Six weapons of psychological influence with Robert B. Cialdini

It feels to me that I have been empowered with my own personal ministry of defense to the way of world. The tools, or weapons, of influence that have been formally introduced to me with clear descriptions of those weapons with down-to-earth stories to illustrate the way those weapons are used in the world at large. With Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, American social psychologist Robert B. Cialdini introduced me and anyone that reads this book on the psychology of persuasion a keen sense for common sense ways to interpret and function in the western world.

Over the course of seven chapters and an epilogue, Cialdini reviews the six categories that he has learned about and researched during his academic career and while teaching in the marketing department at Arizona State University. Each chapter feels readily accessible to me, and tends to draw you in with some kind of analogy that demonstrates the concepts intended for your understanding.

Influence Psychology of Persuasion 2(Robert B. Cialdini)

In the book’s opening chapter, the concept of using the presented categories of influence gets into the concept of substituting some single piece of representative information into a consistent shortcut for fully analyzing every situation that you are presented. An illustrating point that stood out for me what the concept of selling consumer goods in a store.

Pieces of turquoise were not selling in a vacation stop at the price intended. Many of the activities to sell these were not working until such time as the price point was doubled. The turquoise then flew off the shelves because people equated high price equals with high quality.

As you can guess, the bargain that was really present was for consumers that would have received more value with the original price more reflective of reality. The remaining chapters go into examples like this that, in turn and with increasing degrees of cleverness or manipulation, demonstrate how those aware of the psychological tricks in play can wield psychology as a weapon for or against the consumer.

The second chapter gets into reciprocation, or the notion of repaying in kind what another person has provided us. The third chapter gets into commitment and consistency. To quote Cialdini directly, it “is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”

Influence Psychology of Persuasion 3(The six tools, or weapons, of influence)

In discussing social proof in chapter four, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion points out that people will often look to what others consider acceptable to consider what the appropriate course of action should be. A seemingly harmless example of this would be a laugh track on a television program, such as one might hear on the popular CBS Television series The Big Bang Theory. A more harmful example of social proof might come about when, among a crowd of bystanders, nobody helps when a person goes into an epileptic seizure that could be aided with emergency assistance.

Liking gets discussed in chapter five using examples like Tupperware sales, referring friends in charitable solicitations, and even in combination with people tending to rely on the social proof of people they like over the social examples of folks they dislike.

In chapter six, Cialdini gets into the notion of how thinking sometimes does not happen to the proper level because of the perceived authority of one person over another. A comedic example of this effect was in the citation of medical dosing mistakes by Temple pharmacology professors Michael Cohen and Neal Davis. The case in point attributed the deference to an attending doctor’s authority when a nurse treated a patients right ear ache by placing the ear drops as directed into the patient’s rear end.

The seventh chapter of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion gets into scarcity. The notion in play is that people tend to crave that object of a potential loss more than an equivalent gain in value. That is, people tend to favor harder to possess things than easier to possess things. Folks also tend to hate losing freedoms. It is this notion that makes things available for a limited time.

As Cialdini pointed out in the epilogue, much of this reviewed book aims at drawing out examples wherein single, highly representative pieces of the total can be helpful shortcuts while also leading us to clearly stupid mistakes. The notion for where mistakes happen reflects how Cialdini thinks these psychological points have been made into weapons. I give Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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Psychological profiles with ‘Whoever Fights Monsters’ by Robert K. Ressler

American criminologist Robert K. Ressler served for the United States Army and that country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ressler explains his career in the book he wrote with Tom Shachtman, namely Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI. Whoever Fights Monsters offers insight into the real life formation of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. It was Ressler‘s work in the formation of this unit as well as the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) that, along with the methodology and thinking behind those programs, that interested me in the Whoever Fights Monsters book.

Whoever Fights Monsters 2(Robert K. Ressler, left, and Tom Shachtman, right)

Ressler described his work in contributing to the formation of the BSU, which in part started with the thinking that helped coin the term serial killer. (The definition from Psychology Today is included in the link contained in the previous sentence). Much of that psychology is performed based forensic analysis of crime scenes, the evidence gathered at those scenes, and the collected wisdom of the thinking of criminals in the past. Beyond this means of making cases against criminals, much of what fascinated me in reading this book was the interviewing of convicted serial killers in gaining insight into what makes those that have committed crimes tick.

