Tali Sharot (@affectivebrain) is an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience, the founder and director of the Affective Brain Lab at University College London, and author of The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others.
What We Discuss with Tali Sharot:
- When hope is a better motivator than fear — and vice versa.
- Facts and figures don’t tend to change minds already aligned to a certain opinion — in fact, they can have a backfire effect that further entrenches people in their beliefs.
- The four factors that determine whether or not we’re likely to change our beliefs.
- What happens when new evidence doesn’t fit our beliefs, but it fits what we want to believe.
- When trying to persuade, it’s better to seed a new belief than to contradict the old one.
- And much more…
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No matter how open minded we consider ourselves to be, we all hold strong beliefs that are sometimes difficult to recognize — and more difficult to change even when we’re presented with evidence that contradicts them. So what does it take to change such beliefs, whether it’s in ourselves or others?
Tali Sharot, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience, founder and director of the Affective Brain Lab at University College London, and author of The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others, joins us to explain why the human brain can be so resistant to change and how we can reframe our approach if we want facts to prevail over misinformation in spite of this innate resistance. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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More About This Show
Hope vs. Fear
Promises of reward and punishment have been used as motivators for as long as there have been civilizations, but how effective are they in influencing a desired result?
According to Tali Sharot, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience, founder and director of the Affective Brain Lab at University College London, and author of The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others, it really depends on the situation.
Research has shown that, under normal circumstances, inducing hope is more likely to result in action; inducing fear is more likely to result in inaction.
To get something good in life — whether it’s a chocolate cake or a promotion — we usually need to take action and do something to earn it.
Our brain has adapted to understand that action is related to some kind of reward. So when we expect something good, a “go” signal is activated, which makes us more likely to act — and act fast.
On the other hand, to avoid the bad stuff in life, whether it’s poison or deep water or untrustworthy people, we usually need to do nothing — just stay in place.
When we expect punishment, a “no go” signal is activated in our brain and it inhibits action.
In one experiment, subjects were asked to press a button in order to get a dollar, or press a button in order to avoid losing a dollar. Those pressing a button to get a dollar did so faster than those who had to press a button to avoid losing a dollar.
“You need to pair the action with a reward,” says Tali.
When subjects were asked not to press a button in order to get a dollar or not press a button to avoid losing a dollar, inaction was more closely associated with those who were trying to avoid losing a dollar.
“Often the best approach for avoiding the bad stuff is staying where you are,” Tali says.
Stress Changes Everything
When we introduce stress into the equation, fear is empowered with greater sway over our decisions.
Under stress, people become hyper vigilant to any kind of negative information. So someone in this state may receive fear as an effective motivator — counter to how someone in a more neutral state tends to respond.
“This is why, after stressful public events — for example, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, market collapse — under those situations, many people around the world become stressed,” says Tali. “Even if [it’s] halfway around the world…then they start listening to all the negative information in the media, taking note, and it really affects their beliefs and they can actually become overly pessimistic.”
Under such circumstances, we may be goaded into making suboptimal choices rather than proceeding according to previous, rational plans.
“For example, starting to sell stock when the market is collapsing when really what they should be doing is holding on,” says Tali. “Or canceling flights after terrorist attacks when really what they should be doing is flying not driving, because driving is more dangerous.”
Something bad happens. We get stressed. We pay heed to negative information. We become overly pessimistic. We make poor choices, we get more stressed, and the cycle continues.
Facts and Figures
It may infuriate you that presenting provable facts and figures to your meme-spewing high school acquaintance on Facebook tends to have zero effect on persuading them to see things your way.
In fact, it often results in what Tali calls the backfire effect, in which the person presented with facts that attack their position doubles down on that position. In such a situation, this person would rather attack the data than admit that they’re wrong.
“If there’s an ideology or beliefs that are really important to us and who we are, shaking those beliefs is going to have a negative emotional impact on us,” Tali says. “It’s kind of a protection — we want to protect ourselves, who we are, what our beliefs are. So when someone’s coming at us with swords, we take our swords out and try to win the fight.”
Our brains didn’t evolve to use numbers and data to calculate conclusions. Our brains evolved to persuade others we are right — not to actually be right.
In fact, the more intelligent we are, the better we rationalize our existing beliefs. So instead of being smart enough to realize bias and strive for truth-aligned accuracy, we’re just more adept at convincing ourselves that what we already believe is actually true by twisting data around to suit our purposes.
Can Belief Be Changed? Four Factors to Consider
“It is absolutely rational to evaluate a new piece of evidence in light of what we already know,” says Tali. There are four factors that matter to whether we’re going to change our beliefs:
- Our current belief.
- Our confidence in that current belief.
- A new piece of evidence.
- Our confidence in that new piece of evidence.
“The further away that new piece of evidence is from our current belief, the less likely it is to change the current belief…that means that sometimes we do have false beliefs that we hold with confidence, and those are very difficult to change,” Tali says.
When we’re children, our beliefs are obviously more malleable and different rules apply.
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about what happens when new evidence doesn’t fit our beliefs — but fits what we want to believe, why our own biases persist even when we’re aware of them — and what we can do to turn them around, how we can reframe our message in a positive way to be more effective when we’re trying to influence others, and lots more.
THANKS, TALI SHAROT!
If you enjoyed this session with Tali Sharot, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others by Tali Sharot
- The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot
- Affective Brain Lab
- Affective Brain Lab at Facebook
- Affective Brain Lab at Twitter
Transcript for Tali Sharot | Unpacking the Science of the Influential Mind (Episode 16)
Tali Sharot: [00:00:00] Reframing the message in a positive light is one example of how can we change the way that we communicate, how we can change the way that we give advice and information to others. Once we know about biases.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:14] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. Before we kick things off, this episode is sponsored in part by The Great Courses Plus. Start exploring The Great Courses Plus today with a free trial to watch or listen to any of their fantastic lectures. To get started, go to thegreatcoursesplus.com/Jordan. This episode is also sponsored in part by Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans and their technological mortgage revolution. Apply simply, understand fully, mortgage confidently. To get started, go to RocketMortgage.com/forbes and finally we're also sponsored by Varidesk and their sit stand solutions for the modern workplace. You can try Varidesk products risk-free for 30 days with free shipping and free returns. If you're not satisfied, learn more at varidesk.com/forbes, that's V A R I D E S K.com/forbes. On this episode, we're talking with Tali Sharot, author of The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About our Power to Change Others.
[00:01:08] Today we'll explore what determines who influences us, what determines how we are able to influence others. We'll also discover when fear works as persuasion and when hope might be a better option for influence. We'll also discuss how stress influences the way we think and something called the backfire effect, which shows that the more intelligent we are, the better we rationalize our existing beliefs. Don't forget, we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of all the key takeaways here from Tali Sharot. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Now here's Tali Sharot. Tali, thanks for coming on the show.
Tali Sharot: [00:01:46] Thank you for having me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:03] So what I want to teach the audience today is what determines who influences us and what determines how we are able to influence others. And in your book, The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About our Power to Change Others,
[00:02:03] there's so many practical things in here that I think are very useful and I was pleasantly surprised by that because often you read a book from a scientist or somebody in academia and you end up with a lot of information that you can't use at all anywhere other than maybe elsewhere in academia or if you're taking copious notes to regurgitate for an exam. So I really appreciated that about the book because I have a ton of places where I think we can deliver practical exercises. One of the principles in the book that really struck me that you'd written most of the ways in which we think we change our minds is wrong. What do you mean by this?
