An ancient virus has come back to life after lying dormant for at least 30,000 years, scientists...
We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
[…] Which persuasion technique, based on psychological research, is most practical, can easily be used by anyone in almost any circumstances and has been consistently shown to work?
The answer is: the ‘But You Are Free’ technique. This simple approach is all about reaffirming people’s freedom to choose. When you ask someone to do something, you add on the sentiment that they are free to choose.
By reaffirming their freedom you are indirectly saying to them: I am not threatening your right to say no. You have a free choice.
A recent review of the 42 psychology studies carried out on this technique has shown that it is surprisingly effective given how simple it is (Carpenter, 2013). All in all, over 22,000 people have been tested by researchers. Across all the studies it was found to double the chances that someone would say ‘yes’ to the request.
People have been shown to donate more to good causes, agree more readily to a survey and give more to someone asking for a bus fare home.
The exact words used are not especially important. The studies have shown that using the phrase “But obviously do not feel obliged,” worked just as well as “but you are free”.
What is important is that the request is made face-to-face: the power of the technique drops off otherwise. Even over email, though, it does still have an effect, although it is somewhat reduced.
By suggesting that people are free to say no to some proposition, the likelihood that they will say yes goes up. And I am certain that the contrary leads to negative results.
Meetings really do decrease our cognitive abilities.
Attending meetings lowers IQ, makes you stupid - Rebecca Smith
Meetings make people stupid because they impair their ability to think for themselves, scientists have found.
The performance of people in IQ tests after meetings is significantly lower than if they are left on their own, with women more likely to perform worse than men.
Researchers at the Virginia Tech Crilion Research institute in the US said people’s performance dropped when they were judged against their peers.
Read Montague, who led the study, said: “You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain-dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain-dead as well.
"We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ. Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect."
Students from two universities with an average IQ of 126 were subsequently pitted against each other, and told how they were performing in comparison to the others after answering each question.
Researchers found that most people performed worse when they were ranked against their peers, suggesting the social situation itself affected how well they completed the IQ tests.
The study raises questions over how intelligence is measured and whether it is fixed, experts said.
Co-author Steven Quartz, professor of philosophy in the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, said: “This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed.
"Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other."
There is a growing body of evidence for social cognition, showing how tightly our reasoning is linked to social context and interactions. Obviously, learning what makes us more productive is primary, but seeing proof that some behaviors have negative impacts on our reasoning — like small-group competition of the sort that can occur in meetings — means that we should be reorganizing work to minimize those effects.
Yesterday, I was doing a dress rehearsal for a webinar that will be live tomorrow. I was talking with Fred McClimans, Geoffrey Colon, and Alan Dickenson about the future of cloud computing and how that intersects with big data. This morning something occurred to me regarding the application of social data in the future.
Imagine that the workings of human social networks are finally figured out by crunching real data from really large social networks. And at the same time, the the deep forces of social influence are revealed, and the mathematics lurking below our interactions is cracked. And in parallel, imagine that continued research into cognitive science has led to more understanding of how social interaction is linked to brain chemistry, and for the first time, effective techniques are developed to make the sad happy, and the lonely loved.
Ok, I know, but let me finish the thought experiment.
So, imagine that researchers are able to create algorithms that can actually — with real success — influence our behaviors. Through a society-spanning combination of content marketing, social media, and targeted social network strategies, researchers are able to decrease cigarette smoking, or increase bike riding. And the unscrupulous or avaricious would be able to get people to chew one kind of gum, or watch a particular TV series.
Alright, let me add the last ‘what if’ to the scenario, although it is starting to sound like a chapter of Daniel Suarez’s Daemon. So, imagine that some global non-profit, like the Gates Foundation, builds a software system that leverages all this new-found knowledge about social influence and social cognition, and sets about changing us.
