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Think about the last time you made a decision. What color shirt did you buy? What did you decide to eat for lunch? Did you decide to use the treadmill or take a swim? Every day we make countless decisions – some big, some small. We tend to think we are the ones fully in control of our choices. But Jonah Berger, the author of a new book “Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior” says not so fast. Without realizing it, others have a huge influence on almost every aspect of our life. In fact, he says it’s hard to find a decision or behavior that isn’t affected by other people. Jonah Berger joins guest host Nia-Malika Henderson to discuss the choices me make and why me make them.
- Jonah Berger Marketing professor, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylania
Featured Excerpt: Invisible Influence
Excerpted from INVISIBLE INFLUENCE: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior by Jonah Berger. Copyright © 2016 by Social Dynamics Group, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONThanks for joining us. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson of CNN sitting in for Diane Rehm. We like to think that we, as individuals, are in control of our own decisions. We like to think that we aren't overly influenced by others. That, we tell ourselves, is a bad thing. But author, Jonah Berger, says it's not that simple. In his new book, "Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior," Berger writes that it's hard for us to think social influence affects us because we can't see it.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONJonah Berger is a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. He joins me in studio today. Jonah, thanks so much for joining us here today. And we'll be taking your comments and questions throughout the hour. You can call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email at email@example.com. You can also join us on Facebook or Twitter. Jonah, what an interesting book you've written here.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONAnd I feel like -- and we'll get into this later, at some point, our political candidates should probably read this, but we can talk about that later. You start the book with an experiment. Tell us what you learned about the kinds of people who buy cars and what kind of cars they buy in Palo Alto.
MR. JONAH BERGERYeah. So a number of years ago, I was biking around Stanford University. I did my PhD out there and studying how people buy cars and why people buy the cars that they do. We left a bunch a surveys on windshields of BMW drivers' cars asking them why they bought their cars and how much did price affect you, how much did the features affect you, gas mileage and the like. And then, also asked them at the end of survey, said, well, think about someone else that you know who's bought a BMW, a friend of yours, a colleague and rate why they bought their BMW as well.
MR. JONAH BERGERAnd not surprisingly, when people rated themselves, they said, oh, things like price matter a little bit, things like features, gas mileage, performance matter a little bit and those same things matter when they looked at others. But there was on factor where we found a big difference. And that is, when people looked around and thought about social influence, how people are affected by those around them, everything from did you buy a car because you like how it makes you look, did you buy a car 'cause you thought your friends would like it, those sorts of things, they thought other people were susceptible to those influences, but not them.
MR. JONAH BERGERAnd what's so interesting about that is when you ask people about social influence, they'll usually say, oh, I recognize social influence exists. Look, you know, everybody drives the same car. Kids dress the same and they listen to the same music, but there's one place we don't see social influence and that's ourselves. We don’t realize how it affects our own behavior. And so that's what the book is all about, how to understand these often invisible influences and how they shape what we do.
HENDERSONAnd how does that work? I mean, how is it able, you know, sort of these influences able to remain hidden and invisible?
BERGERYeah, so a great example. A friend of mine is actually a lawyer in Washington D.C. and was telling my friend that was doing a little bit of work on social influence and research in the area and said, oh, god, you know, lawyers in D.C. are so susceptible to social influence. You know, they make partner and the first thing they do is they go out and buy a nice new car, like a new Mercedes or a new BMW. And I pointed out that they actually drove a similar car. I said, but don't you actually drive a BMW?
BERGERAnd they said, oh, no, but I drive a blue one. Everyone else drives a gray one. And what I love about that story is two things. One, we see influence, just not in ourselves, right? We think, oh, when I look to my own mind, I don't see any evidence of it. I don't think that I bought this car to fit in or to stand out or do something else. I think I bought it because I liked the color. But because we don't find evidence of it, we don't think it happens to us. But the second point is almost a little more subtle.
BERGERAnd that is we think of influence, we always think of a certain flavor of influence. We think about doing the same thing as someone else. When you're a kid, your parents say, you know, if Timmy jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge and, you know, conformity, doing the same thing as others is bad.
HENDERSONPeer pressure almost, yeah.
BERGERYeah, but doing the same as others. Influence isn't just that. In some cases, influence leads us to do something different than someone else and it often, actually, it tends to be similar and different at the same time. And so it's much more complicated than we might realize just from looking at the surface.
HENDERSONAnd the idea of wanting to be an individual very much wedded to the idea of what it means to be an American.
BERGERCertainly. And in American culture, being a good American, part of the norms of our culture, is all about being different. You know, you go into Burger King, they say, have it your way. You go into Starbucks, you get exactly the type of latte that you like, you know, with a little bit of sprinkles of this and something else. You know, our kids are taught to be unique and special snowflakes, different from everybody else. And so we want to think that we're different.
BERGERWe want to focus on the ways that we're different from everybody else. Well, actually, when we look at our behavior, we're more similar than we might realize.
HENDERSONAnd your last book was "Contagious," which explored why things catch on and that's sort of what this book is about, too. You seem to be obsessed with this idea. What intrigues you about these ideas about what catches on and why people do things?