Tali Sharot: [00:02:40] Yeah, so you know what I meant how we change other people's minds. So what are the things that we need in order to change minds? If for example, you know, one common assumption is I'll give you the facts and I'll show you the figures and you're going to change your mind, right? If the facts are really clear cut, then you're going to change your mind. So that tends to be wrong. And another thing that we tend to do just automatically is to try to just tell people what to do, right? To say, “Well, you have to do it this way because you know, this is what I believe.” And that doesn't work either. So not kind of taking the point of view of the person that's in front of us. And there's other things that we just don't pay enough attention to. So for example, there's a whole chapter about carrots and sticks. So often when we want to change people's behavior or sometimes we use carrots, right? We promise something, sometimes we use sticks, we threatened with a punishment, but when do you use carrots? When do you use sticks? That could be some kind of a rule that can help us out. So these are just a few of the examples of things that people either do incorrectly or not quite aware of. And if they get the information, it could help out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:57] Okay. Well, let's dive into some of these in a bit. For sure, I do want to know about fear as persuasion because I see in politics now we see a lot of fear and we see that even in sales -- one night only, this is the last one, a limited number of seats are available, a limited number of units -- call now, that kind of thing. It's scarcity, but really that's sort of a tangent alongside fear and now in politics we see fear as persuasion. They're coming to get us, this is whoever they might be. This is going to happen and your family's going to be in danger. You're going to be in danger, your living's going to be in danger. Fear does seem to be working pretty effectively here. Does that jive with the science? Because it certainly jives with my sort of anecdotal observation of what we're seeing in the news.
Tali Sharot: [00:04:47] One thing to consider, you know, to start off with is do we actually want to get people to be afraid? Do we want to have a negative influence on people's well-being by inducing fear? So even if we get to the conclusion that theory is effective, is it something that we want to use? So that's, you know, one question and then the question of whether it's effective. Well, I think it's effective under very certain circumstances, which, you know, I'll tell you about in a little bit, but I think many of the examples that you mentioned, which involve fear, I'm not entirely convinced that it is fear that is causing people to change their behavior. And you yourself that, you know, it's scarcity is one thing, you know, to say, “Oh, this is the last day that you could buy this product or it's running out.” I think it's scarcity.
[00:05:34] I think it's emphasizing social norms. Everyone wants this product, right? That's why it's running out. Even if you think about politics today, and a lot of times people talk about Donald Trump and him winning the election as an example of, “Hey, he used fear.” Perhaps, but his message surprisingly, I think is actually, it was actually giving the people who voted for him, hope. So, you know, his message was make America great again. So I'm not sure that it was fear that got people to vote. I think perhaps it was giving them a sense that they can make a change, that they have some kind of control to change the situation and to change it for the better. So it could, you know, it doesn't maybe seem like that to some people, but it could have actually been optimism and hope.
[00:06:26] Now why do I think fear doesn't work very well? And when do I think it does work? So there's a few reasons why I think that a positive message works better than a negative message. One reason is that we find that people encode information that suggests that things can get better, more effectively that information suggesting that things can get worse. So for example, if you tell someone, “Oh, you're, you know, if you do this or that, you're more likely to get a promotion.” They would listen to what you're saying. There'd be like, “Oh, what do I need to do? I need to work harder.” And they listen. But if you say, “Well, if you do this and that you are unlikely to get a promotion or you're more likely to get fired.” Then usually they say, “Nah, you know, you don't know what you're talking about.”
[00:07:09] So we find that actually unexpected positive information is encoded better. If you look at the brain again, you find that it looks like the brain is encoding unexpected positive information better than negative. So that's one reason. The other thing is relating fear to action or inaction. So when you want someone to do something, there is reason to believe that fear is not going to be very, very good. And the reason is that fear can actually freeze people. It can actually cause you to just freeze up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:47] It's like fight or flight react, response essentially.
Tali Sharot: [00:07:50] Exactly. Exactly. While, if so what did that mean is that if you want someone not to do something, if you actually want them, for example, not to share privileged information, perhaps in that case fear is a good idea. And there's studies that show that inducing hope is more likely to induce action while inducing fear is more likely to induce inaction.
[00:08:18] So I can tell you about this experiment that we did. And this is an experiment that was led by Marquee Dark Mystique. And actually let me tell you a little bit about why we did this experiment. So think about if you want to get the good stuff in life, whether it's chocolate cake or promotion or, you know, love and success, usually what you need to do is you need to take action. You need to do something, right? To get that chocolate cake, you need to move, you need to move your hands. To get a promotion, you need to work. So our brain has adapted to this environment where action is related to some kind of reward. And so in our brain, when we expect something good, a go signal is activated and it makes us more likely to act and act fast.
[00:09:03] On the other hand, to avoid the bad stuff in life, whether it's poison or deep waters or untrustworthy people, we often actually need to do nothing. Just stay in place, right? You want to just not approach the poison. You just want to stay where you are often, not always, but often the best approach for avoiding the bets is to stay where you walked. And so our brain has adapted to that kind of environment. And when we expect something bad, when we expect a punishment, a no go-signal is activated in our brain and it inhibits action, it makes us less likely to act. And so what that means is if you want someone to do something, you might want to promise a reward, but if you want them not to do something, you might want to fit in with punishment.
[00:09:49] And the little experiment that we did was we asked people to press a button in order to get a dollar or press a button in order to avoid losing a dollar. When it was pressing a button to get a dollar, they did it faster and more accurately, right? When they had to press a button in order to avoid losing a dollar, they didn't do such a good job because you need to pair the action with the reward. On the other hand, we said, “In order to get a dollar, all you need to do is not do anything. Don't press a button.” Or we said, “In order to avoid losing a dollar, you need to not do anything. Don't press a button.” Well, they did a better job at not doing anything. It's staying put when it was in order to avoid losing a dollar rather than to get a dollar.
[00:10:33] So this is the pairing action and reward, inaction and punishment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:39] Interesting. So fear works better as persuasion when we want to cause inaction, but not when we want to induce a positive action or an action in the first place.
Tali Sharot: [00:10:47] Okay. There's a caveat here, which is A: There's a bit of a leap, right? We're doing these like little experiment in the labs where it's pressing buttons and so on. And there's, you know, we look at the brain and we know what the circuit is and then we're leaping into, well what does that mean for persuasion? So there's a leap, right? You know, I'm speculating that that is true, that that is the case, exactly what you said. And the other thing to also remember is that anything that we're going to say today about the human brain and behavior is not black and white.
[00:11:15] Okay? That's another thing to keep in mind. Everything is gray. It's not physics, it's not gravity. It really depends on the situation, on the person in front of you. But we have some principles that we think work for most people in most situations. But it is important to consider, for example, what is the mental state of the person in front of you? So one thing that we've learned is that under stress, actually people become hypervigilant to any kind of negative information. So in fact, if people are already under high stress, fear is something that may work because people do listen to all the negative information when they're already under stress. We did a study where we got people into the lab and we wanted to stress them out. So we told them, you are going to do a little task and after the task we're going to give you a surprise topic and you're going to have to give a speech about this surprise topic in front of everyone else immediately. And we're going to judge you. We're going to rate you, we're going to videotape you. We're going to put it on YouTube.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:16] That should do it. I bet that worked really well.
