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Negative social proofing (related to previous post)

So what?

I had a day to read that article and think about the previous posting on The Magnetic middle and I see the solution is alot simpler than I was thinking… but first…

The science

Example: During the 1980’s ‘The Petrified Forest’ in the USA suffered an incredible amount of theft of its ‘petrified wood’. Understandably they wanted to influence people out of this behaviour to save the forest. So they put in place a number of signs warning people not to steal petrified wood, and detailed how much was stolen each year! (14 ton !! WOW)

This approach is what they call ‘negative social proof’, So what happened? Well what happened as a result of the signage was more theft than the year before! well I think you can understand this took all the park staff by surprise, so they devised an experiment which was that they put signs asking people not to steal in one half of the park and no signs in the other half! what they found was where the signs were located the signs increased theft, in other words where negative ‘negative social proofing’ is used it served not as a deterrent but more as a rallying cry for ‘magnetic middle’ and seemed to encourage normal honest people to steal more than if they were not told anything?…

The solution
OK if we are even going to accept that this negative social proofing has an effect on the magnetic middle then how do we counter this apparent anomaly? … It turns out that the answer is simpler than I imagined, Just focus on the prevalence of the positive rather than on the social undesirability of the behaviour you are hoping to discourage. So in this example they simply changed the signs from the negative example signs to messages which highlighted that only a small % of the people stole the wood from the park!  result: The wood theft dropped dramatically!!


Given the last two posts I am really surprised and shocked that a simple sign in a park or a letter through the door can influence their behaviour to do something socially negative or even in the Park example ‘illegal’ !! I am equally just as dismayed that this can be simply fixed with the way the messages are written!

Until the next time – Be Great – N –

Be aware of the magnetic middle

A change of tack: The last few posts on this topic have been quite focussed on the more duplicitous nature of  persuasion and influence but it is not all Machiavellian mumblings, sometimes influence is just  understanding how what you say and do can influence others.

An example of this more subtle but just as important area of influence is the magnetic middle! I  will talk about this strange but significant tendency in all of us. I want to particular leave a thought in your minds, but lets get into the topic.

The magnetic middle: put most simply, people have a tendency to do or act the same as the social norm or average! I hear what you say what has that really got to do with influence? Well its particularly important when you are reporting on or trying to influence social behaviours or results. Still not got it? I dont blame you, let me quote a couple of real life examples which exemplify the tendency for people to move to the magnetic middle in spite of it being clearly undesirable.

Example 1: They completed an experiment by taking electric meter readings of 500 homes and simply left a letter in each of the homes either telling them they were using less energy than average or were using more than average! They returned just two months later and re-read all the meters. what they found was that people who were told they were under the average energy consumption on increased their energy consumption and people who were assessed as over the average decreased their energy consumption! This exemplifies the magnetic middle! I can understand why the high energy consumers reduced their energy consumption but why would the people who were shining examples show less care after they were told the good news?

The answer: Is that people tend to move toward the magnetic middle! People tend to move to the behavioural average or norm even if this is seen as negative. I am not sure what I feel about this influence topic, but its good to know it exists… I am reading an article on how to counter ‘negative social proofing’ so perhaps once understand the counter technique I will post a follow up…

until the next time – Be Great – N –

Influence: The Ben Franklin technique

 The fourth in my series of seven influence and persuasion posts is a surprising one! Not surprising when you look at the title, as most of my regular readership know   that I am obssessed with all things Ben Franklin. No you will be surprised with the tecnique itself because I think its counter intuitive. OK, lets get started.. My fourth  topic on persuasion is the ‘Ben Franklin technique’ ! Stick with me on this one as it will knock your socks off!!

It was first cited in writing by Ben Franklin in his autobigraphy that he was able to influence using this technique, hence the ‘ben Franklin’ moniker: When we do a person a favor, we tend to like them more as a result! Yes I wrote that correct, doing favours for others makes us like them more! But why? Well it would seem that psychologists believe that because we justify our actions to our own subcouncious that we did them a favor because we liked them or in someway our efort was justified.

Benjamin Franklin himself said, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
I think the most saddest detail about this particular technique is that the reverse effect is also true, and we come to hate our victims, which helps to explain wartime atrocities. We de-humanize the enemy, which decrease our own moral codes so killing and other things in which we would never normally indulge is justified.


Now the science

Jecker and Landy (1969) involved students in an intellectual contest where they could win significant money. Afterwards:
A: 1/3 were approached by the researcher and asked to return money as he had been using his own funds and was running short.
B: 1/3 were approached by a secretary and asked to return money as it was from the psychology department and funds were low.
C: 1/3 were not approached.
Then all were surveyed to see how much they liked the researcher. Group B rated him lower than Group C (so impersonal request for a favor decreases liking). Group A rated him higher than group C (so personal request for a favor increases liking).

