Robert Cialdini, PhD: Littering, Egoism and Aretha Franklin
[NOTE: This episode is republished from #50 in January 2019.]
Robert Cialdini, PhD is counted among the greatest psychological researchers alive today and his published works have been cited thousands of times. His New York Times best-selling book, Influence, from 1984, is considered a classic for classroom and corporate use alike. He is an ardent author and a passionate professor, and his work has impacted millions. In short, Bob Cialdini has shaped the landscape of how sales and marketing workers do their jobs and how researchers frame their studies.
In this episode of Behavioral Grooves, Bob took a few minutes to discuss some of his most underappreciated research and some of the new things he’s working on. We began with a study that used littering as a way to predict, before the polls closed, the outcome of an election by watching how voters treated candidate fliers left on their cars. One of the very elegant aspects of this study was that it required no surveys – merely the observation of behaviors in the parking lots of the polling places. The question the researchers sought to answer was this: How do voters treat the fliers of candidates they favor and of those they oppose? More specifically, do voters keep fliers from candidates they like and litter with the fliers of candidates they dislike?
Then, our conversation moved to a line of research that he’d investigated for over a decade: the motivations for pro-social behavior, such as giving to those in need. Bob reminds us that there are many motivators at play when one person helps out another, as when a passerby gives money to some asking for money on the street, but there is one motivator that stands out: egoism. Many of us believe that being charitable is an obligation or is driven by guilt, and while that is true to some degree, Bob’s collective research over more than a dozen years revealed that egoism, that selfish desire to feel good about ourselves, is at the heart of helping others.
Then we went a step farther. Bob noted that helping others is more likely to occur when the person in need appears to be in-group or in-tribe. In other words, we’re more likely to be charitable if it appears the person asking for help is “like me.” The primary way we decide if someone is like us is to look at how they’re dressed. What kind of clothes are they wearing? In his studies, Bob found that soccer (football) fans were more likely to assist someone on the street if they were wearing the jersey of their favorite team. It’s unnerving to think that the clothes you wear could determine whether someone helps you or not.
In our grooving session, Kurt and Tim discussed the impact of social identity and self-identity. We discussed articles by Michael Hogg and Roy Baumeister. We brought in books by Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile and Dan Levitan’s great treatise on the neurological effects of music. And on music, we chatted about how music makes us feel and we cited Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as examples.
Lastly, Bob is interested in hearing from YOU! He’d like listeners to send reports on how the principles of influence are being used in the real world to be included in his next book. If you’d like to be considered for his next work, please send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you enjoy our discussion with Bob Cialdini
© 2020 Behavioral Grooves
Sponsor: The Creative Group, Inc.
This episode is brought to you by Creative Group Inc. Kurt and Tim have worked with CGI and have found that their process of co-creation of incentive program provides clients with more robust solutions. Because their incentive and employee engagement programs are co-created, they reflect the truest aspects of the client’s organization and culture. CGI shares our belief that incentives and rewards shouldn’t be used to create brand mercenaries – but instead, should be about creating brand missionaries. Check them out at https://www.creativegroupinc.com/.
A Note of Gratitude
We are grateful to Bob for sharing his insights with us in this very fun conversation. However, it wouldn’t have happened without the concerted effort of Bobette Gordon. We thank her for her coordination and support to make put make our conversation with Bob a reality.