BERGERYeah, you know, I grew up studying the hard sciences so I actually went to a high school in the D.C. area, Montgomery Blair over in Silver Spring and, you know, studied math, science and computer science and loved those tools, but always found the puzzles of people to be almost more interesting. You know, when we look around, we see a bunch of people dressing similarly, yet they don't realize it. When we look in ourselves, we don’t necessarily see it. We see products take off and others fail.
BERGERAnd so applying those rich tools of the hard sciences, whether it's experiments or data analysis or statistics, to really try to understand why we do what we do, even when we, ourselves, don't always realize it.
HENDERSONAnd how hard is it to study this, to study social influence?
BERGERIt's not -- I mean, it's not incredibly difficult. We've done hundreds of experiments over the years, both in the laboratory as well as looking at things in the world, like why people buy cars. We did a big study using some data over a million different car purchases to understand why people buy one thing rather than something else. So it's not incredibly difficult, but what's exciting about it is we often reveal things that you might not otherwise see.
HENDERSONAnd in some ways, this book, for some people, it might suggest kind of a bit of fatalism towards these invisible influences that shape our lives. Is this empowering or disempowering for people? I mean, on the one hand, people might think, oh, well, we're all zombies that are influenced by the invisible matrix or something.
BERGERYeah. Again, that word, influence, is such a negative word in our culture. We think about influence, we say, oh, mindless automatons. Everybody's doing the same thing. It's so bad to be influenced. But think for a moment if we couldn’t use influence at all. Imagine you had to pick a restaurant or a movie to see without any information from anybody else. You couldn't look at online reviews. You couldn't ask anyone.
BERGERImagine you had to figure out a car repair shop to go without ever having been or talked to anybody else. I would be extremely difficult. And so often, influence is actually very helpful. I think the key is we have to take advantage of its upsides and avoid its downsides. The first thing is just recognizing it occurs, seeing it out there in the world. But once we see it, we can do a lot of things better. We can make better choices. We can have more influence. We can even motivate ourselves and others.
BERGERLots of work in the book talks about, you know, how we can do better at the office or do better at home or motivate ourselves to exercise by understanding how to use peers as a tool. And so, like any tool, I think it can be very effective, but we got to understand how to use it. If you take a hammer and you flip it upside down, it's not going to be very helpful banging in a nail. The more we understand that tool, the more effective it can be and the more we can harness it.
HENDERSONAnd you talk about mimicry in the book. I think the chapter is "Monkey See, Monkey Do." And you give all these examples of, say, if you're in a meeting and somebody eats a chip or touches their face, people are more likely to do that by seeing someone else do it as well. Talk about that.
BERGERSure. So there's something in psychology called behavioral mimicry and it's kind of known as the chameleon effect. And when you think about a chameleon, you think about a little critter that runs around sort of changing its color in relation in the environment. Humans actually do very much the same thing. So if you're sitting next to someone and they cross their arms, you're more likely to cross your own arms.
BERGERIf that person starts scratching their face, you might scratch your face as well. And that's sort of cute, the fact that we imitate others around us. But it actually has some pretty profound consequences. So some scientists, for example, did a study on negotiation and they looked at two people negotiating over a tough thing. So imagine, for example, you're buying a house and you have a particular price you want. The seller has a totally different price they want.
BERGERAnd out of a couple rounds of negotiating, the two of you haven't really gotten closer to a deal. How do we close those deals in negotiation? And when they looked at a bunch of successful negotiations, they found that a lot of them had one characteristic in common, which is if people mimicked on another in that negotiation, they were about five time as likely to reach a successful outcome. So merely saying, hey, if I notice you're crossing your arms, well, I'll subtly cross my own arms.
BERGERIf I notice that you're turning your head slightly, I might turn my head slightly a little bit as well and that mere fact that we look more similar, acting more similar can encourage or sort of grease the skids of social interaction. It can make us trust each other more. It can facilitate social interactions and it can lead to a whole host of beneficial outcomes. If you're a waiter or a waitress, for example, similarly, you imitate your customer's tip. So they say, oh, you know, I'd like the Cobb salad, extra chicken with dressing on the side.
BERGERAnd you say, okay, you'd like the Cobb salad, extra chicken, dressing on the side. You get about 70 percent higher tips. You know, daters, when you're on a date mimicking the person you're on a date with leads to more successful outcomes and more likely to get a second date. And so, again, it's very subtle, not a huge thing in the world. Just changing your behavior a little bit, even changing the language you might use in interaction, but it makes people feel more familiar.
BERGERIt makes us all feel like we're part of the same tribe or part of the same group. It facilitates trust and makes interactions go better.
HENDERSONAnd this is why Hillary Clinton adopts a southern accent when she's in the South and sounds like a Midwesterner when she is in Chicago.
BERGERProbably. And, you know, we've all had this happen, though, right? I mean, if you work somewhere for a while and you find out that somebody went to the same high school in the same small town far away, suddenly that kinship you feel, that, oh, we have something in common makes you a little bit more closer. Makes you trust somebody a little bit more. And so that happens naturally and we can even take advantage of that to make our own selves more successful, whether at home or at the office.
HENDERSONThe practical applications of mimicry, that's a fantastic idea. Actually, we're going to go to break here. Coming up, more of our conversation with Jonah Berger. He is the author of "Invisible Influence."
