Tag Archives: Control

Undue Influence – Cognitive Bias #57

18 Oct

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.


What is Freedom?

17 May


Oh this is good. This is very good.

Creating Freedom’ is a project comprising a series of films, essays, and paintings on the subjects of power, control and freedom.

It begins with a wonderful three minute video that I recommend watching – The Lottery Of Birth – that describes why I think it’s so important to think, to learn, to question, to debate. In fact it rather underpins the motivations behind this blog.

It includes soundbites from luminaries such as Steven Pinker, Tony Benn and Noam Chomsky, and is a trailer for a very exciting project.

In short: We are not born free, we are born inculcated with what our parents believe, and then by the society we happen to be born into. Once we understand this, it is then our task to understand the world for ourselves, to question, always ask questions, especially the taboo questions.

Here’s one that’s been knocking around my mind to get you thinking, especially in the light of the Arab Spring:

Freedom is simply a synonym for power.

Here are a few tasty aphorisms from the site:

We tend to accept the background assumptions of the culture that we are born into.

– Steven Pinker

We can use our life, that unrepeatable product of four billion years of serendipity and evolution, to earn a little more, to save a little more, to win the approval of our bosses and the envy of our neighbours. We can, quite rationally, subordinate our desire for liberty to our desire for security. Or we can use our agency to change the world, and, in changing it, to change ourselves. We will die and be forgotten with no less certainty than those who sought to fend off death by enhancing their material presence on earth, but we will live before we die through the extremes of feeling which comfort would deny.

– George Monbiot

I think the key to any progress is to ask the question ‘why’ all the time… And of course questions can get you into a lot of trouble because society is trained by those who run it to accept what goes on. Without questions we won’t make any progress at all.

– Tony Benn

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