One of my tasks in the persuasion project is to be aware of how persuasion works on a personal level. As I was choosing the quotations for my initial post on persuasion, I noticed something. My search revealed quite a few quotations from different sources. I didn’t know all of the authors of the writings I liked, so I resorted to Wikipedia to educate myself. It turned out that all sorts of folks wrote about persuasion and change, and not all of them were noble, wise and kind. Some of them turned out to be kind of infamous – assassins, advocates of dubious policies, etc. Guess what? They didn’t make it to my list of quotations. Somehow, their personalities tainted the good words they had written. Hence, I got my fist insight into the works of persuasion: the source of information matters. This is a rather obvious and well-known observation. When we like the source, we are more likely to accept what that source has to say to us. And when we don’t like the source, we may try to find reasons to reject the message, which, by the way, we could easily accept from somebody more likable. What is less obvious is how to be more aware of this principle at work in our daily lives.
Do you act differently if you have a disagreement with somebody you like versus somebody you dislike? [UPDATE: Stephanie West Allen's post "Birds and feathers: The role of homophily in conflict" at Brains on Purpose sheds light on this question.]
Do you always check the source of information you rely on?
Do you distinguish between the source and the messenger?
A recent article in the New York Times entitled “Who’s Minding the Mind?” by Benedict Carey highlights the fact that we don’t always know who or what influences our judgment at any given moment:
"In a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale altered people’s judgments of a stranger by handing them a cup of coffee.
The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee — and asked for a hand with the cup.
That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java."
Sometimes, our subconscious is the source. Don’t worry, we still have the will and power to choose but the interplay between our unconscious drives and our consciousness is complex:
"New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like 'dependable' and 'support' — all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.
Psychologists say that ‘priming’ people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives that people already have."
Too bad we can’t prime ourselves for better performance: the triggers don’t work if we are aware of them.