HENDERSONWelcome back. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson with CNN sitting in for Diane Rehm, in conversation today with Jonah Berger, who has written a book called "Invisible Influence." Jonah, you talk in your book about Britney Spears and Harry Potter. Apparently, they have something in common.
BERGERThey do and something interesting, quite interesting in common. So, you know, think about the last product or the last movie service that was a hit. You know, think about Chobani yogurt coming out of nowhere to be a huge seller at the grocery store. Kale or, you know, J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter or a Britney Spears song. You know, imagine we could rerun the world, you know, sort of stop the world, go back in reverse, spin it again -- would those things have been popular again?
BERGERAnd often, we think yes. We think, sure, the things that are popular have some characteristics that make them completely different. So maybe Britney Spears wasn't the best singer but she was a good dancer and she had a good team behind her and she was on the Mickey Mouse Club and she was destined for success or, you know, J.K. Rowling was such a good writer she was bound to be a hit.
BERGERWhen you actually look at those things a little more carefully though, you see that J.K. Rowling actually sent her manuscript to dozens of publishers. They all turned her down. She almost didn't get to make Harry Potter in the first place. You know, many famous artists or actors. Walt Disney, for example, you know, was told that he didn't have any talent. Elvis wasn't a big hit originally. And so if even people that are in positions of power, those folks that you think would pick the winners and the losers, can't tell the difference, how can we expect those things to actually be better than everything else?
BERGERSo Serenity's (sp?) Research looked that this and they essentially looked at how social influence might play a role. And imagine going to a website, listening to some songs and downloading whatever songs that you like. So, you know, 40 or so songs, you can pick whichever you want and download them. People did that. But a separate set of people did that in a way where they went, they downloaded songs, but they could see what other songs people liked. So imagine you could see how popular that song was in terms of how many times other people had downloaded before you got there. And what they found is, not surprisingly, social influence led to a little bit of conformity, a little bit of imitation.
BERGERSo the rich got richer, the popular things got more popular, the less popular things got less popular. And that kind of makes sense. People follow others. But what was interesting is they ran multiple versions of that social influence world. So in some, people were randomly assigned. Some people got assigned to one world. Some people got assigned to another. And what they found is that the song that won out in one world was actually quite different than the song that won out in another. So a band called, I think, Metro 52, for example, a punk band, did very well in one world but actually almost last or second to last in another world.
BERGERAnd so how could it be that the same song ends up being really successful in one place and really unsuccessful in another? And I think a good way to think about this is almost an analogy with parking at a country fair. Have you ever been to a country fair? You get there first. There's a big, empty field, you can park wherever you like. Whoever parks first, picks the direction of parking. There's no signs. You pick. You park north, you park west, you park east, whatever it is. But then the people that come next park in the same direction, right? They see a car, they're going to park parallel to that car. But if a different person got there first and they happened to park a different way, the whole parking lot might look completely different.
BERGERAnd so the same thing with songs in this case. If the first few people like a certain genre of music or a certain style that can shape what everyone else ends up doing later on. And so it can have a big impact on what becomes popular, but also even a big impact on how a meeting goes, for example. We've all been meetings with a group and, you know, the first person says one thing and everyone else falls in line and the group ends up going one way, where it could have gone a completely different way.
HENDERSONAnd that's, in some ways, maybe the downside of this tendency to imitate. It might make you less willing or less courageous to dissent, right? And there are all sorts of example of this -- the Challenger explosion, for instance. A lot of people have looked at that and seen group-think get in the way of that. How do -- how can people find the courage to dissent when needed?
BERGERWhat's so neat about dissent is the mere fact of one person dissenting -- just like we talked about imitation -- can make a lot of other people feel more comfortable dissenting as well. So if we're in a meeting, for example, we should pick someone whose job it is to be the designated dissenter. Their job is to stand out and disagree with the rest of the group. And it's usually tough to do that on your own, right? Everyone follows the boss. Whatever the boss says, everyone kind of goes in line.
BERGERBut if we make someone's job to stand out and say, look, I disagree with these things, not only will they disagree, and not only will people who agree with their disagreement say what they feel comfortable with, even someone who says something completely different will feel open to say what they're thinking. The mere fact that there's dissent in the room suddenly makes it a matter of opinion. And if it's a matter of opinion, well now everyone is going to feel comfortable sharing theirs.
BERGERAnd so it's really important, I think, about how do we make sure we get a diverse set of opinions? And social media today has this problem in spades. We all see news and information that fits our existing beliefs, while exposed to things our friends like -- friends tend to be similar to us -- and so we're sort of in echo chambers where, you know, the right and the left both think they're correct but don't really have a chance to hear what the other side is saying.
HENDERSONAnd what does this mean for sibling relationships? I mean, these are very intimate, close-quarter relationships that you have. If you have multiple siblings, they share a room with you, you see them every day -- what do we know about sibling relationships and mimicry and influence?
BERGERWhat's so interesting about siblings -- and if any of your listeners have an older brother or a younger brother or sister...
BERGER...yeah, I have a younger brother myself -- is you look at family dynamics and you see a common pattern. Where the first and the rest of the kids, second kids, let's say there are only two, end up being a little bit different, right? So the first kid ends up being the smart one, the second one's the funny one. If the first one's a sports one, the second one is the artsy one. And within these families, there's a desire to differentiate. And sometimes we think about younger siblings as following their older brother and sister. But they also realize that that niche is filled in some sense.
