The Power to Persuade - Perceived Self-Interest

Written by Science Knowledge on 1:00 AM

Several million years ago, when social networking was even more important than Facebook and Twitter are today, the facility to be true to one’s word, and to return favors accordingly, was synonymous with group cohesion. With individual cohesion, too: in the days before welfare and pest control, being ostracized was fatal.

But old evolutionary habits die hard—and the spectral remnants of exigencies past hover like neural phantoms on the dark, primeval stairwells of the brain. Take loyalty cards, for example. In 2006 psychologists Joseph Nunes and Xavier Dreze of the Wharton School of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania presented the patrons of a car wash with two different types of voucher—each of which, when completed, entitled the beneficiary to a free visit. In both cases, eight stamps (corresponding to eight visits) were required to redeem the offer. But the vouchers differed from each other in one important feature. One consisted of eight blank circles, whereas the other consisted of 10, with the first two circles already voided out. Which of the vouchers do you think proved the more effective? You got it—the one with the first two stamps thrown in ostensibly “for free.” Of the customers given the 10-circle voucher, 34 percent fulfilled the promotional requirements and returned to the garage the stipulated eight times to claim their free car wash, compared with just 19 percent of the customers who weren’t on the empirical fast track. Even though the offer was exactly the same for both groups—customers had to visit the car wash on eight occasions to earn their freebie—those initial two tokens created a powerful illusion: not only of something for nothing (a gesture of corporate goodwill triggering reciprocity) but also of client commitment.

On receiving the vouchers that apparently gave them a two-point lead, customers thought to themselves: “Hey, I’m a fifth of the way there already. I might as well keep going.” And so they were far more likely to continue with the scheme than those who had started supposedly from scratch. This voucher trick is all about the art of framing— the presentation of information in a way that maximizes positive outcomes. And framing isn’t just confined to advertising. Politicians do it. Attorneys do it. We all do it. The key, as a persuader, is to present things in such a way that they appear to be not in your own best interests—but in those of whom you’re trying to influence. Take, for example, the story of King Louis XI of France, a staunch believer in astrology.

When a courtier correctly predicted the death of a member of his imperial household, the king worried that having such a powerful seer in his court might pose a threat to his authority. He summoned the man, planning to have him thrown to his death from a window ledge. But first he addressed him gravely. “You claim to be able to interpret the heavens,” King Louis said, “and to know the fate of others So tell me: What fate will befall you, and how long do you have to live?”

The oracle thought carefully for a moment. Then he smiled. “I shall meet my end,” he replied, “just three days before Your Majesty meets his.” A perfect, if apocryphal, example of the courtier using perceived self-interest on the king’s part as a way to save his own life.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010

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