Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Power to Persuade - Confidence

Confidence, misplaced or otherwise, is catching. It’s a privileged, though sometimes precarious, condition, fiercely independent of reality, that’s transmitted sub-radar from one individual to another via language, belief and appearance. It’s why con men enjoy their appellation, and why McDonald’s and Nike bring out ads that declare “Just Do It” and “I’m Loving It,” as opposed to ads that say “I’m Thinking about It” or “I Kind of Like It.” Influence without confidence is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard.

Our reliance on confidence to help divine correctness— our deployment, that is, of a confidence heuristic—has been demonstrated in the lab. In 2008 Hilke Plassman, now associate professor of marketing at INSEAD Business School near Paris, sneakily switched the price tags on bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. For some it was valued at $10, for others at $90.

Would the difference in price be reflected in a difference in taste? It sure would. Volunteers rated the $90 bottle considerably more drinkable than the $10 bottle—even though both bottles, unbeknownst to them, contained exactly the same wine. And that wasn’t all. Subsequently, during a functional MRI scan Plassman found that this simple sleight of mind was actually reflected anatomically, in neural activity deep within the brain. Not only did the “cheaper” wine taste cheaper and the “dearer” one, well, dearer; the supposedly more expensive wine generated increased activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that responds to pleasurable experiences.

Similar results have also been found with experts. In 2001 cognitive psychologist Frédéric Brochet, then at the oenology research and teaching unit at the University of Bordeaux in France, took a midrange Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One was a labeled as a splendid grand cru, the other as a vin du table. Would the wine buffs smell a rat? Not a chance. Despite the fact that, just as in the Plassman study, they were actually being served the same vintage, the experts appraised the different bottles differently.

The grand cru was described as “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” whereas the vin du table was evaluated less salubriously—as “weak, short, light, flat and faulty.” Confidence is a wormhole into truth. In ambiguous, dynamic or fluid situations, not only does it have the right air—it also has the air of being right.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010

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