BERGERThere's some really great data that shows that elite athletes -- so there's World Cup Soccer players or, you know, fantastic athletes in any domain -- tend to have older brothers or sisters, older siblings. And if you look, it's interesting. You might say, oh, well maybe they play the same sport. So if your older brother or sister plays baseball or softball, you hang out around the baseball or softball field, you get better at baseball or softball. But it actually turns out that those older brothers or sisters tend to play a different sport than you.
BERGERAnd so, yes, they train you in sports. They encourage you to be athletic. But they also encourage you to be different, to do something else, to stand out, to find your own path, because that original path is kind of taken.
HENDERSONThat's slot is filled by the annoying older brother or sister. I have both of those. So we got an email from Jeffrey in Maryland. He says, please ask the author to talk about the influence of the images we see in advertising on consumers and businesses.
BERGERYeah. So advertising has a huge impact on our behavior. But I think one part that's particularly interesting is the frequency we -- which we see those advertisements. So you sometimes wonder, well, why do we see ads so frequently? Why do we see the same ad over and over again, doesn't get annoying? But the mere fact that we've seen something more, actually makes us like it more. The mere fact that we've seen it two times rather than one makes us prefer it.
HENDERSONWhich is different than the idea of familiarity breeding contempt.
BERGERThat is, yes. And if we see something a thousand times, for example, we might get tired of it. But if we see something at least a few times, we start to like it more. It even turns out this plays a role in our attractions to our significant other. So a great experiment, for example, had students rate how attractive they found some pictures. And those students were actually rating people that had come to class. But those people had either come to their class a few times, not many times, or a whole bunch of times. And what they found was that the pictures of students that had come to class a lot were rated as more attractive. Merely showing up more often made them seem more attractive.
BERGERAnd so for the single folks out there, you know, you find someone at the office that you like, show up more often in the office and they might like you too.
HENDERSONOne of the things you look at is brand logos. And you trace the prominence of brand logos on expensive handbags and clothing back to the Industrial Revolution. Talk about that.
BERGERYeah. So one interesting thing we don't think, I think, as much about is the signaling value of what we buy. So whether it's the car we drive or the clothes we wear, we don't just buy those things for what they do. We buy them for what they say about us. And so if you think about it, you know, many years ago it used to be that wealth and status were highly correlated. You didn't have status unless you were wealthy. And that came from having a title, right? It was passed down from generation to generation. But then, eventually, it became possible for individuals to create their own wealth, to move beyond their family, whatever it was to get a new status for themselves.
BERGERAnd so consumer goods became a marker of that status, a signal of how wealthy you are. And in today's day and age, it's not just about wealth, it's everything from politics to political opinions to what teams you support. But what we buy is very much a signal of who we are. And it's interesting, when you look at handbags, for example, or you look at sunglasses, you might think that, well, more expensive ones have larger logos because you want to show everyone that you bought something expensive.
BERGERActually, the expensive stuff often has smaller logos. In some sense, because you want to differentiate yourself from the folks that bought something big, you buy something small instead, almost a subtle signal to communicate with those in the know but not everybody else.
HENDERSONRight. That's fascinating. We're going to go to a caller. Mark from Traverse City, Mich., you are on the air with "The Diane Rehm Show."
MARKThank you very much, very interesting topic. I was wondering, going back to your discussion of negotiations and whether -- the question is whether the person in the superior position is the one that mimics the inferior or whether the inferior mimics the superior?
HENDERSONThank you, Mark.
BERGERThat's a good question, Mark. And it turns out that any sort of mimicry actually can be positive, whether you're imitating someone who has a higher status than you or imitating someone who may be a lower status than you, the idea is that person sees you as more similar. And you could say, well, how might other people see you? And maybe you don't want to mimic the inferior person because you don't want others to see you that way. But at least the other person in that interaction, doing the same thing as them will make them like you more and facilitate that interaction.
HENDERSONAnd mimicry, when it comes to naming your baby after a destructive hurricane, not a good idea and something that doesn't happen. You talk about baby names here, and Katrina, particularly, as a baby name.
BERGERYeah. We looked to try to see if we could predict what becomes popular next. So lots of businesses would obviously like to predict the future. What color is going to be popular next year? What style is going to be popular next year? We looked around for good data. The best data we could find was baby names. And so we looked at whether we could predict what names are going to be popular in the future. And we noticed something interesting. After a big hurricane like, say, Hurricane Katrina, there was a spike in names associated with that hurricane. And you might say, well, that doesn't make any sense. After Hurricane Katrina, why would you name your child Katrina?
BERGERBut it wasn't spikes in the name Katrina. It was spikes in the names that start with the sound K. So parents weren't necessarily naming their kid Katrina. They were naming their child Katherine or Katy or even Carl that starts with the same hard K or hard C sound. Why did that happen? And so, again, we looked at hundreds of baby names data, about 125 years, millions of births across the United States, and what we found is that names are more likely to be popular when names that sound similar have been popular recently. So if L names are popular, let's say Loren is very popular this year, then that makes other names like Lisa or Lindsey more likely to be popular in the future.