Tali Sharot: [00:12:19] Yeah, we asked them did, “Are you stressed?” They said, “Yes, we're stressed.” We wanted to make sure. So we took their saliva, we measured cortisol and did cortisol went up. It goes up when you're stressed. We also measured how much they sweat. And indeed they were sweating and so they were stressed. And what we found that immediately once they became stressed, they were more likely to listen and encode negative information that we gave them. So you know how before I told you, people usually are better at encoding positive information like learning. “Oh, you're more likely to get a promotion than you thought”, or “you're less likely to get cancer than you thought”. Under stress that is no longer the case. Under stress, they start becoming hypervigilant to negative information. And you can imagine this is why after stressful public events, for example, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, market collapse, under those situations, many people around the world become stressed. Even if the terrorist attack is halfway around the world, people become stressed and then they start listening to all the negative information in the media, taking note, and it really affects their beliefs and they can actually become overly pessimistic. So if we go back to, you know, the example of persuasion in politics, if messages of fear came at a time when people were already stressed, perhaps because there was a terrorist attack at that time or something like that, then those kinds of messages will have more of an effect.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:45] Okay. So essentially fear works better as persuasion when we want to cause inaction and when the person you're influencing or trying to influence is already anxious, worried, or stressed. So we can create an environment in which people are more readily able or willing to encode that negative information if they're already stressed. So this sounds like a vicious cycle because we have a financial, let's say we have a terrorist attack, then we have a financial market collapse due to the fear that's in place because of that. And then people start to act in order to minimize risk and now they're listening more to the person who says, “You better buy guns and put food in a basement somewhere because the government's coming for you”, or something like that. Those people start to become the source that we encode better than the person who says, “Look, these things are up and down. We've seen it throughout history. It's going to be fine. Don't panic.”
Tali Sharot: [00:14:41] Yeah, absolutely. So many of these sub-optimal choices that people make like for example, starting to sell stock when the market is collapsing, when really what they should be doing is holding on or cancelling flights after tourist attacks, when really what they should be doing is flying, not driving because driving is more dangerous. These sub-optimal choices, I think, are very much related to this cycle as you say. Something bad happens, we get stressed, we listen to the negative information, we become overly pessimistic that leads to sub-optimal decisions and makes us more stressed and so on and so forth.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:12] You mentioned earlier that our brains, we don't really persuade using data. Data has a very limited capacity to alter what we believe. Is that because our brains didn't evolve to use things like numbers, data, spreadsheets to calculate conclusions?
Tali Sharot: [00:15:29] Yeah. So that's one of the reasons. And let me just also say before we've talked about why data's not working, when does it work? So first of all, data is really, really important for us to find what the truth is, right? I'm a scientist. What I do is collect data, analyze data, and think about what it says. It's very useful just giving you data and figures when you don't necessarily have a strong view one way or the other. I could use data or if you already have a viewpoint that's quite similar to mine, then you will be quite open to data. It is those situations where we're trying to convince someone with a different point of view, where data seems to have very little impact. What happens is let's say, you know, we’re thinking about a gun control controversy that when people get data, let's say, you know, one person is for and the other is against, and the person who's against gives the one who's for a data of why he's right. What the other person does, is A - simply ignores the data altogether, or decides that the data is irrelevant or you know, just not very good.
[00:16:36] Or there's something that's called the backfire effect where when I get data and any kind of information that suggests I'm wrong, I would often think about new reasons why I'm right. So things that I hadn't thought about before.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:55] That sounds like my family.
Tali Sharot: [00:16:57] Yeah, exactly. So the example that I give in the book is actually about, you know, an argument between a married couple where one person wants to live in France and the other person wants to live in the US and they keep arguing about where, what is the better place to live. And they give each other, they send each other emails with links to, “Oh look, you know, people are happier and friends and the other person says, you know, the average salary is higher in the US and so on.” And so what one would do, let's say the woman wants to live in France and she gets an email from her husband and there's a link about how education is better in the US. So she never thought about this before. She never considered, you know, where is the education system better? But looking at that data, she says, “Well, you know, in the US they don't actually teach any of the old history. It's all about the new history.” So now she's coming up with all these reasons why, in fact, she's even more right than she thought before. So that's known as the backfire effect.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:55] Why do we do this? It's like our brain receives an error signal. We're confronted with evidence that we may be wrong and we go, “Huh?” Rather than evaluating this, I'm just going to rationalize and reinforce my existing view of the world and in the face of evidence to the contrary, because this serves me how.
Tali Sharot: [00:18:14] So there's a few reasons. One reason is we want to kind of maintain our self image -- to ourselves, not to other people, right? How we see, view ourselves if there's an ideology or beliefs that are really important to us and who we are, shaping those beliefs is going to have a negative emotional impact on us, right? It's kind of a protection. We want to protect ourselves, who we are, what our beliefs are. And so, you know, when someone's coming with us with swords, we take our swords out, and try to win the fight. So this is a more kind of an emotional reason. Now there's another more what I would say a rational reason which is in fact it's not irrational to assume that if I have a very strong belief and someone's coming in with data that doesn't fit it, that data is wrong.
[00:19:11] So if you think about it, we have many beliefs that we hold with confidence and on average those beliefs that we hold with confidence on average, they are right. For example, if I would to tell you that I saw a pink elephant flying in the sky, you would just conclude that I'm a delusional or that I'm lying, right? As you should, because you have a strong belief based on many years that elephants don't fly in the sky. And it is absolutely rational to evaluate and new piece of evidence in light of what we already know. There are four factors that matter to whether we're going to change our beliefs. It is our current belief, our confidence in that current belief, the new piece of evidence and our confidence in that new piece of evidence. And in the further away the new piece of evidence is from our current belief, the less likely it is to change the current belief. And it's not an irrational thing. But as a side effect, that means that sometimes we do have false beliefs that we hold with confidence and those are very difficult to change.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:13] So what were those three or four factors again? It was the current belief --
Tali Sharot: [00:20:20] Your current belief, your confidence in that current belief. Because we have many beliefs. Some we hold with more confidence, some with less confidence. So the greater the confidence in your belief, the less likely you are to change it. And then the new piece of evidence and our confidence in that new piece of evidence. So the confidence in new piece of evidence for example, can be related to who's telling you about this new piece of evidence.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:45] So like whether we hear it from a child or from somebody who's teaching us a class on the subject.
Tali Sharot: [00:20:51] Yes, actually children are great example because children, they are very easy to change children's beliefs. And the reason is, first of all, they don't have many strong beliefs. They just came into the world. They didn't have time to acquire a strong belief. So they go around built with some beliefs and most of them are not very strong. And B, they look to their elders, to their parents, for example, for information. And they have a lot of confidence in their parents or you know, teachers, adults. So that's a very good example of a case where beliefs do change and they change a lot and they change relatively easily. But over time as we grow up, our beliefs become stronger and stronger and we're less confident in what other people have to say.
[00:21:40] And that then it's more difficult to change our beliefs. But there is one exception to this rule and that is when the new piece of evidence doesn't fit our belief, but it fits what we want to believe. So for example, let's say that you think you are not very good in, I don't know, math and then I tell you, “No, no, no. I've done an exam, you know, I've looked at your exam and you're very, very good.” Then you will quite quickly change your beliefs. So if it's something that's positive that you're happy to hear, you'll change your belief. A great example of this was a study that was conducted in the UK where 1000 Americans were asked a few months before the presidential election. Who did they think was going to win? This was in August, 2016. Who do we think is going to win?
