Whether it’s getting your partner to do more housework or making your colleagues back your latest idea, we all end up spending a considerable amount of time trying to persuade or even manipulate others.
So can science offer any clever tricks to get people to do what we want, without resorting to bullying them? It’s complicated, but some 30 years of psychological research suggests there might just be a few methods that are worth a try.
Use a person’s body against them
Got a date coming up? Maybe you should consider taking them to see a horror movie.
“Misattribution of arousal” is a popular theory in social psychology that suggests people sometimes mislabel feelings from their body. For example, you experience an elevated heart rate when you are anxious, but also when you are excited. Psychologists have therefore been experimenting on whether it is possible to use this idea to manipulate individuals into thinking they are experiencing particular emotions, such as believing they are attracted when they’re actually scared.
In one such study, an “attractive female interviewer” asked male passers-by to complete a questionnaire while standing on a rickety suspension bridge that hung high above a gorge. She also asked another set of men to complete the questionnaire on a sturdy, low-hanging bridge (not likely to evoke fear). She told them they could call her afterwards if they wanted more details on the study. Amusingly, significantly more men called the interviewer if they had met her on the fear-inducing bridge.