When I first took an interest in learning how to influence people’s behaviour, there was something creepy about it. The topic reminded me of those conspiracy films that show us how our minds and personal decisions are manipulated by super-structures and systems such as governments and corporations.
I decided I wanted to understand thoroughly what goes on behind decision-making, and whether we are as susceptible to being manipulated as these theories state.
These are my take outs from the literature I read this year. I would like to share them with you, and point out that this work is in progress and I am still getting my head around some of the concepts.
- Our perceptions about ourselves are highly inaccurate
Earlier this year I read a book called “Herd”. The author, Mark E, has studied primates for years, and based on his knowledge he states that human behaviour follows similar principles. One of those is the fact that we do not make decisions in isolation but, more importantly, that the role of others is highly influential in this process. What recalled my attention the most about his theory was the distorted idea individuals have about themselves, which he underlines as a commonalty amongst all humans. As it turns out we are pretty bad at seeing ourselves in the way that other people perceive us. However, when describing our peers, our views about them tend to be in line with facts, such as their shoe size or their weight.
The methodological implications of the above are important in a highly connected world, as we have the opportunity of being observed and observe others in constant basis. The take out is the need to pay more attention to social interactions, how these happen, in which contexts, and how decisions are made from me to we, and not individually.
My only observation in regards to this theory is that the findings seem a little bit too obvious, which makes sense as the first edition of the book was published in 2009.
I recommend the book to anyone interested in social networks, research methodologies and human behaviour in general.
- We don’t understand ourselves, and our decisions don’t make sense
I am still trying to figure out why we are so bothered in understanding ourselves if at the end of it we are unaware of our decision-making.
At least this is what Daniel Kahneman’s book left me with.
In ”Thinking fast and slow”, the Nobel prize winner explains a wide number of biases that influence the way in which we behave in our daily lives. In sum, Kahneman shows that our thinking process is lazy and prompt to finding quick and simple solutions to problems. This, at times, is detrimental to our long-term well-being.
The biases that stood up for me include the following:
- There is no cause that precedes some events but they are the outcome of pure randomness, despite our brains telling us it is otherwise;
- The size of a small sample strongly biases results, so the bigger the sample the better;
- Finally, he also explains how good first impressions determine our overall perception of someone else, regardless of their obvious flaws throughout our future engagement with them.
This piece of work has as many implications in the way we live our lives and make decisions as in our understanding of decision-making. It is a must read for anyone vaguely interested in knowing themselves better. I promise the facts won’t disappoint.
- Persuasive behaviour for the greater good
The most recent work I have laid my hands on is the methodology developed by the Persuasive Technology Lab at the University of Stanford.
B.J Fogg’s methodology for behaviour change can be summarized as follows:
- In order to change or perform a behaviour, people need to be able to do it, be motivated and be reminded or prompted to perform an action;
- Because our brains are lazy and decision-making erratic at times, as Kahneman shows, design must be SIMPLE. When developing digital products this translates in facilitating behaviours such as clicking once in order to purchase a product;
- If we want to persuade someone to change their behaviour we need to understand which stage of this process they are at. In other words, not everyone is as able or as motivated to do something;
- Triggers are vital in prompting behaviours. There are different kinds of cues depending on the target’s needs and also on their decision-making context.
I read on a Brainjuicer’s paper that marketing nowadays is the art of behaviour change, and I agree a hundred percent with this statement. This methodology is very useful in advising on advertising campaign’s concepts that aim at motivating people to perform an action.
What I like the most about the model is that it can also influence people for the greater good, as I would like to think. This can be applied to stopping or modifying behaviours such as smoking, eating better, or becoming more aware of our environment amongst others.
Mark Earls, 2009. Herd: how to change mass behaviour.
Daniel Kahneman, 2012. Thinking fast and slow.
Standford persuasive design lab. http://captology.stanford.edu/projects/behaviordesign.html