[00:22:33] And who do you want to win? And then back in August, about half of the people that were questioned wanted Trump to win and half wanted Clinton to win. But back in August, most people believe that Clinton was about to win, so even the Trump supporters believed that Clinton was going to win. And then the scientists gave them a new poll and the new polls suggested a Trump victory. And the question was whether this new poll will change their beliefs. And what they found was that it did change the beliefs, but mostly it changed the beliefs of the Trump supporters. So they were elated by this new poll, right? It's exactly what they wanted to hear. And they said, “Well, in that case, maybe he will win.” On the other hand, the Clinton supporters, they were not very convinced of this new poll is not what they wanted to hear. And they said, “You know, I don't believe this poll. We can't trust polls. I still think she's going to win.” So when it's something that you want to believe, it is much easier to change your mind when it's something that you don't want to believe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:36] So we would rather attack the data that we don't want to believe, than admit we are wrong or be persuaded in a different way. And I think most of us have experienced that at some point, right? We think, well,
[00:23:46] buying this nicer car is a good investment because it'll make people perceive me in a different way, which results in more sales of my product. So this is really an investment, not a luxury item spend. And then we all rationalize really well. And then when we face data that says most new businesses fail, we don't think, “Oh yeah, I could definitely fail. We think, well, you know, most new businesses are run by stupid people and I'm pretty damn sharp so I'm not worried about that.” Right? We look at data, we look at surveys, we look at polls and it seems like we'd rather attack those than admit that we are wrong or be persuaded and of course if it's something that we already want to believe, then even better. This episode is sponsored in part by The Great Courses Plus. The world of business is changing faster than ever before.
[00:24:37] The Great Courses Plus. I love learning from these guys. They've got really interesting online -- I'm trying not to say -- courses. Can you tell? They have really great online courses and learning series at one new one, one new series they have his Revolution CEO and co-founder of America Online, just in certain modem sound here. Steve Case, I think that might be interesting to check out. It's called The Third Wave: The future of Entrepreneurship in America. It's funny, I don't think of Steve Case as an entrepreneur because America Online had so permeated the culture that if you meet anyone who was alive in the 90s that didn't have 1,005 hours free America Online CDs in their house, I don't know, did they live on a farm? I'm not even sure who that person was.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:25:21] Remember though, he had to start from somewhere, so he started that company from scratch. Those CDs in the magazines were his ideas, so he is one of the greatest entrepreneurs we've ever had because yes, those are ubiquitous with the 90s and those damn CDs.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:36] Yeah. I remember people used to use them as coasters and it was all the time. Now of course, if you have an AOL CD coaster that's pro, you've probably sell it on eBay for 20 bucks. Vintage!
Jason DeFillippo: [00:25:44] Yeah, I mean you can make a living on Etsy just selling your AOL CDs for sure.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:47] That's right. Some earrings made out of AOL CDs. All right. This ad read has gone way off track, but the course explores the role CEO's and corporations will play in the coming decades. There's a lot of insight on how businesses can begin to prepare for the future now and of course available exclusively at The Great Courses Plus. But really there's a lot of great content in here in every category. You can watch or listen along anytime from anywhere, thousands of topics all presented by award winning profs, experts. So start exploring The Great Courses Plus today. You get a free trial and you can show your support of the show, which we could use right now. Go to thegreatcoursesplus.com/jordan. That's thegreatcoursesplus.com/Jordan. Support for the show comes from our friends over at Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans, Rocket Mortgage --
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:54] Well done. This episode is sponsored in part by Varidesk. Don't call it very desk even though it has an “I” in the middle or you'll get in trouble, said someone anonymous. Varidesk. Traditional static offices are a thing of the past. Companies, employees, we want an active workspace. I don't want to be sitting down all day. I want a standing desk so that I can sit at my higher chair and my standing desk, which is what I usually do. I got a higher chair.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:17] Yeah, it's important. They clearly tested the crap out of this and look, you can assemble the thing in five minutes. It's made to last. It's not going to have sharp crappy edges on it. It's not going to have springs that make a lot of noise and cause all kinds of problems. I interviewed the CEO of this company. I was very impressed with him and I've always been impressed with their products. So try Varidesk including the new Pro Desk 60 Electric risk-free for 30 days, free shipping, free returns. If you're not satisfied, learn more at varidesk.com/forbes. That's V A R I D E S K.com/forbes. So how do we know if we're being persuaded or rationalizing something? Do you have sort of heuristic for saying, wait a minute, in your own life. Wait a minute. I’m succumbing to bias here, I'm rationalizing. Do you stop yourself in the moment at all? Do you have a way to do this?
Tali Sharot: [00:30:07] Well, I think knowledge here is very helpful. If you are aware of these biases, and it's not that you're just going to suddenly become aware, right? You need to learn about them from books like this one and other books. If you're aware of it, then you start seeing it all the time, right? You start seeing it within yourself. You start seeing it with people around you. Now, it doesn't mean that the bias will disappear. So being aware of biases doesn't mean that they're going to disappear. You're still going to have them. You're still going to do whatever you said that you do, you know, rationalize things the way that you want to see it. However, if you are aware of it, then you can become more conscientious of why you made the decision, why you have a certain belief. And you can also think about, well, if I have this bias, what could potentially be the negative outcomes of this?
[00:31:01] Right? If I'm just disregarding, let's say the political example, if I'm disregarding polls, it suggests things that I don't want to hear. What could potentially be the negative outcomes? And then you can think, well, can I put some kind of policy in place to protect myself? So for example, you mentioned, you didn't call it by that, but it's the optimism bias, which is we tend to, the optimism bias is our tendency to believe that the future will be better than the past or the present and our tendency to overestimate the likelihood of positive events and underestimate the likelihood of negative events. As a result, and it's not a bad thing. The optimism bias has a lot of good parts to it. But as a result, we tend to underestimate our risk and not take precautionary action. So let's say I bike to work every day and I don't put a helmet on.
[00:31:51] And one of the reasons that I don't put it on and on is I think, ah, you know, it's going to be fine. I don't need a helmet. Now I realize that this perception is biased. It's very hard to change the perception. But what I can do is I can change my action. I can tell myself, “Okay, listen, I know that you should probably wear a helmet, but I'm not doing it. So how about every time I do wear helmets, when I get to the office, I give myself a little reward, like a little chocolate thing or every time that I don't wear the helmet, I need to punish myself by giving to a charity that I don't like.” So the idea here is once we are aware of the bias, we can figure out what that bias means through our life to our decisions, what are potentially the negative outcomes and come up with a different policy to correct for those actions to keep ourselves safe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:45] So we have to continually, consciously try to counteract our own bias by being really honest with ourselves. And the best way to do that is probably to write these things down so we can't trick ourselves later and think, “Oh yeah, well I knew that all along. I probably thought about this or yeah, I probably went through that.” I mean, do you write these things down on paper so that you can't lie to yourself?
Tali Sharot: [00:33:07] No, I don't think that point is lying to myself. That's not the point. The point is like, let's say I'm a scientist, so I have a hypothesis. I have a theory and obviously I would like to look at the data for my studies and conclude that the data supports my theory and most likely I do this as every scientist does. Now I knew that I do that and it's not that I can necessarily will, I can probably change it, but I say to myself, well that's not a great thing. So I need to put some protection in place. And so one protection is to give the data to other people who don't necessarily have a strong theory, right? And tell them, “Okay, you analyze and do you see the same thing or do you see something different? What's your conclusion?” So I continue, I do lie to myself because I still think that the data supports my theory. So it's not that I don't lie to myself in that way, but I realize what the consequences can be. And then I put a policy in place and that's what I do every time. And so it protects me from, you know, writing a paper that's wrong, for example.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:08] And do you do this outside of science as well? Do you do this with anything that, any big decision that you're making?