Whoever Fights Monsters 3(Friedrich Nietzsche‘s warning to interviewers)

The insight of dividing criminals into organized, disorganized, or those that switch between default forms was intellectually interesting. The subject matter was rather dark, and certainly not for everyone. The Thomas Harris book (and subsequent movie) The Silence of the Lambs was inspired by information sharing that Ressler briefly described in Whoever Fights Monsters. The television series Criminal Minds on the American Broadcasting Corporation in the United States also owes something to the methodologies of the BSU.

Perhaps my timing in reading this book during the fall was inspired by the autumn season. The diminishing hours of daylight each day played their inspiring role. That Halloween would soon be approaching with the return to standard time rather than daylight savings time also played a role. I give Whoever Fights Monsters 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, November 5, 2017

To shrug would be wrong with Andrew Solomon’s ‘Noonday Demon’

To shrug would be wrong. Andrew Solomon‘s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression deserves so much more. Noonday Demon brings so much advocacy, scholarship, and personal truth to its tale that I cannot help but recommend this highly for those with an open mind and feelings.

Noonday Demon examines depression, mental illness, and anxiety. He explores a number of his own experiences with the disease, as well as that of his mother. The non-fiction narrative looks into other cases upon which Andrew Solomon is familiar and conversant. This is the first book that I’ve read that treats this subject both firsthand and with some academic rigor (at least from my reckoning).

There were several areas that stuck with me as noteworthy and memorable. I will quote a few passages that were forceful and compelling.

Noonday Demon 2(Andrew Solomon)

Solomon quotes George Brown at the University of London, a founder of Life Events Research, on the nature of depression and anxiety:

“Our view is that most depression is anti-social in origin. There is a disease entity as well but most people are able to produce major depression given a particular set of circumstances. Level of vulnerability varies, of course, but I think at least two-thirds of the population has a sufficient level of vulnerability. According to the exhaustive research he’s done over 25 years, severely threatening life events are responsible for triggering initial depression…Depression is a response to past loss and anxiety is a response to future loss.

Ellen Frank from the University of Pittsburgh gets into the potential causes of depression, in a sense almost blaming those who suffer for their illness:

“I do not believe that if the causes of your problem were psycho-social that they would require a psycho-social treatment nor that if the causes were biological they would require a biological treatment.”

Solomon pulls no punches in his unapologetic disagreement for this as well as for the weak evidence for claiming that these suggestions indicate a path for returning those suffering back to health.

“It’s fashionable for psychiatrists to tell you first the cause of your depression…and second, as if there a logical link to cure; but this is poppycock.”

Solomon takes on the notion of self-medicating as a means of trading the pain you do not understand for one that you do. Emotionally, I find it hard to judge the decision-making, even though I hope for better.

“Pains are not destiny. If you take drugs, you do it deliberately. You know when you’re doing it. It involves volition. And yet, do we have choice? If one knows that there is ready relief for immediate pain, what does it mean to deny oneself?
     Part of what is so horrendous about depression and particularly about anxiety and panic is that it does not involve volition. Feelings happen to you for absolutely no reason at all.
     One writer has said that substance abuse is the substitution of comfortable and comprehensible pain for uncomfortable and incomprehensible pain, eliminating uncontrollable suffering which the user does not understand in favor of a drug-induced dysphoria which the user does understand.
     In Nepal, when an elephant has a splinter or spike in its foot his drivers put chili in one of his eyes and the elephant becomes so preoccupied with the pain of the chili that he stops paying attention to the pain in his foot and people can remove the spike without being trampled to death. And in a fairly short time the chili washes out of his eye.
     For many depressives, alcohol or cocaine or heroin is the chili, the intolerable thing the horror of which distracts from the more intolerable depression.”

After describing four types of suicide, and then staking out approval for one particular type, Solomon brings the case home by paraphrasing Sigmund Freud:

“Freud himself said that we have no adequate means of approaching the problem of suicide. One must appreciate his deference to this subject. If psychoanalysis is the impossible profession, suicide is the impossible subject.”

The bringing together of a compelling narrative is Solomon bringing his argument together for recognizing that there is a politics of mental health. The cases strikes me, as a layperson, as strong. While this argument aims at speaking to the people of the United States, the case for helping a demographic in need is emotionally compelling.

