We like to think we have control over our decisions.
However there is too much research, that proves how prone we are to subtle effects that control our choices, for us to continue with this misapprehension. Here are a few fun experiments I read about in Richard Wiseman’s excellent book Quirkology to back up the point.
Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad van Knippenberg conducted a study which shows that if you ask one group of participants to spend five minutes thinking about a football hooligan, and a second to think about a university professor, you affect their ability at Trivial Pursuit. The hooligan group correctly answered 46% of questions whereas the professor group scored 60%.
It’s well known that taller people command more respect, and dominate positions of power. For example each inch of height is worth $789 a year on your salary. In America, the proportion of male CEOs of the top 500 companies that are 6 feet or more is 58%. The average across the country is just over 14%.
An interesting study turned this the other way around and proved that “the perceived height of a person can change with their apparent status“. Paul Wilson, who performed the study, introduced his subjects to different groups of students and asked them to assess their height. He introduced them as a student, a lecturer, senior lecturer, or a full professor. The height assessment varied, adding an inch if they were a lecturer, and another if they were a professor.
It seems that the metaphor we use when we talk about ‘looking up to someone’ holds true.
But my favourite experiment is this one: participants were called in to do a psychological test. They filled in a form and handed it to the organisers and that was that, or so they thought. As they were leaving the real experiment began: the participant was asked to hold a drink while the experimenter tied their shoelace. They then handed back the drink and stepped into the elevator where a person tried to initiate conversation with them. Following the same script with each participant, it was measured whether the person responded positively and engaged in conversation. The influence? Whether the drink was a hot coffee or a cold coke full of ice. I don’t recall the exact figures, however it was something like 90% of the people that held a hot drink in their hand were happy to talk, whereas only 30% of the people that held an ice cold drink continued to chat.
And finally, if your heart rate is higher when you meet someone of the opposite sex, you will find them more attractive.
So beware undue influences.