Tali Sharot: [00:34:14] Yeah, like medically, you know, once I'm aware of this, then you know, things like, okay, I'm more likely now to go to medical screenings and things like that, or more likely to save. You know, I realized after, for example, writing The Optimism Bias, which isn't the book before that that people don't save enough for retirement and they don't, you know, go to enough medical screenings and so on. And so I still think it's not that I changed my view about what retirement is going to be, but I realized that this is the case. And so I make myself do the right thing. So it is something that I guess I do in person in life when it comes to finance, when it comes to health. And also I think even more important than that rather than correcting yourself, it’s much, much, much easier is correcting others.
[00:35:05] Because if you know that the human brain has certain biases, that means that you know that all the brains around you have those biases. And if you know that other people have biases and you're aware of what the biases are, well then you can start reframing your message and communicating information better to other people. So for example, I just told you that people usually, not in cases when they're under stress, but under normal, relaxed situation, they tend to listen to positive message better than negative messages. Okay? So what that means is that you often need to reframe your message to highlight how things can get better, not necessarily what is a potential of getting worse. So for example, if instead of telling a teenage kid, “if you smoke, you get cancer”, you might say, “Well, if you don't smoke, you're more likely to get on the basketball team.”
[00:35:55] Or for example, if an employee does a really bad job, it's not that you should sugarcoat your message. But instead of saying, “Oh, this is terrible and you know, we're going to lose so much money and we're going to lose a client, you're going to lose your job.” You could say, “Okay, this is everything that has been done wrong and this is what needs to be done to correct it, to do better in the future.” You know, get the client back, you know, keep your job. So reframing the message in a positive light is one example of how can we change the way that we communicate, how we can change the way that we give advice and information to others once we know about biases. Another example, dealing with my kids, right? You know, I remember that if I want them to do something, it's probably better to promise them something good rather than with a punishment. If they need to tidy up the room, I might say, “Well if you tidy you up your room, you might find your favorite toy at the end under all the pile of toys.” So pairing the carrot with action.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:58] I like that. I think that's more powerful. And I think a lot of people, myself included, don't really think about it like that. My gut instinct would be to say, “I know you don't believe me, but trust me within 20 years you're going to thank me for this.” And my parents did that with me and I went, “I don't care. 20 years I'm eight. That's so far outside my reality and my life experience right now. I couldn't care less what's going to happen in 20 years.” Even when I was 20 I didn't care what was going to happen in 20 years, probably not even when I was 30. What's really interesting about a lot of these biases is that the more intelligent we are, the better we seem to rationalize our existing beliefs. Does your work match that? It seems like instead of being smart enough to realize bias and go, “Oh right, I got biased, I got to be more accurate.” We're just more adept at convincing ourselves that what we already believed is actually true. We'll just twist the data around. It suits our purposes. Is that your experience as well? Because that seems really strange to me. Why did we evolve this way? Why? Why didn't we evolve to be more accurate and more correct? There has to be some reason for this.
Tali Sharot: [00:38:01] Yeah. So this is work by Dunka Hunn from Miami University where he showed exactly that people with better math skills and better analytical skills are actually more likely to twist data at will. So what he did was, he took a group again and one [inaudible 00:38:16] Americans and first thing he tested everyone by giving them a math exam. Based on the math exam results, he divided them into those with high skills and those with low skills. And then he gave them two sets of data. This first set of data he said is looking whether skin treatment is helping rashes. Please look at the data, analyze the data, and tell me whether this treatment is helping rashes. So unsurprisingly here, people with better math and analytical skills did better at this task, but then he gave them another set of data.
[00:38:50] And this set of data he said is looking at whether gun control laws are reducing crime. Again, look at the data, analyze the data and tell me whether gun control laws are reducing crime. Now the difference between this set of data and the skin treatment set of data is that everyone had a very strong opinion about gun control laws, right? Either for or against, but they were very passionate. No one cared about skin keeping. They didn't really care about that. And their strong commitment to gun control laws either for or against made it more difficult for them to analyze the data. And in fact those who have better math skill did worse here because it seems like they were using their skills, not necessarily to find the truth, but rather to find fault with data that they weren't unhappy with. So I think there's like this common belief that biases is something that you find, you know, and people who are not very intelligent and that's absolutely wrong, absolutely wrong. If you know, A: You can find it in everyone, and B: If anything, studies like this suggest that perhaps the more intellectual we are, the more likely we are to have some of these biases. We use our skills to see what we want to see, to perceive what we want to perceive.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:06] That's a little scary because it really shows that the antidote to bias is not just more general education, but education in terms of being able to spot and counteract bias itself.
Tali Sharot: [00:40:20] Yes. But that is not to say that education is not important. Right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:24] Well I don't think, I mean I definitely don't think education is not important.
Tali Sharot: [00:40:28] No, no, no, no, no, absolutely. I'm not saying you said that, but I do know that some people conclude from that. So I want to make it clear that that's not what one is saying, but it's true. I don't think that countering changing biases that we have evolved over thousands and thousands of years is possible by education, not changing the biases, but again, we can change the outcome of those biases. And when I say biases, I don't mean like by season as in group biases, as you know, I think, you know, my race is better, I mean biases and how we process information. The kind of the thing that we go through. And when we have data and information and how we process that to each belief, those kind of biases are very hard to change just simply by education. But again, if we know them, there's things we could do to make sure that our conclusions are more accurate.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:26] In The Influential Mind, you've written that when -- and I'm paraphrasing here --but when trying to persuade, it's better to seed a new belief than to contradict an old belief. Can you give us an example of how that works and what that might mean?
Tali Sharot: [00:41:42] Yeah. So what we found, I'll tell you what we found, why I think that's true and then an example of how it works. So what we found was that when people encounter an opinion that doesn't fit their own, their brain kind of shuts down. We did this experiment where we put in this metaphorically speaking, shuts down, doesn't actually shut down, but we had an experiment. We brought people into our lab in Paris and we asked them to make decisions together. In this case, they had to make financial decisions to estimate real estate. And we recorded their brain activity. Both of you know, each pair, each person in the pair simultaneously. So each person was in a brain imaging scanner, but they could still interact over the internet while making these decisions.
[00:42:28] And what we found was when two people agreed on a question, each person was very likely, each person's brain was likely to show activity that suggested that they were including the information coming from the agreeing partner. And as a result, everyone became more confident because you know, the other person's agreeing with me, I become more confident. But when two people disagreed about a question, it looked metaphorically speaking like the brain was shutting down. It wasn't encoding the information coming from the agreeing partner. And because it was less likely to include information coming from the disagreeing partner. People's confidence in their own decisions didn't change much. So they learned that the other person disagreed, they stuck with their decision, and then the confidence didn't change. So what that means that if you go, you know straight on and you say, look, your belief is wrong.