“The question of what constitutes mental illness and who should be treated rides very much on the back of public perceptions about sanity. There is such a thing as sanity and there is such a thing as madness and the difference is both categorical and dimensional, of kind and degree. Ultimately there is a politics of what one asks of ones own brain and of the brains of others. The problem is not so much the politics of depression as our failure to recognize that there is a politics of depression.
     A particularly disturbing recent op-ed article [at the time of writing] in The New York Times written by a psychiatrist at a conservative think tank in Washington in response to the new Surgeon General’s report on mental health proposed that helping the mildly ill would deprive the seriously ill as though mental health care were a finite mineral resource. She stated categorically that it was not possible to get unsupervised people to take their medications and proposed that those mentally ill who end up in prison probably need to be there.
     At the same time she proposed that the 20 percent of the U.S. citizenry who carry the burden of some kind of mental illness in many instances do not need therapy and therefore should not get it. The key word here is need because the question of need turns on quality of life rather than existence of life.
     It is true that many people can stay alive with crippling depression, but they can also stay alive, for example, with no teeth. That one could manage okay on yogurt and bananas for the rest of ones life is not a reason to leave modern people toothless. A person could also live with a club foot but these days it is not unusual to take measures to reconstruct one.
     The argument in effect comes down to the same one that is heard over and over again from outside the world of mental illness, which is that the only people who must be treated are those that pose an immediate expense or threat to others.”

Should there be more help? Is there no help because people choose to not understand? This is the political animal that Solomon says exists. To shrug at this would be wrong. My call to you is one of awareness; compassion; pressure applied smartly and in astute ways.

Noonday Demon 3(Quotation from Noonday Demon)

I too, am saying that I rate this book highly. I give Noonday Demon 4.5-stars out of 5 stars.

Matt – Friday, July 14, 2017

Useful metaphor and concrete language in Emotional Agility by Susan David

In Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, Susan David offers useful metaphor, specific concepts, and concrete language with suggested actions to take for acknowledging and engaging your emotions.

An early metaphor includes the notion of a baited fishing line of emotional treachery; when hooked by thought blaming, anticipatory thinking / arguing, old and outgrown ideas, or wrongheaded righteousness, people that are hooked act against their own values because they are stuck. David gives examples of emotional hooks, with techniques to overcome them throughout the book.

David singles out joy, anger, sadness, fear, surprise, contempt, and disgust as emotionally relevant emotions. The point that as many as six scale towards unpleasant or uncomfortable is important. That surprise can be closer to joy, or the other emotions, is tied to context.

Emotional Agility 2

An emotionally agile person who is unstuck tends to show up and step out on all these emotions. Six techniques for stepping out are offered in Emotional Agility, which is as thorough a thought process as I have seen in one place.

A second useful metaphor surfaces in Chapter 6 and deals with “walking your why.” To walk your why indicates “living by your own personal set of values.” Concrete detail for spelling out the concrete values in statements like this is something Susan David did quite well.

Bringing in the notion of changing habits through tiny tweaks, the notion of balance in the Teeter Totter Principle, and then applying emotional agility to work and raising kids were all practical means for impacting life and work. Closing Emotional Agility with the suggestion to become real brought the core message of the book home in a cogent, well-rounded manner that I appreciated.

My overall rating is 4-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Saturday, April 8, 2017

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. As revealed in the biography of Dittrich by Penguin Random House, Patient H.M. largely tells the “true story of Henry Molaison, an amnesic who became the most studied human research subject ever.”

The book extends the exposition into Dittrich‘s grandfather, Dr. William Scoville. The book delves into much of the history of “psycho-surgeries” (read lobotomies) that Scoville and Walter Jackson Freeman II promoted widely and spread with enthusiasm through the 1940s and some of the 1950s. The book Patient H.M. shares how Molaison was lobotomized by Scoville as a “culmination of a long period of human experimentation that…[Dr. William Scoville]…and other leading doctors and researchers had been conducting in hospitals and asylums around the country.” This August 9, 2016 New York Times article is the source of that quote.

Dittrich‘s book explains that Scoville was in part motivated to find a cure for his first wife; Scoville’s wife at this point (there were two) was Dittrich’s biological grandmother. The book confirms that Scoville performed surgery on Molaison, most likely the wife that would later divorce him, and an estimate of thousands of other patients as well. That this was done with the ostensible support of the American medical establishment, even after the legal and ethical condemnations to human experimentation in Nuremburg following World War II, shocks me. See this Doctor’s Trial link for more details. Patient H.M. explores this subject in enough detail that the reader is left to struggle with the ethical mortification imbued in Dittrich’s exploration.

The book goes into some of the history Dr. Suzanne Corkin of MIT, who studied Henry Molaison as a patient for more than 50-years. (Understand that Molaison underwent the lobotomy as an epilepsy patient in his 20s, and lived into his 70s). It was through much of Corkin’s research that awareness of the way memory works in the human mind became known. Dittrich asks some pointed questions about the raw data underpinning Corkin’s research, what she had to gain from information she kept or did not, and the ownership of Molaison’s brain (and the work product governing it) after Molaison’s death.

