From Psychology Today 4/18/16
Our world is made up of lots of people doing lots of things all the time. (WOW! I didn’t know that) One of the coolest things about psychology is that it can help you to understand your own and other people’s behavior better. These are just a few of the ways you can use psychology to win at life. Some people might call the items on this list ‘hacks’, ‘shortcuts’, or ‘manipulation techniques’. All can be socially useful if deployed well and are based on sound psychological principles.
1. People remember the first and last things you do – make a good impression and end on a high note
There has been a LOT of research done on memory over the years. The ‘Serial Positioning Effect’ is one of the most well researched concepts in all of psychology. Basically, in a list we tend to remember the things at the start and at the end. This is a fairly strong and reliable effect. More generally, in a sequence of events, things that happen first and last are going to stick in our memory better than events in the middle.
There are so many ways to use this knowledge to your advantage. If you are interviewing for a job, having a business meeting, or just having a conversation with someone you would like to impress, be sure to start with a bang (make a good first impression) and end on a high note (this may mean finishing earlier than you had planned). People will remember the good parts and forget what happened in between, even if it was kind of average.
- Remember things by ‘chunking’ them together
Evidence suggests that we can only store about 7 (plus or minus 2) individual bits of information in our short-term memories at any given time (link to Miller experiment). This means that we can handle anywhere between 5 and 9 numbers or letters at a time. The sequence A-C-G-F-M-R-T is probably fairly easy to remember, but the sequence B-D-A-J-F-T-H-S-R-E-N-O-M a bit beyond most of us.
The way to get around this is by chunking items together. For example, remembering a sequence of 17 letters might seem hard but what about if the letters were V-E-R-Y-L-A-R-G-E-E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T. Although there are 17 items, you really only have to remember 3 words. The point is that by grouping (or chunking) things together you make a multiple-item sequence become just a single thing to remember. In this way you effectively increase the capacity of your short-term memory. (Why are psychologists so hung up on memory? Who asks people to remember a string of 5-7 items and then asks them to repeat the sequence? P-S-Y-C-H-O-L-O-G-I-S-T-S )
3. If you want someone to enjoy something, don’t give them any incentive
This probably sounds absolutely bizarre. Cognitive dissonance refers to the mental discomfort that someone feels when they do something which contradicts a belief they have, or they hold a belief which contradicts something they have done. The way people generally deal with this discomfort is by adjusting either their belief or behaviour so that it’s more like the other one.
Many studies have shown that when you
- Ask people to do some hard/boring task
- Give some of them a good reward for doing it (group A), and some basically no reward at all (group B)
- Ask them all to rate how much they enjoyed the hard/boring task
Group B rate their enjoyment as being much higher than Group A. People in Group B are faced with a dilemma: they did something hard/boring, but didn’t get compensated for it. To resolve this conflict they reason “Seeing as I didn’t get any compensation for it, I must have enjoyed the task”, and rate their enjoyment high.
- Quiet time after a question
We live in a social world. Many of the things we do in life (waste our time) will be strongly influenced by our ability to interpret, navigate, and adapt to certain social situations and circumstances. In addition to physiological/biological pressures, social pressures are one of the most important factors in determining people’s behaviour.
If you are having a conversation with someone and they only partially answer or respond to something you say, remain silent but keep eye contact. They will feel an implicit pressure to elaborate, or keep talking. People tend feel subtly pressured and will generally want to decrease the social awkwardness by talking. (OMG! We don’t want them to keep on talking)
- Chew gum when you are going into nervous situations
You might have heard the old trick about eating an apple when you are on the phone with a romantic interest (popularized by Seinfeld), well this works in a similar way but it’s a bit more subtle. By chewing gum you are basically tricking your brain into thinking you are comfortable. Rather than getting flustered and panicky (which takes a lot of energy) your brain reasons that because you are doing something else (chewing gum) you mustn’t be worried or nervous because if you were you wouldn’t be doing something like chewing gum. (You’ve got to be kidding!)
At last – a simple cure for ASD. Just chew gum.
- Watch people’s feet during a conversation
Whether you’ve just joined a standing conversation between two or more people, or you’re having a 1-on-1 conversation, it’s a good idea to be aware of the orientation of other people’s feet. Obviously you don’t want to stare at them for a long time (that would just be weird, and probably make them very uncomfortable) but taking the occasional micro-glance or monitoring them in your peripheral vision is fine, as long as you are subtle.
People (often unconsciously) stand with their feet pointing away from someone if they are disinterested in them. This works the other way too; if they are standing with their feet pointing toward you, they are probably interested in you as a person (or as a Lab Rat) (either socially or romantically) or what you are saying/doing.
- Get yourself happy & excited before seeing someone that you want to like you. They will reciprocate next time you see them
Most people probably have some awareness of emotions being contagious, to some extent. It’s hard to be really upset when you are surrounded by happy people. This doesn’t mean that you should go to a circus to get over your chronic depression, but it will probably be more helpful than being alone.
People respond to social cues. When you are happy and enthusiastic, this does tend to rub off on people, to an extent. It’s not voodoo or anything paranormal, but people pick up on your demeanour, and consciously or not, adjust their own to be more similar to yours. By being happy and excited you are also conditioning other people to associate those emotions with you.