[00:43:21] Your decision here is wrong, your opinion is wrong. Most likely the other person is probably not going to listen really to what you're saying and you're going to do something else in their head. But if you come on and say, “I agree with you”, if you come and say, “actually there's something that we agree on, there's a belief that we agree on, we have a similar motivation,” well then the other person is more likely to listen. So what we need to do is we actually need to start with something that we have in common. Meet anytime, you know, we're trying to change our belief, we need to think, “Well, is there something that we actually agree on? Can we potentially get to the same outcome without focusing on what we disagree on? Can we focus on what we agree on?”
[00:44:02] So a perfect example for this is a study that was conducted at UCLA where they wanted to see whether they can convince parents who didn't want to vaccinate their kids to vaccinate their kids. Now these parents who didn't want to vaccinate the kids, the reason that they didn't want to vaccinate their kids was because of the alleged link to autism. Right? Now the normal approach in the healthcare system, when parents don't want to vaccinate their kids because of the alleged link to autism, is to say, “Well, you know, you're absolutely wrong. There's no link and here's all the data.” And it's been shown that this approach doesn't work very well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:37] Well, yeah, and also you're an idiot and a child abuser and you should have your kids straight taken away from you. Those people are really fun at parties. Yeah, they're not very persuasive. People of course, digging their heels at that point and they're not even listening after that.
Tali Sharot: [00:44:50] Right? So this group at UCLA said, “Well, can we get to the same outcome which is we want parents to vaccinate their kids. That's the outcome that we want. But can we get to that without actually talking about what we disagree on, which is vaccination and autism, right? The link. Can we just talk about something else that we actually agree on?” So what they did was they highlighted the fact that these vaccines actually protect kids from potentially deadly diseases -- measles, mumps, and rubella. Now this is not something that the parents disagreed on, but it seems to have been forgotten in the heated debate. So by highlighting these, what the vaccines are actually for, and you know how they can actually protect their kids, they were much more likely to change parents' opinions and intentions to vaccinate their kids. So they started with a common motive, which is protecting the kids. A common belief rather than focusing on what they didn't quite agree on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:43] Gotcha. Okay. So how do we examine the other person's mind and find that common ground and go from there so that we can make an argument that's most convincing to them and not just to us?
Tali Sharot: [00:45:55] Right. So we're actually, humans are quite good at this. It's something that we're quite good at and we do it automatically. We don't even notice. And so it's called theory of mind. Theory of mind is simply the idea that I have a theory about your mind. I have a theory about what's going on in your mind. And actually I do this all the time. Automatically you're talking to someone, you're also, to some extent trying to figure out whether consciously or unconsciously what is going on in their mind. Now obviously because we're doing that from our own mind, we won't be a hundred percent accurate, right? Because this is all going to be colored by our own beliefs and our own motivations and so on and so forth. In fact, one of the ways we do that is we try to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, right?
[00:46:41] So we kind of take ourselves and say, “Well, if I was in their shoes, what would be my thoughts?” But that being said, it's not a bad, you know, it's a start. And so it is definitely possible to try and figure out, well stop for a minute because I don't think we do that. I don't think we actually, you know, say before we talk we use this information that we have in our head, which is what the other person believes, right? So you do have information. I mean the doctors know what the parents probably believe because they just told them and you know, they don't want to vaccinate their kids, so what's the reason they can figure that out and then they can use that to say, “Well, is there a better way for me to persuade the person in front of me?” I think it's kind of more a matter of just pausing for a minute and trying to kind of think about it. And a lot of the information is in our mind we just have to use it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:35] Also in The Influential Mind, you discuss a lot of principles such as using emotions and speeches for example, to synchronize the brains of people listening. And I'm oversimplifying that. Obviously synchronizing brains is kind of a sort of sounds like zombies, but you gave the moon speech from President Kennedy as an example. Let's discuss this because it was kind of eye-opening for me and it's shocking really to see how primed our brains are to share emotions with one another and how that can be used to persuade.
Tali Sharot: [00:48:08] Yeah, so there's two principles here. Emotion, contagion, and just the fact that we are programmed to have emotion affect the rest of our brain. So let's start with the second thing. So if something very arousing happens, let's say someone comes into your room with a gun, that's very arousing, right? In this case, it causes fear. Obviously what you would be doing immediately is focusing on that gun, focusing on that person holding that gun. Your attention will be directed there. You will remember that episode very well. So when anything emotional happens, the amygdala -- which is part of your brain that's really important for emotional processing -- it's a small tomato, little cherry tomato size of a structure that you have deep in your brain, it becomes activated and it does a few things. It drives your attention to that response to stimuli. But it also enhances your memory.
[00:49:07] It sits next to another part of the brain that's called the hippocampus, which is important for memory. And when something emotional happens, the amygdala talks to the hippocampus and they make memories that are easier to remember. Obviously the reason is that arousing situations, arousing stimuli are important. It's very important for our survival. And so that's why our brain has been set up that when the amygdala is activated and the amygdala is saying, “Hey, something's arousing happening here”, the whole brain listens, right? And so if you're giving a speech, and it doesn't actually have to be a negative thing, something arousing that's positive, like, you know, if someone comes into your room with a huge chocolate cake or you know, a person that is arousing sexually as well, we will, our attention will be drawn to that stimuli too. And so if someone's giving a speech and they're using emotion, it's more likely to attract attention.
[00:50:06] It's more than likely to make you remember. It's more likely to kind of focus you on that. The other interesting thing about emotion is that it's very easy to transfer emotion from one person to the other. We don't even notice it. But if many people around us are smiling, we're probably, there's a highly likelihood that we will smile too, right? We just automatically mimic the facial expressions of the people around us and not just the facial expressions. They're poses, their tone of voice. The speed of the way they talk and so on. And so everyone around you is stressed, you're more likely to be stressed. If everyone around you is relaxed, you're more likely to be relaxed. So if you're giving a speech and you are tensed, your audiences are more likely to be tensed. If you are kind of like happy and relaxed and funny and so they are more likely to feel those emotions.
[00:50:58] And the state that we are in is also going to affect the way that we interpret the information. So if you are in a happy mood, and I'm in a happy mood, we're more likely to interpret information in a similar manner. But if you are in a stressful mood and I'm in a happy mood, we will interpret the same information differently. So really it is a good idea to try to put your audience in the same kind of states that you are in or that you know that you want them to be in and you want to be in, in order for them to understand the story similarly to the way that you understand it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:35] So we prime people to understand data, stories, opinions, inspiration, whatever you want to call it, by also creating this similar emotional state in them that we have in ourselves, which sounds complicated, but it actually sounds like we're influencing other people's emotions by experiencing them ourselves. If we have this emotional contagion of which you spoke recently, so does that mean that we can influence other people by experiencing a certain kind of emotion and then they'll be more receptive to feeling like we're feeling, which makes them more receptive to interpreting data in a way that we want them to?
Tali Sharot: [00:52:11] Yeah, but I think most, a lot of this just happens naturally, right? But if the question is can we do it on purpose? I think we can’t. We can't do it on purpose. And also it is actually important to kind of acknowledge this because many times we don't want our emotion to affect other people. Like let's say you're a parent and you're always stressed. You don't want your kids to be stressed, right? So it's really important to keep this in mind. So if you, you know, you enter the home and you’re stressed, the likelihood that your kids will have this feeling within themselves is high. So we really want to be conscientious of this. And you know, tried to like whatever relaxation method or whatever before we interact with people who we don't want them to take, you know, our emotions and embody them themselves.