BERGERParents aren't picking the exact same name. They recognize maybe that that name is over popular already. They don't want to do exactly the same thing. But that L sounds more familiar, an idea we talked about of mere exposure. The more you see it or hear it, the more you like it. And so other L names might actually sound better than they would have sounded otherwise.
BERGERAnd so, again, I think what's neat here is that we're not just being similar. We're not picking the same name that was popular. And we're not just being different. We're not picking a name completely different than popular before. We're being similar and different at the same time in sort of an optimally distinct way. We're figuring out how do we be similar and different and maintain both these motivations concurrently?
HENDERSONI'm Nia-Malika Henderson with CNN. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join this discussion, call 1-800-433-8850. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can also find us on Facebook and -- or send us a tweet. Jonah, we were talking about names. And you essentially said mimicry is a part of this. But if it's a K -- if Katrina is a popular name, then a K name might become popular. And I guess another example might be if Apple is a popular name, then maybe people will start naming their kids, I don't know, Oranges or Apple or something like that. I don't know if that -- I mean, has that happened? I mean, is Blue Ivy catching on as a name, do we know?
BERGERWhat I love about names is they're in some sense a really neat laboratory to study human behavior. You know, no one's selling names. They don't have a price. There's no one advertising one name or another. Yet it's a wonderful laboratory to study social dynamics, to study these motivations that are out there. You know, we hear Katrina a lot in the news when Hurricane Katrina has happened. We can have negative associations with it. But the fact that we've heard it more often makes it feel more familiar and makes other similar names sound better. Or the fact that we've heard Blue Ivy or a name like Apple can change what other words sound good to us and sound a little nice and change what baby name we pick.
BERGERYou know, all parents -- and, again, a great, funny thing -- you know, all parents say how I want to pick my child's name. I want it to be different from everybody else. Everyone has the unique reasons for picking it. It was my uncle's name, it was my cousin's name. And yet when the kids get to first or second grade, you know, they walk in the first-grade classroom and there's a whole bunch of other kids that have a similar sounding name. And so even though we're trying to be different, even though we're trying to separate ourselves from everybody else, these influences often lead us to be more similar than we might think.
HENDERSONAnd in some ways, that dynamic -- being similar but different -- goes into what happened with automobiles in the early days of automobiles, in trying to make this transition from horse-and-buggy days to people getting comfortable with automobiles. Talk about that.
BERGERIt's tough to remember this today, when the automobile we see, you know, thousands of times a day. But originally, when automobiles came out, they were scary things. You know, people were used to riding horses or donkeys around. They hadn't seen this automobile, this moving mobile. There was no horse attached to it. You know, people in the suburbs or rural regions thought it was the devil's work. How is this car automating itself. And so it was a big challenge to get it to catch on. People and horses were scared, you know? Imagine your horse, you're used to seeing another horse next you. You pull up at, not a stoplight but whatever it might have been in those days and you see a buggy without a horse. You say, how is this thing moving?
BERGERYeah, horrifying to those horses. And so one interesting inventor had a clever idea. He said, okay, I get it. People are scared of these new things. They haven't seen them before. I'm going to come up with an invention that will help these new automobiles succeed. And what's so interesting about this is I think we're taught -- whether in business school or in life -- that it's good to be different. You know, there's this myth of sort of the nonconformist, someone who's different from everybody else, standing out. You know, that's the way to go. You look at companies like Apple. We think they're successful because they've been so different.
BERGERActually there are many products that Apple launched that have failed. And many of the products of theirs that have succeeded, they weren't the first. They were actually the second or third to market. So is different always a good thing? In this case, is being different from the existing transportation always good? And this inventor had a neat idea. He said, rather than making it different, I'm actually going to make it more similar. So he actually put a fake horse head on the fron5...
BERGER...of these automobiles, called the Horsey Horseless. It was basically a fake horse head. It was hollow inside. You could fill it with gasoline to help power the car. But it also made people more comfortable with this new innovation. Rather than it looking completely different, it looked a little bit more similar, a little more familiar. And it turns out that that's actually quite important. If you look why new innovations succeed, a lot of times it's about cloaking those innovations in a skin of familiarity.
BERGERTechnology may be great. You know, Segway comes out. Looks like it's going to be amazing. It'll change transportation forever. But if it's so different, people actually don't want to adopt it. It's not going to end up being successful. It's about finding that right balance between similarity and difference and showing people that different things are actually more familiar than they might think.
HENDERSONAnd you also use the example of the TiVo box, initially looked very similar to the VCR box. But inside the guts were very different and the technology.
BERGERYeah, TiVo had a similar challenge. So, again, today, now a number of years later, you know, we're used to controlling our entertainment. We're used to deciding what we want to watch and when we want to watch it. When TiVo came out and it basically said, you know, your television at your fingertips, your own television channel. People sort of said, huh? What do you mean, my own television channel? But they said, well, how can we make it easier for people to understand? So they actually made it look like a VCR. They called it a digital video recorder. We were familiar with video recorders. And making it look like a VCR made folks more comfortable.
HENDERSONComing up, your calls and questions for Jonah Berger. His book is "Invisible Influence." We'll be right back.
HENDERSONWelcome back. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson with CNN, sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm here with Jonah Berger, who has written a new book called "Invisible Influence." Jonah, we've got an email from Frank in Pittsburgh, and he wants to talk about politics. When we consider that marketing techniques are increasingly being applied to campaigns and politics, what does that say about the free choice of a voter in a voting booth? Is there such a thing as a free democracy, or is it that the politician with the best marketing wins?
