Tag: Social Proof

“It was not what people did not know that proved their undoing; it was what they thought they knew that wasn’t so.”

Were witches losers in a reproductive game?

Speaking about the great which hunts, in Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics, Will Bonner writes:

But there’s another sense in which the witch trials turn out to be about sex, after all. You could see them as a variation of the reproductive game, only this time not centering around the winners but centering around the losers—the kind of people it would be easy to blame if anything did go wrong somewhere.

Most witches were alienated from ordinary family life’t hey were seen as different by their neighbours; they were disliked and feared. It was easy for a housewife to imagine that the childless old woman in the shack outside her home was eaten up inside with envy and ready to do her in. Even more important, the outsiders often had land that could be grabbed if they were convicted.

… Witches were feared as plague spreaders, as poisoners, and as workers of black magic on the community. They were the losers in the reproductive game.

… And that is the problem with the neocortex. It can always find plausible reasons … cunning justifications … and impeccable logic to do what it means to do anyway, and means to do for the most senseless of reasons.

In fairness this is only part of Bonner’s explanation of the witch hunts. The other part is largely the same one Charles Mackay lays out in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds.

It was not illiterate fools who drove the persecution of the witches. It was the bigger semi-literate fools. It was not what people did not know that proved their undoing; it was what they thought they knew that wasn’t so.

Secrets from the Science of Persuasion

A great animation describing the fundamental principles of persuasion based on the research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

Dr. Cialdini, if you’re not familiar, is the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Business Week International Bestseller Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.

Learning about the six universals that guide human behavior could be the best 12 minutes of your day.

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Why We Overpay at Auctions

Tom Stafford discusses a lot of the psychological principles that make rational bidding hard. Auctions also hit on many psychological persuasion techniques:

First, auctions use the principle of scarcity, whereby we overvalue things that we think might run out. Auction items are scarce in that they are unique (only one person can have it), and scarce in time (after the bids are finished, you’ve lost your chance). Think how many shop sales successfully rely on scarcity heuristics such as “Last day of sale!”, or “Only 2 left in stock!”, and you’ll get a feel for how powerful this persuasion principle can be.

The other principle used by auctions is that of “social proof”. We all tend to take the lead from other people; if everybody does something, or says something, most of us join in before we think about what we really should do. Auctions put you in intimate contact with other people who are all providing social proof that the sale item is important and valuable.

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” — Gore Vidal

the competitive element of auctions is crucial to provoking our irrational buying behaviour. Once we’re involved in an auction we’re not just paying to own the sale item, we’re paying to beat other people who are bidding and prevent them from having it.

Still curious? The best book you can read on the subject of psychological influence is still Robert Cialdini’s Influence.

The Oracle, a Manual of the Art of Discretion

In The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Christopher Maurer translates this gem from Baltasar Gracián y Morales:

Know how to sell your wares, intrinsic quality isn’t enough. Not everyone bites at substance or looks for inner value. People like to follow the crowd; they go someplace because they see other people do so. It takes much skill to explain something’s value. You can use praise, for praise arouses desire. At other times you can give things a good name (but be sure to flee from affectation). Another trick is to offer something only to those in the know, for everyone believes himself an expert, and the person who isn’t will want to be one. Never praise things for being easy or common: you’ll make them seem vulgar and facile. Everybody goes for something unique. Uniqueness appeals both to the taste and to the intellect.

Still curious? While written in 1647, the book is packed full of wisdom.

How CEOs Make Friends And Get Influenced

Article in the WSJ wondering whether “CEOs act similarly because they hang out together or do they hang out together because they act similarly?”

An analysis of HBS graduates conducted by Ms. Shue suggests peer influence among CEOs and CFOs has a profound effect. Executives show a greater tendency to acquire companies if that is what the other executives from their section have been doing. And compensation patterns are more similar among executives who were in the same section than for those who were not.

Ms. Shue also found that the similarities were strongest following the staggered reunions that HBS graduates attend every five years.

Apparently hearing friends boast of big mergers and fat paychecks isn’t easy for A-type executives to take.

The Online Disinhibition Effect: Why We Tell All Over The Internet

Matt Ridley with an excellent column in the weekend Wall Street Journal on why we feel uncomfortable about using honesty when face to face with other people but seem to have no problem being brutally honest over the net.

In many monkeys and apes, face-to-face contact is essentially antagonistic. Staring is a threat. A baboon that fails to avert its eyes when stared at by a social superior is, in effect, mounting a challenge. Appeasing a dominant animal is an essential skill for any chimpanzee wishing to avoid a costly fight. Put two monkey strangers in a cage and they keep well apart, avoid eye contact and generally do their utmost to avoid triggering a fight. Put two people in an elevator and the same thing happens—with some verbal grooming to relieve the tension: “Cold out there today.”

So writing does not feel like a confrontation, whereas having to look someone in the eye and tell them the exact same thing does. Writing lacks the social cues that would otherwise tell us to back off because we’re being too frank. We’re also missing the normal social hierarchy — it feels like a peer relationship.

The phenomenon has a name: the online disinhibition effect. John Suler of Rider University, who coined the phrase, points out that, online, the cues to status and hierarchy are also missing. Just like junior apes, junior people are reluctant to say what they really think to somebody with authority for fear of disapproval and punishment. “But online, in what feels like a peer relationship—with the appearances of ‘authority’ minimized—people are much more willing to speak out or misbehave.”

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Still Curious? Matt Ridley is the author of the excellent book The Rational Optimist.