[00:52:58] Now that being said, the reason that emotion is so easily transferred from one person to the other is that emotion is information. And that's why we are wired this way. If you are fearful, if you're afraid, and I see on your face that you're afraid, I immediately become afraid. In evolutionary terms, it's a good thing because if you're afraid there might be something dangerous in our environment that I should be aware of and if I become afraid, that means I'm more likely to scan my surroundings for danger. Okay, so that would enhance the fact that I am taking in your emotion and it's affecting my action. It's enhancing my survival or on a positive side, if I see you are very excited and that makes me excited because of contagion, well that will then make me more likely to examine my surroundings for a reward because if you're excited, there's maybe a good reason for it. Maybe there's some kind of reward around and I should know about it too. So that's why emotion is so rapidly transferred from person to person without even the need of language. It's something that's very, very, very basic in every evolutionary bolt.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:10] Yeah, this of course makes sense when we just look at primates, even in captivity, we see this sort of emotional contagion. We can look at any animal, we can look at birds and see this. We just don't often apply these things to ourselves because we think we're human and totally different than everything else. But really we see this across the animal kingdom and we're no exception. And so what this conclusion here from the earlier point as well is that influence really isn't then just about the communicator. It's not about my word choice and my vocal tonality. It's about the emotional state of the receiver as well.
Tali Sharot: [00:54:44] Absolutely. Yes. Yes. And that's kind of goes back to what we said before. You have to take into account the state, the emotional state that the person in front of you is in. Because different emotional states lead to different ways that people process information. One of my favorite studies about how emotion transfers from person to person, how it affects their actions is actually on mothers and actually caregivers and babies. So this was a study that was conducted by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, where they invited caregivers and their babies. And then they put the babies in one room with, you know, some toys and so on. And some people to look after them and then they took the caregivers and they divided them into two groups. One group, they stress them out by giving them this kind of interview where we're judges were very critique.
[00:55:38] The interviewers are very critical of them. And the other group is just relaxed. They did, you know, nothing, nothing stressful happening. And then they gave the babies back to their caregivers. Now, half of the babies, their caregivers were now stressed. And half of the babies, their caregivers were not stressed. And what they found was when the baby was now held by a caregiver that was stressed, they themselves became stressed. And they could check that by looking at heartbeat, by looking at sweating and so on. And then even more interesting than that, not only did the babies become stressed when they encountered their caregiver who was stressed, they then were less likely to interact with strangers. So babies who were held by caregivers that just encountered a stressful event became stressed. And then we're less likely to interact with others. Now think about why this is. The signal that the baby received from the caregiver is something's not right, right?
[00:56:45] Potentially there's danger, I'm stressed, there's potentially danger. And that made the baby change their behavior and say, well, not, I mean, none of this is conscious, right? These are very young babies, but it made them, they will, if the environment is dangerous, I should change my behavior and maybe not interrupt with other people because perhaps, you know, some of them are dangerous. And that just goes back to show you again where, as you said, we’re animals like other animals and all of these codes that our brain used to trigger behaviors are very, very old and they're all triggered to make sure that we survive. And yeah, I've avoided harm as well as gaming board.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:33] And of course as we just discussed with the emotional contagion, we are wired to learn from those around us by observing same with the babies, but is this the same reason that babies love things like iPhones and television remotes because they're observing us interacting with these things constantly using them, probably too much. It sounds like this is behavior that at first I just thought was, “Oh, it's colorful and there's a screen. It's more interesting than a little plastic toy”, but it seems like it's almost universally gadgets and things like that are almost universally desired by little kids and babies. I mean, they want to eat them, but still, that to me was surprising that we can design things for kids and they don't care about them nearly as much as they care about an Apple watch.
Tali Sharot: [00:58:21] Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was quite surprised and how obsessed my kids were with my iPhone and I'm talking there were only a few months old. This is before, I mean obviously now they like to use that gadgets do stuff, but they're only a few months old and they really, what they wanted was the iPhone. That's what they wanted, more than their own toys. And as you said, even if the toys were colorful and had music and so on, no, they wanted the iPhone. Why did they always try to grab the iPhone? The reason that they tried to grab the iPhone is that they saw their parents interacting and not only the parents, really any adult around them interacting with these things that our fillings so intensely always carrying one around. And the conclusion was that these things are probably extremely important and extremely valuable. And so I want it too. None of this is conscious, right? Again, these are babies only a few months old. It's not that they're like explicitly going through these conclusions, but they are prying to want things that are the people want because those things are probably valuable, are probably helpful. And so I think anything that's -- we know that as well, right? It's not only babies, adults do the same.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:41] Yeah. I was going to ask, how do we apply this to adults? I'm not trying to persuade too many babies. Let's go with the adult version. Yeah.
Tali Sharot: [00:59:48] Right. So obviously if we see a lot of other people, and iPhone is a good example, like we see a lot of other people have iPhones, we want one too. But that's true for any kind of thing, right? If a lot of people are drinking or syringing, eating a certain food, driving a certain car, or wearing a certain coat, reading a certain book, watching a certain film, we tend to believe that those products are better. And we want them too.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:14] So can we program others by behaving in a certain way or is that too simplified?
Tali Sharot: [01:00:19] Absolutely. Absolutely. What you do and the choices that you make are observed, not necessarily consciously, consciously or unconsciously, but everyone around you, and it makes the people around you more likely to do the same. It's things as simple as, you know, if you sit in the restaurant and you're eating a certain thing and other people see it unconsciously, they're more likely to choose that as well.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:42] So does this kind of explain things like influencer marketing where it's like, oh -- I can't even think of one stupid famous person right now -- Let me see. So sort of Kardashian or something like that -- is using this app or is wearing this, so we want to emulate them. It's more desirable. Is that merely a social status thing or are we seeing the proliferation of this concept online causing purchasing behavior?
Tali Sharot: [01:01:07] Oh, online, it's everywhere. Because online you could see the behavior of many, many people. It's not just one or two. You can see the rating of many people. So anything that we observe the majority to do, we want to do the same. And absolutely marketers use this all the time, but you can use it in a positive way. Again, let's take an example from the British government. So they were trying to get people to pay taxes on time. Their normal approach was to send a letter to people who didn't pay taxes on time and to say, you know, it's really important to pay your taxes and that didn’t work very well. And so then they added one sentence and that sentence said, nine out of 10 people in Britain pay their taxes on time and that one sentence enhance compliance by 15%. And is thought to bring to the British government about 5.6 billion pounds. So simply highlighting the positive actions of others, especially when it's a majority, is a simple, inexpensive way to change behavior. And it's not new, marketers use this all the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:12] Okay. So we see that other people's emotional states, our own emotional states, we align our decisions, our desires with others. Can this also change something deeper? Are there other things in our brains that align with other people that we may or may not be conscious of?
Tali Sharot: [01:02:29] Yeah, so we did a few studies that showed that you can even change people's memories by telling them what other people remember. So we've got a study where we brought groups of five people into the lab and we showed them a film and then we asked each person individually about the film questions like, you know, what color was addressed of the woman in the film? And so on. And most people answered most of the questions correctly because they just observe the film. Then we brought them back and now we asked them the same questions, but we also showed them the answers of the other people who observed the film with them. But unbeknownst to them on many occasions, we falsified the answers of the other people such that we gave them false answers of all the other people.
