Monday, August 9, 2010

The Power to Persuade - The Persuasion Instinct

“You looking at my girl?” How many times has that particular question drawn an evening out to a close? Not so with elephants. During the mating season young male elephants, when they inadvertently encroach on females in estrus, give off what is known as an innocent scent, an olfactory signal to adult bull elephants that they are going to toe the line. How many times have houseguests outstayed their welcome, because despite all your hints they somehow just didn’t get that it was time to go? Not so with the thorny acacia tree of Central Africa. When insects start feeding on the thorny acacia too greedily, it produces a toxin that turns Michelin-starred leaves into pig swill. Not only that, it also gives off an odor, warning nearby acacias to put up the shutters themselves: an arboreal, chemical Twitter that there’s a freeloader doing the rounds. Examples such as these provide a pretty good flavor of how persuasion works in the animal kingdom. And it leaves what we humans do in the dust. There are no mixed messages, no beating around the bush (unless that bush happens to belong to a cassowary in which case the phrase takes on a different, more ominous meaning) and no sitting down over coffee to talk about it. Instead, in the absence of consciousness and those ephemeral containers of meaning we call words, animals rely on what ethologists call key stimuli: environmental triggers (such as the innocent scent in elephants and the not so innocent scent in acacias) that initiate, when they are activated, instinctive behavioral responses.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010

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