What started as a series of (more than I would have liked to read) analogies mostly about animals (I hate watching animal planet) ended up being an elaborate explanation of why we behave the way that we do (at least that’s how I understood it).
“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” is the book that I have been reading. It’s written by Robert B. Cianldini. Now this is the first of his books that I am reading and I was very skeptical at first especially since the first chapter was just a series of long paragraphs about animals(did I mention that I hate Animal Planet?).
It took a bit of time to warm up to the book especially after I realized that our opinions are not so different.
In the first chapter he talks about how a female turkey uses the ‘cheep-cheep’ sound made by its young ones to identify them. In fact, other identifying features of the chicks, such as their smell, touch, or appearance, seem to play minor roles in the mothering process.
As ridiculous as this sounds, it works very well for the female turkeys and other animals who use the same technique well most of the time. This is because, by reacting to just that one pre-programmed stimulus, these animals will almost always behave correctly when faced with a threat or otherwise.
Robert B. Cialdini goes ahead to remind us that we too have our pre-programmed ways of reacting to certain things. He calls them our pre-programmed tapes.
It was at this point that I actually began to understand what he was trying in so many words to pass across.
I began thinking about previous arguments that I have had with people about beliefs. Let us take religion for example; this is one topic that has been the cause of conflicts since time in memorial.
The reason being very simple, we all think that our religion is better than everyone else’s and we are not entirely wrong because that is how we have been programmed to think from the minute we were able to comprehend things.
Take for instance a Christian who has been brought up in the church and more so has been taught to look down on other religions or Muslims who have been taught to do the same or a Hindu or any person from the thousands of religions that we have in the world.
These people will always think that their way is better and try to fault others who do not follow it simply because of their pre-programmed beliefs.
However, have you ever wondered what would have happened if you had been brought up to believe differently?
In the beginning of the first chapter, the author tells us about how a friend sold some pieces of jewelry that had refused to sell for a while simply by accidentally doubling the price when what she intended to do was actually reduce it by half.
The friend thought that this was mere luck and most of us would have interpreted it that way which is not entirely false.
However, there is a logic behind this and Robert went ahead to explain it. The explanation is pretty simple and it has to do with the fact that most of us have been programmed to think that we pay for what we get and that cheap is expensive.
This way of thinking is simply based on experience which makes it very rational. In fact I have found myself not only thinking but also using these lines from time to time when buying things.
Robert says that although the people who bought the jewelry for twice its price did not realize it, by reacting solely to the price feature of the items, they were playing a shortcut version of betting the odds.
Instead of stacking all the odds in their favor by trying painstakingly to master each of the things that indicate the worth of the jewelry, they were counting on just one—the one they knew to be usually associated with the quality of any item. They were betting that price alone would tell them all they needed to know.
In other words, the higher the price of an item, the better the quality.
The other thing that he went to talk about is a principle in human perception that is called the contrast principle. This principle affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another.
If the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is.
One of the examples he gave that explains this principle, is when a guy is talking to an attractive lady at a cocktail party then they are joined by an unattractive one, (in his opinion of course) the second woman will strike him as less attractive than she actually is.
This is called perceptual contrast and can be used to explain our perception towards different things.
Now I knew I was hooked when Robert decided to explain how one can take advantage of this. He did this by simply using a company realty salesman that he accompanied once as he showed houses to prospective clients.
Whenever the salesman began showing a new set of customers potential buys, he would start with a couple of undesirable houses which he called setup property.
This company maintained a run-down house or two on its lists at inflated prices. These houses were not intended to be sold to customers but to be shown to them, so that the genuine properties in the company’s inventory would benefit from the comparison.
While this is a bit deceptive it is also very smart, don’t you think?
All this said, the part that gave me goose bumps was the letter at the end of that chapter.
“From the Parent of a College Coed
Dear Mother and Dad:
Since I left for college I have been remiss in writing and I am sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are sitting down, okay?
Well, then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out the window of my dormitory when it caught on fire shortly after my arrival here is pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital and now I can see almost normally and only get those sick headaches once a day.
Fortunately, the fire in the dormitory, and my jump, was witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the Fire Department and the ambulance. He also visited me in the hospital and since I had nowhere to live because of the burnt out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him.
It’s really a basement room, but it’s kind of cute. He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married.
We haven’t got the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.
Yes, Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child.
The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has a minor infection which prevents us from passing our pre-marital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him.
Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not have a concussion or skull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged, I am not infected, and there is no boyfriend.
However, I am getting a “D” in American History, and an “F” in Chemistry and I want you to see those marks in their proper perspective.
Your loving daughter,
Sharon may be failing chemistry, but she gets an “A” in psychology.”
I can only imagine her parents’ reaction as they were reading; it must have been priceless especially at the end!