BERGERThere's always free choice. We always have an opportunity to do what we want. There will always be forces out there that are trying to persuade us, but we at the end of the day make the choice. I think the more that we understand how influence works, the more that we can see it in the world around us, the more we can decide to choose our influence, to figure out how it can help us be better off and not worse off.
BERGERBut politics is a very interesting domain to study influence. I was recently working with an organization that wanted to get conservatives to support clean energy. And if you think about it, clean energy should very much be a conservative issue. It helps people save money, something conservatives like, it reduces our reliance on oil, foreign oil, something that would help national security, all things that conservatives should support, and so you would think that they would support wind energy and solar and those sorts of things, but they really haven't.
BERGERAnd when it comes down to it, when you ask people why, one politician put it very nicely. He said, you know, if this is something that Al Gore supports, it's probably not for me. And what I think is so interesting about that is we think about political issues as there being a right answer or a wrong answer, it's all about the issue itself. And it's really again not just about the issue, it's about what it communicates about you to say that you're for or against this issue.
BERGERThere's some great research that looked at exactly this. They gave Democrats and Republicans a particular political policy. They said, do you support it or not. You know, how much do you like it or dislike it. And they found that people's views totally depended on the party they were told supported that policy. So if Democrats were told the Democrats liked it, they said great, I support it. If Democrats were told Republicans liked it, they said no way, I'm not for it and vice versa.
BERGERAnd so we often use who is supporting something as a signal of whether we should support it or not, and sometimes that can lead us astray. We need to be careful and actually look at these issues, not just always go for the shortcut and the easy way out but think about, well, not only what does it signal about me, but what is this issue really about, how can I make sure I understand the issues I care about and support the causes that are important, not just the ones that are convenient.
HENDERSONSo partisanship ultimately trumps sort of policy and presentation.
BERGERAnd I think that's the big challenge in today's sort of very stratified political world, very divisive debate. You know, anything that's associated with the Democrats the Republicans won't touch, and anything that's associated with Republicans the Democrats won't touch. And so it's almost like, you know, the Yankees versus the Red Sox in baseball. It's become really a rivalry in some sense, rather than two political parties that are trying to work towards the same goal.
BERGERAnd so I think really understanding, well, why do people support policies, and how can we change the associations, we did some research showing, you know, even in these cases where it's about what something signals, if you focus on a higher-level identity, you can kind of avoid some of this divisiveness.
HENDERSONYou talk about aspiration groups and that leveraging aspiration groups can be more effective than giving information about the harmful effects of things, like smoking and unhealthful foods and college binge drinking. Can you talk a bit about all that? What is an aspiration group, and how is that -- how can that be used to modify behavior?
BERGERYeah, and again I think when we think about something like smoking or like binge drinking in college, we think it's about information. So you look at public service announcements or what public health organizations do, they tell students drinking is bad, drinking will be hurtful, drinking will impair your judgment, these are all the reasons you shouldn't drink. But a lot of times students do it anyway. A lot of smoking campaigns have told people don't smoke, you know, it's bad for you. They do it anyway.
BERGERAnd so we wanted to figure out could we actually change behavior. We did a study a number of years ago at Stanford University, where we put up posters in undergraduate dorms trying to get them to behave a little bit more healthy to avoid binge drinking. And some of those posters were all about information, here are the downsides for drinking, don't do it, and some of those posters were more about identity. What does it signal about you to drink, you know, and here are some of the type of people that might drink.
BERGERAnd in this case we associated it with an undesirable identity, a group students wouldn't want to associate with. And we found that those posters that were about identity were much more effective than the posters that were about information because the decision when you're a college student isn't just is this healthy or not, it's about what does it say about me to drink or not drink, what does it say about me to engage in this behavior. And so whether it's public health campaigns or other issues, I think we need to think about not just, well, what's the information, but what does it communicate.
BERGERDoes it communicate something desirable, or does it associate with an aspiration group? As you mention an aspiration group is a group we want to be associated with. You know, some research looked at old anti-drug ads and those old say no ads, and they actually found in some cases they increased drug use, in part because they made people realize that the cool kids were using drugs. You know, the cool kids are going to ask you if you want to use drugs, you need to be ready to say no. Some kids are sitting there going, I had no idea the cool kids were using it. If the cool kids are using it, maybe I should check it out, as well.
BERGERAnd so thinking about not just what a behavior is but what does it mean.
HENDERSONTalking with Jonah Berger, who has written a book, "Invisible Influence." We're going to go to a caller. We're going to go to Michael, who is in Anacortes, Washington. Michael, you're on the air.
MICHAELHi, yeah, I had a question about how the momentum of this can be switched back. You know, it seems like if people start not liking something, and that starts building momentum, and other people take that cue and don't like it, but then it stops. Like a lot of artists experience this. Mozart did. Mozart was very much not appreciated and kind of rejected in his time, and then he -- you know, he wasn't liked by his class. The upper class didn't like the way he acted, so they kind of rejected him, and then everybody else kind of rejected him, following in suit, along the lines of, you know, the way you're talking about how people treat their opinion.