If you are thinking of using this technique ‘Ask people to do you a small favor. And don’t return it immediately.’ This will yield you more of a bias in the future.. As always i ask that you beaware of this happening to you and be aware that when you do favours for people you can be opening yourself to bias you were unaware of.

until the next time – be great – N

Reciprocity is influence

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Before I start my third topic on persuasion I have a confession. I am sorry to say that my overly confident claim of posting everyday for seven days has proven to be at best broken promise and at worse disingenuous. I will do my best in future to commit less to post timings if I am not certain I can make them. For the next Three I will just post when I can… Well apology made and back to the topic at hand…


The third in my series on persuasion is very powerful method and one which you may find familiar. Its called ‘Reciprocity’ and its essentially the feeling that you must pay back a favour or gift. That is, when you give something to someone, that person will almost always feel obligated to give you something back. The sense of reciprocity is so strong that in research studies where one person treated people nicely and the other person treated the same people poorly but gave them something (lets say offered them a Coke), these people were more likely to do something for the person who treated them poorly!!. Therefor reciprocity is one of the most powerful persuasion techniques that anyone can employ.

As with the last few posts I will provide with a real life example

Amway distributors came upon the idea of giving prospects a package of product samples — cleaners, deodorizers, insect killers, and so on — which they call the BUG. The distributor leaves a BUG with a homeowner for up to 3 days. No cost or obligation. All they ask is that the homeowner try out the products.

Later, the representative comes back to pick up the BUG and ask for orders. Having been given products to sample in such a generous way, the sense of obligation is overwhelming, and many homeowners order products on the spot. One Amway distributor reported that the response was “Unbelievable! We’ve never seen such excitement. Product is moving at an unbelievable rate (Credit for this example from Dean Rieck Link)


Reciprocity is a powerful influence technique.  While this looks fairly simple (providing a favour for one in return) seems fairly straight forward to us all. As always in this series of posts I urge you to consider how these techniques are being used on you in everyday life, and if you are willing… how you may use this on others.


The foot in the door OR the Camels Nose

So the last post I published described the subtle technique of ‘Labelling’ but my second exploration of a influence is ‘Foot-in-the-door technique (FITD)’ technique sometimes called ‘The Camels Nose’

Foot-in-the-door technique (FITD) is a compliance tactic that involves getting a person to agree to a large request by first setting them up by having that person agree to a modest request


In a study in the 70’s, a team of psychologists telephoned housewives in California and asked if the women would answer a few questions about the household products they used. Three days later, the psychologists called again. This time, they asked if they could send five or six men into the house to go through cupboards and storage places as part of a 2-hr enumeration of household products. The investigators found these women were more than twice as likely to agree to the 2-hr request than a group of housewives asked only the larger request.

More recently, persons were asked to call for a taxi if they became alcohol impaired. Half of the persons had also been asked to sign a petition against drunk driving (which they all did) and half had not. Those who had signed the petition (complied with a small request) were significantly more likely to comply with the larger request of calling a taxi when impaired compared to those who had not been asked to sign the petition.

Examples in everyday use

  • “Can I go over to Mark’s house for an hour?” Then your Child asks… “Can I stay the night?”
  • “Would you sign this petition for our cause?” Then the person completing the survey… “Would you donate to our cause?”
  • “May I turn in the paper a few hours late?” Then I would ask… “May I turn it in next week?”


Numerous experiments have shown that foot-in-the-door tactics work well in persuading people to comply, especially if the request is a pro-social request. Research has shown that FITD techniques work over the computer via email, in addition to face-to-face requests.

Labelling: Not sneaky just reality…

I start this series with one of my favourite and easiest of techniques to learn ‘ Labelling’. This is the first of seven techniques of influence and persuasion. But what is labelling? How is it used? How have I used it myself, Can I see an example or two?…. and why the photo above? All great questions and ones that I will attempt to illustrate below.

What is labelling?

A technique to assign a trait, attitude or belief (Label) to a person or group of people and then make a request from them based on that that label

How is it used? Let me give you a fun example which reveals why I used this photo also…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker used the Labelling technique on his father. Luke Skywalker convinced Darth Vader into the ultimate compliance and restore peace to the galaxy.

In ‘The Return of the Jedi’ Lukes labels Darth:-

‘I know there is good in you, there is good in you, I sense it’

Look at that sentence again…. Its clever, subtle but powerful. I remember in my own school as a child, my teacher saying to me that I was the kind of child that cared about my handwriting and that showed in my written work, now until that point I am not sure I did care about my handwriting but from that day on and for ever more I did care.. and so I clearly was susceptible to the Labelling technique my teacher used.

You try it?

Try it in your daily life and see if it works… I must caveat this by saying these techniques should only be used if the person you are labelling is demonstrating those behaviours. Other wise this would be sneaky and deceitful and I know you are not like that, you are honest and trust worthy… 😉 The force is strong in you, I sense it…

Be great -N-

Some secrets: how to influence and persuade

How to win friends and influence people… thats the old adage and I think a book also… but its something that has interested many people since the beginning of politics. As a student of Cicero, Machiavelli and courtly life of old I have always been fascinated by how much we are in control of our decisions and how easily we can be influenced into decisions.

Has that ever been of interest to you? Do you want to have more influence at work? In a club or committee? or just get that upgrade on the plane next time? I will be writing a number of posts over the next 7 days which will outline techniques I have learned from self study, or analysis of why I managed to get a results when others have failed in the past. Far from me being special, the examples I will give are things are simple and are not sneaky per se but more compelling examples that human nature is not as free as it likes to think.

In the next 7 days I will post on the following influence and persuasion techniques

1. Labelling

2. Foot in the door

3. Reciprocity

4. The Franklin technique

5. Avoid the magnetic Middle

6. Personalisation & prompts

7. The free gift…

I will try and give some practical examples of these techniques as well as how I have used them in the past. Until tomorrow… Be great -N-