- When people are angry at you, be calm. (if you do this) They will get even angrier and later feel embarrassed (That’s my goal! Make angry people more angry)
If you have ever been in a situation where you are really upset with someone, you will probably understand how frustrating it can be when they remain calm. By not seeming bothered they are signaling that the situation isn’t upsetting them and that they are able to control their emotions. When you are a screaming ball of anger, you don’t want the other person to just sit there and play it cool.
As hard as it is, when someone is screaming and abusing you, the best thing to do is to just remain cool and calm. The mismatch between your emotional state and theirs will cause them to feel even more upset, and later, a bit embarrassed.
- Warm your hands before you shake hands (rub them together)
Whether in business, social, or romantic settings, first impressions matter, a lot. The CEO of a Fortune 500 Company once reportedly said that when he was choosing between two similarly qualified applicants, he always went with the one that had the better handshake. This story has probably been exaggerated wildly through time, but there is some truth here. Studies show that handshakes can be even more important than agreeableness, conscientiousness, or emotional stability.
It’s not that hot hands make you really desirable, but cold or wet hands definitely do the opposite. Hands that are dry and warm inspire confidence; those that are wet and/or cold indicate nervousness and weakness.
- Take your date on a roller coaster ride (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Evolution has ensured that life in the human body is enjoyable. (WHAT?????) Things that help our own survival, or that of the species, feel good (are reinforced) and those that are harmful to it are punished.
Adrenaline has traditionally been associated with strongly positive feelings. (Like near death experiences, panic attacks and being a victim of crime.) It’s exhilarating and causes a surge of energy. Evidence suggests that people are more likely to enjoy themselves with you if they experience some kind of adrenaline rush while in your presence. The positive feelings that come with adrenaline will be partially transferred to you. (Contagious magic!)
‘Adrenaline rushes’ can come in times of fear or distress. Taking your date on a roller coaster ride for example, will give them all kinds of good feelings, some of which will be associated with you.
- Use someone’s name when speaking to them as much as possible
Most of us are aware that people (Neurotypicals) love hearing and talking about themselves. There is an old saying that “everyone’s favourite topic is themselves”. This may be overstating the truth a bit but it’s hard to deny that nearly everyone enjoys talking and hearing about themselves.
Talking to someone by using their name (rather than ‘guy’, ‘fella’, Miss, buddy, mate etc.) suggests that you consider them important and memorable. They are more likely to find you likeable, agreeable, and personable. Additionally, find out how people like to think of themselves (what is their self-image) and reinforce this to get them to like you even more. (Yep – being phony is always the socially correct policy)
- Don’t reward all the time (Here we go again – treat people like Lab Rats)
Studies have shown that intermittent reinforcement is more effective at modifying someone’s behaviour than constant reinforcement. When you reward someone for something every time they do it, they get used to it, and the reward has to keep increasing in order to have the same effect. Only rewarding sometimes is a better option.
When people say something funny, don’t smile every single time. (More sick Lab Rat stuff!) Use what’s called an ‘intermittent reinforcement schedule’ (keep track mentally) to be sure that you only deliver the reward between 30%-70% of the time. The exact frequency you should use really depends on things such as the reward, the person, and what is practical. The bottom line is don’t reward all the time!
OMG! What life is like if you think of human beings as Lab Rats! (Which psychologists do…)
- Nod (subtly) when people are talking to you.
It indicates to them that you are genuinely interested (lie) in what they are saying, and will cause them to like you more. (Lie to people; it will make them like you.) People are drawn to other people that convey some kind of interest in them. There is a fine line between being subtle and mildly annoying. Learn to tread it. (Sorry, we Aspergers are born to being annoying all the time)
14. To get a girlfriend/boyfriend, have a girlfriend/boyfriend
People like what other people like. We have a tendency to judge the value of something by how in demand it is. One of the best ways to convince someone to like you (especially romantically) is by demonstrating to them that there are other people who like you also. In order to get a girlfriend/boyfriend, it helps if you already have one (paradoxically). (Use people to get what you want. Be a jerk!)
Having a girlfriend/boyfriend shows that you are sought after (by at least one person). Having a partner is like being implicitly endorsed. People will reason that “there must be something good about him/her if they have managed to attract a romantic partner”. (Lab rat romance.)
- Fake it ‘til you make it
Smile in order to be happy. It tricks your brain into thinking that you are. Your brain will reason “why would I smile unless I was happy”. This is very similar to the ‘chewing gum’ trick described above. The basic idea behind cognitive dissonance is that we tend to feel uneasy when our thoughts are inconsistent with our behaviour. When you are smiling, it’s much easier for your brain to convince itself that you are happy (consistent with the smiling behaviour, no distress) than that you are unhappy (inconsistent with the smiling behaviour, causes distress). (Magical thinking – the default mode of the neurotypical brain!)
So if you want to genuinely be happy, faking happiness gets the engine warmed up, and then your brain takes and does the rest of the work.
This next bit of advice could be entitled ‘Give people something extra’…
- Make a plea to individuals rather than groups
Research on the bystander effect has revealed that people tend to ignore pleas (especially pleas for help) when they are among a group of people. Appealing to five people individually is always going to get you better results than just directing a single appeal to the entire group of five. The idea here is that people in a group will tend to dismiss you as they will reason that there are other people that could help you, and so they don’t feel personally responsible. If, however, you make a plea to them directly, they will feel personally responsible and likely help.
The point here is that people are generally nice and willing to help you, but social circumstances and pressures can sometimes be strong enough to prevent them from doing so. (Or maybe neurotypicals are A-Holes.)