MICHAELBut then it changes. What can stop that and, you know, that momentum and start rolling it back the other way?
HENDERSONThank you, Michael.
BERGERYeah, and first of all, I think realizing the power of influence in these situations is helpful, you know, understanding, seeing it, recognizing it, being able to say, okay, influence is what's driving this. But particularly it sounds like you're interested in artists. I don't know whether it's art generally or music in particular. But often some of this is about differentiation. When an artist gets too popular, people actually stop liking it.
BERGERWe all love Justin Bieber, right? But, you know, when an artist goes mainstream, an Indie rock act, for example, the folks that liked it before always go, oh, you know, I like their older stuff. And what's the chance that most acts out there, their older stuff was actually better? You know, part of it is that we want to differentiate ourselves. What used to be a good signal that we were different, listening to something that not everyone else liked, now if everyone else likes it, well, it's just a signal of going along with the crowd, and so now we have to figure out a new signal, jumping on to something else.
BERGERAnd this very much drives cycles of fads and fashions, whether it's how people dress or what music is popular, some of this is about what does it communicate. You know, it communicates neat and cool, other people glom onto it, it becomes popular, but then that original subculture that was associated with it, they move on to something else because now it's not a desirable signal, so it loses its meaning. You know, eventually you go to Thanksgiving dinner, and, you know, grandma says what's up, or she says, you know, your dress is on fleck, and now you say, well, maybe I don't want to dress like that anymore, maybe I don't want to say that phrase anymore. And so it changes the meaning of the signal, and people move on to something else.
HENDERSONWe have got an email from Alex. Is any of your research applicable to the question of how we choose who we marry? Yes, I mean, in reading the book, you talk about relationships.
BERGERWe definitely think that marriage is our own choice, you know, that there's one right person out there for us, one soul mate, two peas in a pod, you know, one Cinderella, male or female, who will fit that glass slipper on, and they'll be ours. Yet if you look at the data, there's something kind of peculiar. Most people meet the person they're going to marry either at home or at the -- at school or at the office. And that makes sense. We spend a lot of time at school, at the office, but what chance is it that that one person in a million or 100 million happens to work at the same place we do or happen to take that same 9:00 a.m. class that we took as an undergraduate.
BERGERAnd so that study we talked about before, where people found people more attractive seeing them more often, I think has a lot to tell us about this idea. The mere fact you've seen someone more makes them look more attractive, and it can make you like them more. And so in this case we end up falling in love, often, with people that we've seen a lot, whether they're at your office, whether you went to class with them a few times. The more time you see that person, the more you like them, and suddenly you change your feelings towards them a little bit.
BERGERAnd so does that entirely shape who we marry? No. But it's also not entirely within our own control. Often who we end up marrying or ends up being our life partner sort of grows on us like ivy. People love to say, you know...
HENDERSONIs that poison ivy, or...
BERGERNo, a good type of ivy, ivy on a nice brick wall.
HENDERSONA positive ivy, blue ivy.
BERGERBut it's not in most cases we see them, and suddenly we knew. That doesn't happen to most of us, right. They grow on us, and then that familiarity leads to liking, and eventually we pair up.
HENDERSONWe've got another email from Paul in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He asked, have you run into people who aren't influenced by the opinions and pressures of others and seem to go their own way without any second thought or doubts? He spent many of his adult -- many hours of his adult life listening to friends and family tell him that they just don't understand how I seem to live without much interest in how the world lives or thinks, relentless individualism, as my dear and patient husband refers to it. Are people like me considered abnormal, Paul wants to know.
BERGERWell, Paul, no, there are other people like you. Certainly certain people are more susceptible to influence than others. But what I think is most intriguing about influence is it's not just the people that behave the same way as others that are susceptible to influence. If we see people dressing a certain way, and we pick something different, we're equally susceptible to influence. If we're avoiding something because it's popular, avoiding something because others are doing it, we're not entirely individuals, we're just as influenced as everybody else, we're just being influenced in a different direction.
BERGERIn some sense, influence is like a magnet. Sometimes it attracts, something we do the same thing as others, but sometimes it repels. Sometimes we do something different because others are doing it. There's a great quote, I don't often quote "South Park," but this is a good one, where they say, you know, you can't be a nonconformist if you don't drink coffee. And what's funny about that is sure, there's a group of people that see themselves as nonconformist, and they all drink coffee, and they do what they do, but they're part of a group. They're part of a group of other people that behave similarly.
BERGERAnd so while you might not be the same as everybody else, there's often a group of people that we want to be similar to. We may differentiate in that group, you know, we may buy one color of a car, and someone buys a different one, but being influenced isn't a bad thing. It's part of our DNA, it's part of who we are, and the more we understand that the more we can take advantage of it.
HENDERSONI'm Nia-Malika Henderson with CNN. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. One of the things you talk about, Jonah, you ask the question in your book why do we check our email all the time, but we don't seem to be concerned about checking our energy bill.
BERGERYeah, so if I asked you what your energy bill was last month, you'd probably give me -- you're giving me a very quizzical look.
HENDERSONNo idea, none.
BERGERYou have no idea, no clue what our energy bill is, and yet we'd all argue that saving the environment is important. So some scientists were interested in how can we help people save the environment. So they went out, they knocked on a bunch of doors, they gave different people different appeals. Some people, they said hey, saving the environment, using less energy will save you money. People said okay.