This system — let’s call it Grace — has access to the world’s major datasets, which contain millions of petabytes of social data in this hypothetical future. Grace would work surreptitiously and guardedly, applying social math to each of our private social contexts, convincing us to brush more often, to read to our kids, to help others in need. Grace would reward us at the physiological level, by convincing one person to touch another, unleashing oxytocin and building trust where none existed before. Teams would work more efficiently. Friends would make that extra effort, families would settle old differences. Politicians would reach out to their opponents to find common cause and to put aside partisan division. Warring factions in dusty far-away lands would lay down their AK-47s and make peace where there had been decades or millennia of war.
Cue the harps.
And the reason I called this system Grace is a nod to Richard Brautigan’s All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace:
I'd like to think (and the sooner the better!) of a cybernetic meadow where mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony like pure water touching clear sky. I like to think (right now, please!) of a cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms. I like to think (it has to be!) of a cybernetic ecology where we are free of our labors and joined back to nature, returned to our mammal brothers and sisters, and all watched over by machines of loving grace.
In my version, Grace is operating behind the scenes, without our knowledge, nudging us to do good and make nice, an animatronic Jimminy Cricket, the invisible conscience we need to become more humane.
And the question is, if we could make such a thing happen, should we? There is no doubt that marketers will attempt to take our growing knowledge of social connection and neuroeconomics to try to sell baby food and sports cars. And dictators might use such mechanisms as mind control and hyper-efficient propaganda engines. But what if such tools could be used to make the world a better place?
Should we? Is it immoral to surreptitiously influence humanity, even if the result is a better place? Ultimately, the question becomes who gets to decide what better means, and so in my it-could-almost-be-a-novel scenario, it would likely be the choice of a solitary genius, as in Daemon, following personal convictions rather than some plebiscite.
What if it would only work if it was secret? What if the world could be bettered, famines averted, wars ended, climate change reversed, but only if the mechanism to do so was completely unknown to the world?
In my early morning musing, in the twilight stage between sleeping and waking, I envisioned Grace moving the world from exploitative, growth-at-all-costs hyper-capitalism toward a steady-state, sustainable economy and social compact, where we’d ramp down the population to a few billions over the next few decades, provide meaningful and interesting work rewilding the planet, building livable and beautiful cities, and growing healthy food and a smaller number of better-loved and better-fed babies.
But I was dreaming, obviously.
- Janna Anderson, Lee Rainie, Questioning the idea of multitasking; some define it to be impossible | Pew Internet & American Life Project
I think of myself as a futurist (postfuturist, actually), but that’s ok.
#140conf NYC 2011: Stowe Boyd, “Social Cognition: How Twitter Makes Us Smarter” (by 140Talks)
Mark Pagel is Fellow of the Royal Society and Professor of Evolutionary Biology; Head of the Evolution Laboratory at the University of Reading; Author Oxford Encyclopaedia of Evolution; co-author of The Comparative Method in Evolutionary Biology. His forthcoming book is Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind.
I want this book.
Mark Pagel via Edge
One of the first things to be aware of when talking about social learning is that it plays the same role within our societies, acting on ideas, as natural selection plays within populations of genes. Natural selection is a way of sorting among a range of genetic alternatives, and finding the best one. Social learning is a way of sifting among a range of alternative options or ideas, and choosing the best one of those. And so, we see a direct comparison between social learning driving idea evolution, by selecting the best ideas —we copy people that we think are successful, we copy good ideas, and we try to improve upon them — and natural selection, driving genetic evolution within societies, or within populations.
I think this analogy needs to be taken very seriously, because just as natural selection has acted on genetic populations, and sculpted them, we’ll see how social learning has acted on human populations and sculpted them.
What do I mean by “sculpted them”? Well, I mean that it’s changed the way we are. And here’s one reason why. If we think that humans have evolved as social learners, we might be surprised to find out that being social learners has made us less intelligent than we might like to think we are. And here’s the reason why.
If I’m living in a population of people, and I can observe those people, and see what they’re doing, seeing what innovations they’re coming up with, I can choose among the best of those ideas, without having to go through the process of innovation myself. So, for example, if I’m trying to make a better spear, I really have no idea how to make that better spear. But if I notice that somebody else in my society has made a very good spear, I can simply copy him without having to understand why.
