Halo Effect – Helping You Make Poor Judgements

By Anupum Pant

Despite being well aware of the adage – “Don’t judge a book by its cover” – our not-so-smart-brains fail us on this every time. Unknowingly, humans are prone to the Halo effect. And they’ll even deny that this harmless looking effect was what led them to make a wrong judgement about someone or something.

Halo Effect: In simple terms, we create a whole fake image about anything in our minds, based on a single trait.  For instance:

  1. Don’t you thing Steve Jobs must have been a perfect human being in person? I’m not saying he wasn’t, may be he was. Assuming you never met him, what made you construct that image of his, in your mind? Probably his warm, friendly presentations. Or it is even possible that the seemingly flawless physical designs of Apple products did that trick. Often marketers use this effect to create a warm image of themselves in the audience’s mind by saying little of any substance.
  2. By the good looks of this website, which I’ve made sure are really good, you’d unknowingly judge it as a page presenting you with quality content. You might do this without even looking at the content. May be it really is good content in this case, but it isn’t always.
  3. A well known brand that releases good commercials is often believed to be a quality brand. You’d feel no pain in shelling out thousands of bucks for a simple pair of shoes, saying it is a good quality shoe and will last long. There is a chance that you’ve never really looked deeper into the quality of the shoes this company makes. You’ll simply trust them because of the world-class commercials they come out with – which of course are only a result of outsourcing of creative work to a professional company. Which is not to say that the company really does make poor quality shoes. May be it doesn’t. But you just made a snap judgement without enough information.

The name Halo effect:
Its called the Halo effect because of this general tendency among us to make a snap judgement about the overall good traits of a person by just looking at a halo painted on top of their heads (one good trait of their’s).

But here is the catch, it works both ways:

Suppose you dislike one thing about something, you’ll build an image of “bad” around it, in your mind. This has been tested widely and it is true. People unknowingly do it and don’t realize why they did it. Moreover they’ll deny that it affects them.

Suppose you go to a restaurant and see that there is nothing fancy inside – naked tables, poorly dressed waiters and shabby flooring – you’ll never expect tasty food coming out of its kitchen.

Same thing happens with poorly designed websites. The content isn’t considered credible if they don’t look good. That is one reason, I take time to muster up good-looking images for my featured section.

[Read more]
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The Science of Sticking to New Year Resolutions

By Anupum Pant

Wait a minute. Have you started listing your New Year resolutions four days before the New Year starts? If you are planning on sticking to New Year resolutions this year, simple science says, you probably shouldn’t be making lists now.

Let’s admit it, many among us have made the same resolution for the last 5 years. We are not alone. More than 90% of the people do not succeed in achieving their New year resolutions. But, does that mean there is no point in pledging for something good?
No! of course not. If it is good, it is always good to go ahead. Paying attention to simple science can help you this year.

Hyperbolic Discounting

The first thing to know before applying science to help you stick with your resolutions is the term Hyperbolic Discounting. It states that we show a preference for something that arrives sooner than later. To give you an example, think of these 2 separate choices:

1. You are trying to eat better to lose weight. Salad is good for you but you don’t like it.
Now, I offer you only one of these two things to eat – a box of fries or a bowl of healthy green salad. The catch is that you know that you have to decide now, but you will have to actually eat it on the same day, next month. In this case most people choose, healthy green salad for next month.

2. In a second test, can you guess what happens if I offer you the same choice again and you have to eat it right after you choose and not the next month? You are more likely to say french fries.

Hyperbolic Discounting: We show a preference for something that arrives sooner rather than later. In the second choice, the satisfaction from eating french fries comes instantly. While the good results of a healthy diet is a culmination of your efforts over several months. So, you tend to choose the food item that gives you quick satisfaction. In other words, we need instant gratification.

The best way to illustrate this would be this TED talk where Silvia Barcellos talks about The Marshmallow Test and why we want instant gratification.

Real world example: If you are trying to quit smoking, you must have decided to add it to your list of resolutions for the next year. Later, when your friends ask you out for a New Year’s party, there is a great chance that you’ve already entered 2014 and are still smoking away packs. Technically, you have missed on the first day.
You chose instant satisfaction – partying – over your long-term goal of quitting cigarettes.

To avoid this

To avoid this, it is suggested that you either make lists just before you are going to start doing it. In this case, do it [making list] on Jan 31, 2359 hours. But you’ll be partying at that time. So, you could make lists now and start doing it right away.

In short, do not procrastinate. Things that are far, look smaller from where you stand. Bring your goals nearer to see how big they actually are.

Read more at [You are Not So Smart]

Some other common advice to keep in mind

  • Have just one or two very specific resolutions.
  • Pledge to include tiny habits in your everyday lives. Don’t have huge goals.
  • Use triggers.
  • Communicate your end goals to the greatest number of people you can in your social circle.
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Ben Franklin Effect – Influencing People

By Anupum Pant

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Influencing people

Named after Benjamin Franklin, who observed this effect, the Ben Franklin effect is a lesser known yet interesting Psychological finding that can be used to influence people. According to it:

  1. If we do someone a favor then we tend to like them more. (read till the end for an example of a practical application)
  2. The reverse of this effect is also true – If we harm someone, we are more willing to harm them again as a result.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin:

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

Side note: I love biographies. I love them because, there you have an access to a treasure of life-long experiences of great people. I feel, it is like collecting XP (experience) points in a Pokémon game. The more you manage to collect, the better you do in life. And biographies are one of the most efficient sources for XP.

While going through Ben’s autobiography a few months back, I found a lot of his observations to be extremely interesting and I had noted this down in my notes.

How he used his observation

He was able to befriend a rival legislator by trying this out. The following is an excerpt from his biography:

Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

Jecker & Lendy published a study in the year 1969 which used 3 groups of students to prove this scientifically. In the study, the students from the first group liked a professor more than the other two groups. It was to this group the professor had asked for a favor.

How can you use it?

  1. If you want someone to like you (or influence someone), even though it may seem counter-intuitive, you could just ask him/her for a favor.
  2. If some random stranger asks you for a favor, you could be a little more cautious about you liking him/her.
  3. To get a better effect, ask a person who is tired.

No wonder, guys after fetching a 100 chocolate ice-cream cups for their girl-friends, only tend to fall more in love with them.