BERGERDifferent group of people, they said helping the environment, using less energy will make you a better citizen. And the third group, they said using less energy will help you be good to the world around you. When they asked all those groups will this change your mind, this particular pitch, everyone said. When they actually looked at the data, no one actually changed their behavior. In fact, there was only one pitch that was actually effective in changing people's behavior, and that was telling people that their neighbors were doing something, telling people that their neighbors were using energy-efficient this or telling their neighbors that their neighbors were turning down their heat in the winter or turning up their air conditioning not so much in the summer encouraged people to save power.
BERGERAnd so a company has actually taken advantage of this, a company called Opower, and some of you may actually get bills from them. But they send out a very simple energy bill, but rather than just saying here's how much energy you've used, they say here's how much energy you've used, and by the way, here's how much energy one of your neighbors has used, someone who lives in a similar household to you, in a similar neighborhood to you.
BERGERAnd what they found is this had a huge impact on how much energy people use. Everybody wants to save energy, everybody knows that saving energy is right, but how do we motivate people to do it. And it turns out that social comparisons are really powerful here. Knowing that someone down the block has used less energy than you makes you go, man, well, I'm a little competitive, you know, why are they doing better than I am, I want to do a little better.
BERGERWhether it's SAT scores or golf handicaps, as soon as we know how well others are doing, we get that competitive juice flowing, and we want to do a little better. And so social comparisons, whether we're saving energy or encouraging students to do better in school, are a powerful tool to motivate people to take action.
HENDERSONAnd you include some very practical advice about helping people achieve their goals in this book. What can managers, teachers, parents, students learn about motivation from your book?
BERGERWe were very interested in motivation, and part of it came from my experience, actually, as a soccer coach. So I used to coach AYSO soccer in California, U12 boys. Calling me a coach is a little bit generous. I was a little more of, like, a camp counselor sort of trying to rein them in for an hour, an hour and a half, a couple times a week. But I noticed something unusual. When we played games, we always played very hard, we had a great team, they always tried very hard, but we seemed to do better when we were losing.
BERGERSo when we were down by a goal or down by a couple goals, we always seemed to come from behind and win, and when we were winning, we always seemed to find a way to lose. And so I wondered, well, could that teach us something about motivation. So with a great colleague of mine, we actually looked at a whole bunch of NBA basketball games, tens of thousands of NBA games, and looked at what led to winning.
BERGERSo we looked at the score at halftime and the score at the end of the game. And we found that teams that were winning at halftime, not surprisingly, tended to win. If you're up at halftime, you're better off than losing. You're points ahead. It's hard to catch up. But there was one point that being behind was good, and just a little bit. Teams that were down by one were actually more likely to win than teams that were ahead. Even though they're down by a point, they're worse teams, they have to catch up, they actually came out of the half more motivated, fired up, closed the gap, were more likely to win the game.
BERGERAnd so I think that has some important implications for managing teams or managing other individuals, how can we set people up to see themselves as just a little bit behind. Not far behind, if we get too far behind we can be demotivated, but just behind by a little bit. If we're at the office, for example, how can we compare someone to -- someone else is doing just a little bit better than I am, a co-worker who's doing a couple more sales calls a month or performing just a little bit better.
BERGERFor students, for example, you know, we give people the valedictorian title. You're the best student in the class. But it makes a whole bunch of other people feel like they can't close the gap. What if instead we compared everybody to someone who was just a little bit better? That would make them more motivated, feel like I'm not so far behind, I can catch up, and make them more likely to perform better, as well.
HENDERSONSo this is good news, I guess, for Lebron James and the Cavaliers, who are down now three-two to the Warriors.
BERGERAnd that's a question of whether that's a little behind or a lot behind.
HENDERSONOr a lot behind, right.
BERGERI was actually watching the game last night, and I'm a Warriors fan, and I was actually hoping they'd be one point down at halftime. It actually would be better for them if they were down by one rather than being tied, as they were.
HENDERSONYeah, and so tell me this, and I hope maybe other people can draw some -- this can be helpful for other people. What's your writing process, putting together a book like this?
BERGERGod, writing is so hard. As an academic, we're really good in terms of the science, we're really good at studying complex social processes. We are not taught to write for a popular audience. And so I very much look to other great writers to figure out how to be a good writer, really telling a mix of science and stories. I think it's so important, though, there are obviously lots of books out there, so important that the science is right because at the end of the day, a story can be really compelling, but if it's so compelling that it leads us in the wrong direction, it leads to do something that actually is not helpful for us, then it would better off that we didn't hear that story in the first place.
BERGERAnd so stories are a powerful vehicle for ideas, but the science has to be right. And so for me it's all about, well, what's interesting science, what will help people live happier and healthier lives, and then how can we explain that science through stories. You know, academics are great at writing very verbose academic papers that no one ever reads. So it's about thinking about what are those stories that we can help unlock the science, we can showcase the wonderful research that's out there to help people live better by understanding social science.
HENDERSONJonah Berger, thanks so much. His book is "Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior." Reading this book, you'll learn a lot about why we do the things we do. Thanks so much for joining us today, Jonah. It's been great talking to you. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson with CNN, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks so much for listening.
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