Now showing items tagged psychology

The human instinct to avoid social humiliation is deep. Psychologists point to shame as being one of the deepest fears held nearly universally by human beings, coming close to the fear of death. We all have the impulse to save face, and many of us get particularly defensive, aggressive or withdrawn when that impulse is challenged.

This fear of losing our dignity plays out in important ways in our everyday conversations. It is this very fear that is often the cause of us advocating opinions long after we have abandoned them, for fear of embarrassing ourselves by acknowledging our prior ignorance.

At some point in history, the ideas and assumptions we take for granted were controversial. Now, their opposing idea would be the one considered extreme, and those who hold it are likely to be rejected or simply remain silent. Majority opinion feels stable, but it is constantly in flux.

Back in the 1930s, French historian and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville, suggested that “As long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, everyone is silent, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety.” Known as the Tocqueville effect, this dynamic in human behaviour is alive and well today.[1]

If you have ever found yourself believing that humans only use 10 percent of their brain, that vitamin C cures a cold or that eating carrots improves eyesight, you have experienced the persuasive impact of repetition.[1]

The reality is that none of statements above are true, but we have each heard them so many times throughout our lives that we naturally come to believe that they must be. This is something referred to as the “illusory truth effect.”

Politicians and marketers know well that if we hear something long enough and repeated often enough, we are likely to believe it to be true. The reason repetition is so effective is that it plays to the two variables by which we assess whether something is true or not: whether the information concurs with our understanding; and whether it feels familiar.

In a world of increasing polarisation, empathy stands out as a virtue that restores humanity to conversations and is persuasively powerful enough to change even the firmest of opinions. But, few things evoke empathy as poignantly as first-hand experience.

I vividly remember a simulated experience that forever changed my perspective on the plight of refugees. A few years ago, my family and I spent a few weeks volunteering at an aid agency in Hong Kong called Crossroads. While Crossroads’ core work is the shipment of essential aid and materials to impoverished people around the globe, they also have a commitment to education and community engagement.

Are you remembering things correctly? What do you do when you know something you can’t quite recall? What if our memories have evolved over time? What if we are in fact imagining that we have a memory that in fact does not exist?

What does it take to change a mind? This question has garnered much attention in recent years. Shifting the beliefs and behaviour of an individual and group has only grown as a priority in the minds of many, as politics becomes more polarised and opinions more opposed.

Some persuasion practitioners have sought to create formulas or frameworks for doing so. Take Blair Warren’s one-sentence persuasion approach which promises to capture the secret of meaningful influence in a single 27-word sentence:

Storytelling is one of the hottest buzzwords of the last few years. Far from being merely a trend or fad though, the power of narrative is unrivalled in its ability to capture and maintain the attention of a listener. From science to sociology, narrative consistently emerges as fundamental to human wiring – as a tool of persuasion, its significance is hard to overstate.

The human brain appears to be so wired for narrative that when a story is absent, we will create one in order to make sense of the world around us. Some of the pioneering work examining this dynamic was conducted by legendary Austrian psychologist Fritz Heider back in the 1940s. Heider’s research centred on showing subjects the animation of 2 simple triangles, a rectangle and a circle. With only one exception, every single research participant read an entire plot line complete with drama, love affairs and bullying into the four shapes on the page. Without a clear narrative, it is human nature to invent one.[1]

Albert Einstein once suggested that if he had an hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he’d spend the first 55 minutes determining the best question to ask. ‘For once I know the proper question,’ he said, ‘I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.’[1]

Good questions yield good answers. As pointed out by one of histories greatest geniuses, problem solving is largely dependent on the ability to ask the right questions. But beyond problem solving, good questions are irreplaceable tools in the art of persuasion. Where we are most inclined to bolster our own arguments, ideas or products with supporting facts, stats and data, often the best move is to ask a good question.

Thu Apr 4 2022

HOW’S YOUR JUDGEMENT?

We all consider ourselves to be fairly sound judges. When faced with problems or challenges, we tend to trust our judgements and rely on our estimations, believing that we are immune to the biases and mental manipulations that others experience. In a world of fake news, alternative facts and ever-increasing hostility between those of differing opinions, this belief in the superiority of our judgements poses some significant threats.

There are a range of cognitive patterns which we all believe we are immune to, but regularly experience all the same. Here are 3 you might recognise:

Years ago, Elizabeth Gibson was walking along a street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side when she noticed a framed artwork that had been placed on the curb between two garbage bags for trash collection. Upon closer inspection, Gibson took a liking to the work of art and decided to take it home. In an interview for the New York Times, she admitted “I had a real debate with myself. I almost left it there.”

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