Can you see yourself?

I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’ve got a cold and am feeling miserable. To cheer me up I’ve taken to the sofa with my latest psychology book: I is for Influence by Dr Rob Yeung. It’s very readable and I‘ve found myself deep into the book without experiencing any mental anguish – which is usually the case with these dry psychology text books.

He puts forward a very simple idea that links up with other bits of psychological theory I’m already familiar with.

He links together two strands. The first is the power of imagery. I’ve written about how we are seduced by the images we can see in our mind’s eye a number of times in these blogs. Here’s the classic example that reveals how powerful it is. Imagine a court room, the barrister turns to the first witness and says “How fast do you think the vehicles were travelling when they collided?” to which the witness gives their opinion. To the second witness he says “And how fast do you think the cars were travelling when they smashed into each other?” Predictably the second witness gives a higher estimation of the car’s speeds than the first witness.

What’s happening here is the barrister is manipulating the image the second witness has in their head, by adding the word smashed.  Now the witness has to accommodate it and ups the speed of the cars, so it better fits the altered mental image planted in their head by the clever barrister.

Add this technique to another phenomenon, which psychologists call Attribution Error and, according to Dr Yeung, you can produce a powerful persuasive effect.

The way we form attributions about one another has long been understood. Simply put, it seems we judge other people’s behaviour by their disposition or personality; whereas we judge ourselves by our circumstances. So we’ll judge someone driving badly as an idiot, but judge our own driving skills as being determined by the road conditions like traffic, weather and of course other idiot drivers!

If you ask someone to put themselves in a certain situation; and picture watching themselves doing what you want them to do, then you’ll become rather persuasive. First the mental image in itself is persuasive and secondly by observing themselves almost as a bystander, they’ll judge that person – which is in fact themselves –  acting that way not through circumstance, but because they want to behave that way; through disposition.

So here’s what you must do. Paint metal pictures in the mind’s eye of your audiences and encourage them to see themselves performing the action you want them to adopt. Stand back and imagine yourself taking to an audience in that way. Can you see what you’re doing? Can you?

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