What this means is that social learning may have set up a situation in humans where, over the last 200,000 years or so, we have been selected to be very, very good at copying other people, rather than innovating on our own. We like to think we’re a highly inventive, innovative species. But social learning means that most of us can make use of what other people do, and not have to invest the time and energy in innovation ourselves.
Now, why wouldn’t we want to do that? Why wouldn’t we want to innovate on our own? Well, innovation is difficult. It takes time. It takes energy. Most of the things we try to do, we get wrong. And so, if we can survey, if we can sift among a range of alternatives of people in our population, and choose the best one that’s going at any particular moment, we don’t have to pay the costs of innovation, the time and energy ourselves. And so, we may have had strong selection in our past to be followers, to be copiers, rather than innovators.
Followership is part of a vast meta-genetic pattern of human culture, where we need fewer innovators as our networks grow better at transmitting innovation. As social density increases, social learning increases, and the very best ideas can reach everywhere: or better, everyone.
Why the debate about attention — multi- versus mono-tasking — is really about institutions:
Cathy Davidson, The Myth Of Monotasking
[…] If we want to change our institutions, we have to believe that it is the institutional structures that are the problem, not the new conditions of life that institutions should be supporting. That is, if we believe that technology is making us dumb, distracted, shallow, and lonely—as some have said—then we should be insisting that school stay exactly as stultifying, bubble-tested, standardized, and hierarchical as it is now. By contrast, if we realize that we are in the midst of a monumental historical change and one reason we feel distracted and disjointed is because there is a mismatch between the educational institutions that help to form us and the changed world in which we live, then there is motivation to change our institutions to help us in this new world.
So attention is key. I side with those neuroscientists who argue the brain doesn’t know how to “monotask.” Multitasking is a way of life, and disruption is what saves us from our own attention blindness. Right now, we are often blind to how much how world has changed and how essential it is to change our institutions to support that change.
And, I believe, the institutions involved are not just schools, but work. We need to change the world of work to reflect and support the way our minds actually work, instead of attempting to force ourselves into some ideological mindset. A mindset where our attention must be focused at every second, like a laser, working on the next task in our work queue. However, cognitive science shows that this is folklore — or religious doctrine — rather than an appraisal of how we actually operate cognitively. This is the war on flow I have been writing about for years.
This is not dissimilar to the obsession in Western culture with individuality and autonomy, which is such a strong bias that people are unwilling to accept how much of our cognition is social, and that many of the behaviors we consider individual are in fact group phenomena.
The authors report on data indicating that having a strong sense of meaning in life makes people more appealing social interactants. In Study 1, participants were videotaped while conversing with a friend, and the interactions were subsequently rated by independent evaluators. Participants who had reported a strong sense of meaning in life were rated as desirable friends. In Study 2, participants made 10-s videotaped introductions of themselves that were subsequently evaluated by independent raters. Those who reported a strong sense of meaning in life were rated as more likeable, better potential friends, and more desirable conversation partners. The effect of meaning in life was beyond that of several other variables, including self-esteem, happiness, extraversion, and agreeableness. Study 2 also found an interaction between physical attractiveness and meaning in life, with more meaning in life contributing to greater interpersonal appeal for those of low and average physical attractiveness.
Source: “Meaning as Magnetic Force, Evidence That Meaning in Life Promotes Interpersonal Appeal” from Social Psychological and Personality Science
(via Eric Barker)
And I bet greater influence on those that they come into contact with. I bet there is a strong correlation with Twitter followers and having a strong sense of life purpose.
A 60 second pitch for a talk on Social Cognition.
Jonah Lehrer, Why Do People Eat Too Much?
It appears we over eat to compensate for lack of social status. However Lehrer never extrapolates to the obesity epidemic: if we are at an all-time high for overweight, does that mean a growing proportion of the population is suffering from alienation, for a sense of being at the bottom of the social heap?
Perhaps this is a secret rallying cry for Occupy Everywhere. We need a new society in which more — much more — of the population has enough social status that we don’t supersize.