Lucifer Effect II
Positive Social Influence
While most psychological research is focused on the negative aspects of social influence, there is hope of applying the same basic principles toward beneficial goals.
Historically, social psychologists have divided positive aspects of human social behavior into prosocial behavior and altruism. Prosocial behavior benefits group members but also the individual engaging in that behavior, perhaps through higher esteem or greater acceptance by the group, or avoidance of social censure. Altruism refers specifically to positive social behavior that would be done even without personal gain.
The motivating factor that separates these types of behavior is empathy. Research shows in experiments in which people are
asked to empathize with a fictional character in distress are more likely to help the person even if there were no negative consequences if they did not. Thus, if we strive to relate more with others, we may be more sensitive their situation and act in more benevolent ways.
Taking an opposite approach to a gradual seduction into evil, we will look at ways to generate gradual positive inclinations. Three simple influence tactics that have been shown by social psychologists to increase good behaviors are: the foot in the door tactic, social modeling, and self-labeling of helpfulness.
Foot in the Door
This tactic begins by first asking someone to do a small request (which most people willingly perform) and then later on to ask them to comply with a related but much bigger request (which was the goal all along). The classic demonstration of this was done by researchers Jonathan Freedman and Scott Frasier. They asked suburbanites to put a big, ugly sign urging “Drive Carefully” in their nice suburban yard. Fewer than 20% of homeowners did so. However ¾s of the homeowners agreed to place that sign in their yards if two weeks earlier they had taken a small step and posted in their windows an unobtrusive three inch sign urging safe driving. The same approach works with other prosocial behavior. This Foot in the Door effect can be enhanced by chaining together a series of increasingly larger requests, putting two feet in the door, to promote altruism.
Encourage pro-social behavior. In the Stanford Prison Experiment there was an abundance of negative social models around that supported abusive behavior. Turning the power of social models around to advance positive acts can be as effective in achieving the opposite, desirable outcomes. Altruistic role models increase the likelihood that those around them will engage in positive, prosocial behavior. Models persuade far more effectively that words. For example, in one set of experiments, children were exposed to an adult model that preached wither greed or charity to them in a persuasive sermon. However, that adult then went onto practice either greedy or charitable actions. The result showed that the children were more likely to do what the model did than what the model had said.
Give someone an identity label of the kind that you would like them to have as someone who will then do the action you want to elicit from them. When you tell a person that he or she is helpful, altruistic, and kind, that person is more likely to do helpful, altruistic and kind behaviors for others. For example, researchers have found that telling someone that he or she is kind makes them more likely to help someone who has dropped a large number of cards; and those given a salient identity as “blood donors” are more likely to continue to donate blood to a stranger whom they don’t expect ever to know or meet.