Monday, May 04, 2009

Using "Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive" In The Classroom

I recently started reading Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini's "Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive." It could easily be described as "Freakonomics for Social Psychology". It's a fun, easy, and very informative read, with each chapter only about 1500-2000 words long, and highlighting one persuasion technique. So, you can knock out a chapter in 10 minutes or so.

It's a very interesting introduction to the social psychology literature on persuasion - it lists all the underlying research in the appendix.

In addition to learning some interesting things, I've also gotten some great ideas to use in my classes. I'll be discussing these over the next few weeks, starting with

Chapters 1 & 2: "The Bandwagon effect"
One way to increase compliance with a request is to mention that a lot of other people have done the same thing. In these chapters, the authors mention a study where they tried to see if they could increase the percentage of people staying in a hotel who reused towels at least once during their stay. Their solution was simple. The hotels who do this typically put a little card in the hotel room touting the benefits of reusing towels. All they did was add a line to the extent that the majority of people who stay in hotels do in fact reuse their towels at least once during their stay. This dramatically increased the percentage of people who chose to reuse.

In a related study, they added another line stating that XX% of the people who stayed in this room reused towels. This increased compliance even more.

Chapter 3: "What common mistake causes messages to self-destruct?"
The bandwagon effect can also cause messages to backfire. In one study, they seeded the Petrified Forest with fake pieces of petrified wood, and then posted signs stating that "many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the petrified forest", accompanied by a picture of several visitors to taking pieces of wood. These signs actually increased the incidences of the behavior they were intended to stop.
Here are the applications to my classes: First off, to use the bandwagon effect in my case course, I'm going to state figures (made up, of course) at the beginning of class as to the average amount of time past students in that class have spent preparing each week. I'm also going to tell my classes that the average evaluation for the professors in the college ranges from 4.2 to 4.8 on a 5 point scale (I know, it's inflated, but it might be interesting to see what happens if I state that several times during the semester). If I really want to use the bandwagon effect, I'll mention that evaluations in THAT particular class have been a bit higher.

As for avoiding the "self-destruct" part of the bandwagon effect, I plan on spending less time talking about how many students are absent. If I need to mention it, I'll focus on the flip side that 94% of the students in this class make the vast majority of classes, and commend them on that fact.

More to come later. It's a great book, and inexpensive, too (the paperback is less than $20).

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