Getting psyched

March 1, 2010 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

A few weeks ago I wrote about a survey that asked scientists to identify “one nagging thing you still don’t understand about yourself,” as well some of the more curious phenomena science has yet been able to explain.

In that same spirit of “Things that make you go hmm,” psyblog has a collection of 10 brilliant social psychology studies under the title, “Why we do dumb or irrational things.” On the list:

My favorite of the 10 is about false consensus bias. “Many people quite naturally believe they are good ‘intuitive psychologists’, thinking it is relatively easy to predict other people’s attitudes and behaviors. We each have information built up from countless previous experiences involving both ourselves and others so surely we should have solid insights? No such luck.”

The psyblog list was so popular that they later compiled a second collection of “10 More Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments.” Number three on this list: How rewards can backfire and reduce motivation. “Sometimes rewards do work to increase motivation, especially if the task is objectionable. But when tasks are inherently interesting to us rewards can damage our motivation by undermining our natural talent for self-regulation.”

Related: “12 practical business lessons from social psychology,” including:

Attitudes Follow Behavior—Resolving Cognitive Dissonance

The Concept: Cognitive dissonance is a fancy term for when people have opinions, behave contrary to them, and change their opinion to fit how they acted. For example, if you normally despise handguns, but join your buddy at the shooting range one day, you might leave thinking about how “guns aren’t really that bad if you use them safely.” Simply by holding and shooting one yourself, your brain begins thinking positive thoughts about it. Similarly, a “boring” task might later be remembered as “not being all that bad” or even being “fun” because, after all, you did it.

How You Can Use It: What this means to you is that if you can get your customer to perform a small task, such as a little game or survey online, the customer may begin making some positive assumptions about what you sell. This especially works for businesses operating in controversial markets, such as gambling, tobacco or other vice-related products. If you can find a harmless and fun way for potential customers to get involved with your products and services they will be more likely to become loyal buyers down the line.

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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