Saturday, October 28, 2017

Reviewing Liking and Social Proof as Weapons of Influence

Just a reminder that the purpose of this discussion aims at stimulating thought and self awareness as tools to help those in recovery from trauma learn how to make safer choices. To make the discussion a bit lighter, we've defined Cognitive Biases as “CranioRectal Inversions” (CRI).

We've reviewed the effect that liking has on us, and we tend to comply with people that we like. Just to dig into this method of influence, lets consider some factors that manipulators use to persuade us with liking without our even realizing it:

Physical attractiveness. We've already reviewed the halo effect, and studies show that if we think a person is attractive, we automatically assume a favorable opinion regarding unrelated traits, intelligence, moral behavior, kindness, etc. Attractive people also have greater success in getting others to comply with requests.

Similarity. We feel more comfortable and like people who are more like us. We will be more compliant with them than with people who do not share our own traits and characteristics.

Praise. Though praise and flattery can have the opposite effect (especially in people with PTSD), compliments tend to increase and enhance liking.

Familiarity. When we have regular experience with person, an object, or an event, it habituates us to accepting them which usually increases liking. We 'get used' to whatever it is, and it sort of subtly resets our sense of what is average and acceptable. Biderman's Chart of Coercion (another model describing thought reform) tends to best capture this element of habituation. The more pleasant the experience, the stronger the liking bond.

Association. Akin to similarity, we enjoy connecting to that which we think of as positive. This facilitates an automatic liking of those with whom we share commonalities. Consider again the effect of celebrity and notoriety and its effect on sales and behavior.

Shadowing. Skilled manipulators can mimic the non-verbal behaviors and body language of their target (using the same language or descriptors, matching posture, deliberately breathing at the same rate, etc.). This sends subtle cues to the target or 'mark' which causes them to think that they have more in common with the manipulator than they actually do. They give the appearance that they are in sync with the manipulator.

Social Influences (Social Proof)
Depending on the context of a situation, we often observe others first and listen to their opinions before we before we behave freely as a shortcut to help us learn acceptable behavior within a group. Groups may have a written curriculum or a formally written set of beliefs and practices. But they might not tell you anything about the unwritten rules and beliefs in a group – those informal, unspoken and just somehow understood rules. This is called the hidden curriculum. And as a general rule, we human beings tend to go with the flow.

What makes it worse?

Some factors can enhance the likelihood that a person will mirror a group. No Ease of Exit, Unanimous Compliance,  Modeling by Notable Persons, and Ambiguity.

No Ease of Exit. Philip Zimbardo talks about how situations from which you cannot easily remove or excuse yourself has a significant effect on whether or not you will mirror the behavior of a group. In Christian churches, you are not held captive or prevented from leaving a sanctuary in the middle of a service, but to do so would draw attention to yourself, and those around you would likely be displeased. Most people will try to just go through the motions to conform with the group (as the Asch Experiment demonstrates). Behavioral compliance like this has a subtle but powerful influence because it 'greases the wheels,; and you have a higher likelihood of complying with subsequent requests. Gradually over time, the nature of seemingly insignificant requests escalate without notice. This weapon of influence plays a major factor in many domestic abuse situations. (No one joins a cult. No one knowingly marries an abuser.)

Unanimous Compliance. When in a group setting when all others follow the hidden curriculum, that behavioral 'procedure' essentially equalizes behavioral standards. Couple this with a situation that is hard to exit, and non-conformity becomes very difficult.

Modeling by Notable Persons. As we noted in a previous post, people who are famous or are seen as experts or authorities seem to carry more influence with others. They're seen as successful and accomplished in an area unrelated to their work, yet without any real cause, we infer that they are specially qualified to recommend a product or a practice. It's like the behavioral version of physical attractiveness heightening likability.

The informal logical fallacy of the Appeal to Authority overlaps here a bit, too – when something is believed to be true because an authority believes it or asserts it. Group leaders may also model behavior that they find acceptable and wish to encourage among followers. (I just thought of CJ Mahaney's wife saying that she preferred to have her countertops completely clear including things like the coffee pot. It became vogue among women at Covenant Life Church/Sovereign Grace Ministries for wives in the church to do likewise.) Follow the leader.

People will also be more compliant with someone who has an authoritarian style and tends to find their way into situations where they direct others' activities. Command presence, personal power, and confidence help bolster this effect. Compliance with authority stands alone as an influence, but make note of it here because it intensifies social proof.

Ambiguity. When we are a bit off balance and are unsure of what to do or what outcomes to expect, we become more vulnerable to social pressures. If we relocate and start a new job in a new place, social pressures have more of a punch. Many elements of life become much more ambiguous after such major life changes. We only have so much energy, and we cannot be vigilant about everything all the time. We will go along with the crowd, just because of decision-making fatigue.

There are also some personalities and people who have a very low tolerance for ambiguity. There are many things in life that are not sure, and this type of stress intensifies the amount of influence that the actions of others have with us. High demand groups reduce and simplify the complexities of life into a landscape of black and white, providing a sure answer to every question and a solution to every problem.

More to come on more cognitive biases
in which liking and social proof play a role.

For Further Reading: