically change your behavior using external factors
- It’s easy to laugh and say you would never be swayed by such things, but in studies, virtually everyone says this — even when presented with evidence that they were subtly persuaded. Trust me: I know the research, and even I am persuaded by these factors
- If true, this has fascinating implications for the decisions we make – and what we do or don’t prioritize – in other areas of our lives
- “It’s easier to change your environment than it is to change your mind”
If you’re interested in learning how to use these influence techniques against yourself — and others, ethically — you can sign up for a free mini-course here.
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