Patient H.M. is described in this Amazon book listing as a “biography, memoir, and science journalism” book, which is where it aims and largely lands. The storytelling does demand a certain degree of focus from the reader. Many threads of the narrative tend to get explored for periods of time, dropped, and then reappear. I’ve seen commentary from neuroscientists that indicate some of Dittrich’s knowledge is lacking, though the level of information worked for my tastes as a person not trained in medical science.

I came away with more insight into memory and the different ways that it works. The larger stories of Molaison, Scoville, neuroscience in the 20th century, and the meaning this had to Dittrich‘s family, fascinated me. The ethical questions around informed consent and the lines between the research and practice in medicine, trouble me. Upon finishing Patient H.M., my interest in a deeper dive on that last subject.

I would read this book again; I recommend that others read it. My rating is 3.5-stars out of 5, mostly owing to my interest in the subject matter coupled with the author not having taken a firmer stand about his own personal feelings surrounding the morality of his grandfather’s actions.

Matt – Wednesday, April 5, 2017

5,863-days to a new career

Today’s post has it’s beginning in early December last year when we had the Kleenex tissue meeting at my workplace. My colleagues and I were told over the course of the morning how my business unit had been sold in a fashion where the jobs would disappear in waves over the coming 18-months.

A small number of us with specific jobs other than my own would be given the opportunity to transfer over. Others would be asked to stay through the 18-months. Most of us would be provided with a 60-day notice and a severance package.

Unlike some of my colleagues, Lynn and I chose to keep this news pretty close to the vest. That is, I waited to see Lynn in person before sharing the news with her or the in-laws. Sharing Facebook friends with other less reticent people, Lynn captured knowledge of the news before my chance to look her in the eye and address concerns that you’d expect to appear in this case. Overall, Lynn understood my rationale and accepted the news pretty well. To this day, the means of sharing the news coupled with sharing my plans for working the problem pragmatically worked. Focusing on accepting the fact of the setback while acknowledging that it hurt seemed to have offered a sense of normalcy and optimism.

Through the time since, Lynn and I have updated our LinkedIn profile, become acquainted with Glass Door, Zip Recruiter, and Indeed as services. We worked with the displacement services to finesse a more professionally written resume; much has changed in the approach to resumes in the 16-years since landing the job I was losing. I reached out to people across my current industry, from school, in Toastmasters. The idea was to network with resilience and a positive demeanor with those in a position to help.

The decisive turn in finding our next opportunity came about three weeks ago when a former boss responded with his willingness to help. In less than a week, I had interviewed with five different people while passing a skills assessment with this company. Over the weekend that then appeared, the group that wanted to hire me extended an offer. Yesterday, news came back that my background check went well. My new role will start in 10-calendar days.

Today was the end of my 60-day notice period. The job I learned would disappear in December ended today, after 16-years and roughly 2.5-weeks. Next week, I get a “spring break” of sorts as I get to enjoy some relaxation before starting in full force in my new adventure. Today, as I joined many of my colleagues in saying goodbye on our respective last day, is emotionally sad, bittersweet, and a chance for saying farewell after 5,863 days.

Life happens. You feel sad, deal with the feelings, and then use the hurt to focus on moving forward. Lynn and I are happy that things are working out for us. Things are working better for us than for others; I am extending help and empathy where I can. Offer thanks for good fortune and support where possible; do the same with a helping hand where practical.

Matt – Friday, March 31, 2017

Elie Wiesel’s “Night” is psychologically graphic and necessary

Elie Wiesel’s Night was an emotionally difficult book to read. The psychological torture of Wiesel’s experience, and so many others like him that had it as bad or worse (not sure what might be worse … American slavery seems at least similar in context and cruelty). That this happened during the lifetime of people I grew up loving brings this particular account and atrocity closer to home; that is likely about anchoring.

The legitimate nightmare and anguish of Elie Wiesel’s experience is psychologically graphic and horrifying. Descriptions including psychologically graphic and horrifying make this book both a necessary and compelling reading. It’s a bit disappointing that my seventh-grade class had us read Seth McEvoy’s Batteries Not Included. This isn’t to diminish McEvoy’s effort; my point is that seventh grade seems like a reasonable time to expose children to questions involving historical and emotional literacy.

For illuminating something for scrutiny that needs to be seen, this book earns 4.5-stars. That the brutality indicated by Wiesel in Night occurred really spells out the crime of what Erik Larson wrote about in his book In the Garden of Beasts.

Matt – Monday, February 6, 2017