3 Ways to Influence Thoughts of Others

3 Ways to Influence Thoughts of Others

Want to better understand and influence the thoughts of others? This week I am sharing three proven ways to get into others’ minds.

What are three ways to influence the thoughts of others?

In the bestselling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahneman, explains prime association and the halo effect.

Famous psychologist Solomon Asch did an experiment to illustrate lasting impressions.

Prime Association

An experiment was conducted in a company’s lunchroom. An honesty box was placed on a table to collect money for coffee and tea. The only variable in the experiment was a picture that hung on the wall above the honesty box.

During the first week the picture was brightly colored flowers. During the second week it was a big pair of human eyes.

The two pictures were alternated weekly for ten weeks. What happened?

Daniel Kahneman explains, “On average, the users of the kitchen contributed three times as much in ‘eye weeks’ as they did in ‘flower weeks.’ A symbolic reminder of being watched prodded people into improved behavior.” 

The experiment illustrates a concept known as association and priming. We can influence others’ actions by understanding and leveraging their natural associations.

Here’s how it works:

As we go through life our brain learns to make associations. For example, we associate red with apples, spiders with fear, and stealing with guilt.

In the lunchroom experiment, a picture of watchful eyes was the primer, reinforcing each worker’s association of stealing with guilt. The eye picture was such a powerful primer that three times more workers paid for their coffee.

The Takeaway? You will be better at influencing peoples’ actions if you think about and leverage the natural associations we develop throughout life.

The Halo Effect

Presume you have a Golden Retriever named Rylee. He lights up your life every day.

One evening you attend a networking event. You meet Teresa and really hit it off. She is bright, fun, caring and genuine. You perceive her to be like you.

If you were asked whether Teresa likes dogs, Thinking Fast and Slow author Kahneman says there is no doubt. Without knowing whether Teresa is allergic to dogs, afraid of dogs, or despises dogs, you will presume she likes dogs. Why? Because of the halo effect.

Edward Thorndike coined the phrase in 1920. It describes our predisposition to assume that people we see as somewhat like us are completely like us.

Since you like dogs, and you perceive Teresa is like you, you will make the illogical conclusion that Teresa likes dogs. This is true even though Teresa’s traits of being bright, fun, caring and genuine have nothing to do with her liking dogs.

The Takeaway? Don’t infer that people who are kind of like you are completely like you. This may cause you to make erroneous presumptions.

Lasting Impressions

Pick a new friend, either Alan or Ben. Alan is intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn and envious. Ben is envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent.

Will it be Ben or Alan? If you chose Alan, you selected the friend most prefer.

Alan and Ben don’t exist. This was an experiment developed by psychologist, Solomon Asch.

Time and time again, subjects ranked Alan more favorably than Ben. Why? While the seven words used to describe each were the same, they were presented in reverse order. The first word in Alan’s description was “intelligent.” The first word in Ben’s description was “envious.”

Even though Alan and Ben were described with the same six words, the first word colored the impact of the following words. Asch explains, “The initial traits in the list change the meaning of the traits that appear later.” 

The Takeaway? You’ve heard that you have one chance to make a first impression. This is scientifically true. So it’s important to think about things like the first words in your bio, how you appear when people first see you online, and what you say when meeting people for the first time.

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