[01:03:25] So if a person said, you know, I'd ask, “What is the color of the woman's dress on the film?” And you said, “Red.” And that was correct. What I did is I showed them that everyone else said white, right? And then I said, okay, so what is your answer? And what we found is at 70% of the time when people encountered recollections of others that did not fit their own, they would change their recollection to fit with the other people. And so you can say, well, does that really change their brains or are they just saying it to kind of fit in, right? Are they, well, we did two little tricks to answer this question. What we did is that we brought them back again and now we told them, “You know, this test that we did when we showed you the memories of other people, you know what?
[01:04:13] It wasn't really their memories. It was just a randomly generated answer by the computer. So now please do the test again and try to give me your real memory of the movie.” Half of the time people were not able to recall their true memories. Their memory has changed and they now gave us the false answer that we implanted in them, by giving, by showing them false answers of other people. Moreover, we found all of this was done while we're scanning people's brains. And what we found was that when people observed other people that had memories that were different from them, there was activity in two regions that I mentioned before, the amygdala, which is important for emotion and the hippocampus, which is important for memory and when those two regions were very activated, when you learned that everyone else is saying something different than you, there was high activity in those regions, you were more likely to change your memory at a later time to align with these false recollections of the majority. So we could actually see that there was a change in the trace, the memory trace in your memory as it was encoded by this part of the brain that is called the hippocampus.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:28] So that's a little scary if we can convince ourselves not only to believe something else, but also have our memory realigned to it from a legal perspective as an attorney, that's terrifying because that means that this is happening in court cases where witness testimony is sending people to prison for life. That means it's happening in relationships where people feel wronged by somebody or are remembering something in a totally different way. It's terrible because it means that history is being rewritten inside our own brains because of this. And that's kind of terrifying in many ways.
Tali Sharot: [01:06:05] Yeah. So I mean on the negative side, it can mean that we could have false memories because of social influence for example. And that is definitely something that's important for the legal system. Now there are good reasons why we aligned with the majority. And the reason is that most of the time if everyone is saying something and you're saying something else, most of the time the majority is right. Not always, right? But most of the time the majority is right when everyone agrees on something. So if everyone watched the movie and really everyone was saying both the dress was white and only you think it's red, you know, nine times out of 10, it's going to be white. So that's why we have this tendency, right? And it makes sense. It's not because we're stupid. It makes sense. It's kind of a heuristic because the other people have information and so it makes sense.
[01:06:57] Again, it means that sometimes we're going to get it wrong. Sometimes we're going to follow the herd and it is not a good thing, but our brain is set up in this way because on most occasions it makes sense. Now that there's another interesting thing is why can memories change so easily? Memories -- and this has nothing to do with social influence -- memories are actually built so that they can, every time you recall them, they can change, right? They can. What's known as reconsolidation, the beats and the memories can change, is that it gives you the opportunity to take in the new information that you now have to adjust your memory, right? To make it more relevant to your life now to all the knowledge that you gathered from the time that something happened until this time you recollect it. For example, let's say you know you meet someone and you really have a bad experience and you don't like them so much, and then you meet them again and the moment you meet them, that memory comes to mind.
[01:08:00] But then you know what, you have a really good experience with them. So it makes sense that now you don't want your old memory to be a negative one. It makes sense that you need to change it a little bit. Given what you've just learned. And this is why memories are not like video tapes. It's not that we video tape it and it stays like that forever. It changes every time it comes to mind, right? And I think we need people who are not really aware of it, that memories are something that are supposed to change. They're not supposed to stay stable.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:31] Right. We think of it as some sort of historical record, almost unassailable historical record of events. And what we don't realize is, it's not only is it your perception only of that event, but it's probably different now than it was weeks ago. But it doesn't say, “Hey, I updated this memory for you. So be careful. There's a different version of the file that you're looking at right now.” It just says, “Nope, this is always how it's been and this is exactly what happened in anybody who tells you that it's different is lying to you.”
Tali Sharot: [01:09:00] Memories are flexible because they allow us to adjust to new environments, right? Environments change, things around us change. And so the memories are going to change with them.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:10] Well, all right, so how do we counteract this especially in ourselves? I don't know if we can do much for other people. We can sit there and explain to them how memory works. But we just talked about how data doesn't persuade, is being aware of influence and being aware of bias and being aware of how our memories changes. Is this the only way that we can counteract some of this effect?
Tali Sharot: [01:09:31] Well when it comes to social influence, I do think it's really important to keep this in mind because of the fact that now we really, any decision that we make, we usually go online and we see what the opinion of other people are, right? And before you buy anything on Amazon, you look at the ratings of everyone else. You actually consult the crowd for everything. If you're choosing a doctor or even there are sites that allow you to consult other people’s experiences before you choose a date, right? On dating apps. It's especially important online because there something that we don't quite realize. If you go on Amazon and there's like 200 ratings, what we don't realize that those ratings are not independent from each other. Each person that went online and gave a rating, they already saw what the person before them put in.
[01:10:24] They saw the average of everything. Everyone that came before them. And that is social influence, that average of everyone that came before you, it's going to affect your own rating. Now, what that means is that the first person who rated a product is going to have a huge effect on everyone that comes after them. There was a study that was conducted where they actually manipulated rating on this site and what they found is that if they manipulated the first rating to be positive, the likelihood of ratings after that to be positive were enhanced by 25% and same thing with negative. If the first rating was negative, the likelihood of the average rating to be negative, the likelihood of the ratings after that to be negative was enhanced by 25%. So it is important to remember when we're going online, we're looking at ratings, we must remember that these people who gave the ratings are not independent from each other. They viewed the other people's ratings. And so we do need to take it with a grain of salt
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:21] Tali, thank you so much for coming on today. Lots of stuff that we could have gone on to talk about in The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About our Power to Change Others. There are a lot of really useful practicals in here. There were a lot of interesting studies as well. If we had more time, I would love to dive into these, but we'll have to have you back some time.
Tali Sharot: [01:11:40] Okay. Thank you so much for having me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:43] So great episode. A lot of little human flavonols in there. Oh well when you're told the facts, you dig your heels in. Not surprising, but kind of cool to see the science back that up and it was interesting for me though to see that smarter, more intelligent or traditionally intelligent people are just better at lying to themselves. That's a little scary.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:12:01] Yeah. That really tripped me up because you know, we're some smart folks and it's like, “Oh, we are definitely more susceptible to these biases.” And also the fact that your memories can be so easily manipulated, kind of just tears apart the fabric of what you think reality can be sometimes.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:17] Yeah. It really kind of makes you think, “Oh, all the stuff where I think I'm smarter than everybody else is actually working against me. Whoops! Maybe I should reframe those types of decisions. Or maybe I should reframe that type of self evaluation.” Great big thank you to Tali Sharot. The book title is the The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About our Power to Change Others. Of course, that'll be linked up in the show notes. Tweet at me your number one takeaway from Tali Sharot. I'm @JordanHarbinger on Twitter. I am also @JordanHarbinger on Instagram. And Tali’s Twitter will be linked up in the show notes along with the worksheets at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. This episode of the show was produced and edited by Jason DeFillippo. Show notes are by Robert Fogarty, booking back office and last minute miracles by Jen Harbinger and I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Review, rate the show on iTunes.
[01:13:07] We are cruising. We passed 800 just the other day. I'm excited to see how fast this show is regrowing, but we still need your help. So subscribe. Go to JordanHarbinger.com/subscribe if you're not already subscribed. Find out all the ways you can listen to us and share the show with those you love and even those you don't. We've got lots more like this in the pipeline. We're excited to bring it to you, and in the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen and we'll see you next time.
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