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How to Brainwash Turkeys…and Maybe Humans Too?
By Heath Shive
Robert Cialdini wrote what is quite possibly the most influential book in modern psychology, entitled Influence. In its first chapter, Cialdini describes an experiment made by the pioneering ethologist M.W. Fox.
Fox noticed that mother turkeys can either care for their young - or they can ignore them.
A turkey’s mothering is triggered by the “cheep-cheep” sound of chicks.
The more “cheep-cheep,” the more love.
Fox used a stuffed weasel (or European polecat) in an experiment. Turkeys and weasels are natural enemies. But Fox found that if a stuffed polecat played the “cheep-cheep” sounds of baby turkeys, then the turkey not only approached a stuffed weasel, but even gathered the stuffed weasel beneath her!
When the “cheep-cheep” sound ended, then the mother turkey would attack!
We might think it’s inferior that a turkey is so simply programmed.
But are humans any different? Do we honestly “think” about all of our actions?
To the science!
The Norm of Reciprocity
If I give you a gift, you feel compelled to give me something in return.
A study by Dennis Regan published 1971 illustrates this. Two male students were surveyed for their “aesthetic judgments.” However one of the students was an accomplice - who intentionally either made himself likable or unlikable.
After five minutes, sometimes the accomplice would leave and come back with two Cokes…offering the other Coke to the other student. At the end of the study, the accomplice asked the real student if he would like to buy some raffle tickets.
The results showed that when the accomplice gave the other student a Coke, he sold nearly twice as many tickets compared with no Coke – whether the accomplice was likable or not!
The Endowment Effect
You automatically ascribe more value to anything you perceive as “yours.” It’s called the endowment effect.
In a 1989 paper, economist Jack Knetsch asked one group of students to choose between a coffee mug and a chocolate bar. Of these students, 44 percent wanted the chocolate bar, 56 percent wanted mug. In other words, the items were roughly equal in perceived value.
Knetsch gave a second group only coffee mugs, but they could exchange for chocolate bars later if they wanted. He gave a third group only chocolate bars, but they could exchange for mugs later.
About half of the students should have traded the items, right? No! Only 11 percent of the mug-owning students wanted to trade, and only 10 percent of chocolate bar-owning students wanted to exchange for mugs. The vast majority of students didn’t want to part with what they had now that they had (“owned”) it!
The Peak-End Rule
We judge an experience based on how it ends!
Barry Schwartz – author of the fantastic book “The Paradox of Choice” - cites a lab study where participants were asked to listen to two terribly loud noises. The first noise was awful, but lasted only 8 seconds. The second noise was the same as the first and also lasted 8 seconds…but it was followed by another 8 seconds of unpleasant noise that wasn’t as loud.
The vast majority of the participants chose the second noise – despite the fact that it had all the noise of the first, and was twice as long (16 seconds vs. 8 seconds).
Your mom always told you to think before you act. But “thinking” is a long and deliberate process. Our brain is guided primarily by instincts – shortcuts to decision-making that are written on our DNA.
Whoever knows your instincts knows the “buttons” in your mind. Much of modern advertising and political propaganda is trying to bypass our thinking to control us by instinct.
But knowing that there’s a trap is the first step in avoiding it. Mind your thoughts!
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Cialdini, Robert. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Rev.ed. Collins, 2007.
Knetsch, Jack L., "The Endowment Effect and Evidence of Nonreversible Indifference Curves," American Economic Review, 1989, 79, 1277-1284.
Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 627-639.
Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.