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Welcome to the last of the four columns I’ve written throughout 2015 for Facility Manager. It has been a great pleasure to have explored the fascinating psychology behind social interaction with you and taken a detailed look at how behavioral science impacts how we interact as well as the design of event spaces where others interact, too. For my final column, I’ve decided to delve into our research archive and explore some of the light-hearted, little known and sometimes downright bizarre behavioral research that my team and I have come across over the last few years.

What’s In a Name?

Let’s start with your name, or indeed the name of the business or organization that you work for, as you may be surprised to learn that psychology can add some interesting insight into how we react to the name of a person, brand, or business.

Perhaps the most interesting research we have found is that people with easier-to-pronounce names are deemed more trustworthy, and claims attributed to people with simpler names are deemed more believable, too (1).

Another study (2), undertaken in 2012, found that people with more pronounceable names were more likely to be favored for political office and job promotions and that political candidates with easy-to-pronounce names were more likely to win a race than those without (based on a mock ballot study.) Lead author, Dr. Simon Laham, said subtle unconscious biases affect our decisions and choices, stating that “…research findings revealed that the effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce.”

And finally, did you know that people also rate amusement park rides safer, food additives less harmful, and stocks a better likely investment if they are all simply named (1)?

Interestingly enough I’ve met two people this year who started to use a different name in order to create a more positive reaction from others, and while most of us probably won’t need (or want) to even consider this I wonder if this insight could be of use if you are considering launching a new product, service, business, or brand.

Connecting with Others

It is so hard to pick a selection from the several hundred pieces of research we have on how to connect more effectively with others. However, here are a few of my favorites.

Did you know that offering a cold drink to those you interact with may adversely affect how they feel toward you? Psychology suggests that they will link the cold glass or cup to your personality and rate you as a less “warm” person (3).

Another interesting insight is that one way of getting someone to say “yes” to your request may be to make them laugh. Yes, while humor is a very subjective, the power of laughter is undoubted as behavioral scientists have measured an increase in the amount customers will pay when the seller makes the offer while making them laugh (4). Now you just have to find a joke that your customers will find funny!

A third study indicates that people are more persuaded by messages when they have just consumed caffeine. This interesting insight was published in the Applied Journal of Social Psychology, and in it researchers arranged for people to drink a product that resembled orange juice. However, 50 percent of the group were given juice that contained about the same amount of caffeine contained in a double espresso. It was this group that reacted more favorably to the arguments that they were then presented with—in some cases up to 35 percent more favorably (5).

Finally, did you know that if you have to communicate a negative to those you are interacting with it is better to do so early in your meeting? Research in this area shows that the “likeability” ratings given to people who disclosed a negative at the beginning of a meeting were far higher than those who did so at the end (7). This phenomenon is used in the legal world where lawyers will often open with any weakness in their argument but progressively argue their strongest points toward the end of their evidence.

Safety and Security

I know this issue is based on safety and security, so how can psychology help in this regard?

Here are three nuggets I thought you might like. First, research undertaken by Manoj Srinivasan, a locomotion researcher at Princeton University, highlights that investing in a moving walkway for your venue might actually slow down the movement of your guests. It seems that our brains cater for the fact we are moving faster by slowing down our foot speed to about half our normal rate. Thus, when congestion was taken into account, researchers found on average that getting from A to B was faster using normal leg power.

Second, if you are concerned about evacuating people in an emergency then you might want to create an obstacle in a rather unexpected place—right in front of the exit. Daichi Yanagisawa at the University of Tokyo, Japan, led research that found placing a 20-centimetre-wide pillar 65 centimeters in front of the exit to the left-hand side improved the exit rate by an extra seven people per minute—from 2.8 people to 2.92 people per second.

Third, how about using the power of mirrors to positively affect your visitors’ behavior? In numerous studies placing a mirror in view of a person has been shown to reduce littering, graffiti, and other antisocial behaviors. In addition, people have been recorded as being more honest and overall more in line with their values and beliefs.

Last But Not Least

Consider how you shake hands and practice this universal and important greeting. Psychologists have found that offering a jerky handshake has been shown to have a negative impact on how another person perceives you when compared with a fluid, smooth shake (8).

No matter how you shake hands, research suggest that 3 p.m. on Tuesday could be the best time to hold a meeting (9), and that in the meeting if you want to make a request of someone, you might be more persuasive if you make that request in the right ear rather than the left (10).

Now, what will you feed those you interact with at the meeting? Incredibly, research has shown that providing attendees with bitter food/drink can make them more judgemental (11), which could completely change the outcome of the gathering.

If you are intending to negotiate, then take heed of findings published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes that suggested we negotiate far more effectively in familiar environments (12). Perhaps you would be better having that meeting in your own office as opposed to your suppliers?

And finally, we are often told how important eye contact is when building trust and rapport. However, do so with caution! U.S. psychologist James Laird found that extended gazing into another’s eyes leads to us rating them as more attractive. Now this is fine at home with our loved one but we wouldn’t want you falling in love with your boss would we?!

As well as being practically useful, I hope my columns have sparked in interest in the psychology behind interpersonal communication and how insights from it can help you perform even more effectively both professionally and personally. Thanks for reading, and I wish you a fantastic 2016. FM

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References

1: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0088671

2: http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/news/n-751

3: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/322/5901/606.abstract

4: Humor As a Technique of Social Influence. K O’Qunn & J. Aronoff (1981) Social Psychology Quarterly, 44 pages 349 – 57.

5: Martin, P.Y., J. Laing, R. Martin and M. Mitchell (2005), ‘Caffeine, cognition and persuasion: evidence for caffeine increasing the systematic processing of persuasive messages’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35: 160-82

6: The Effect of a Pratfall on Increasing Interpersonal Attractiveness. E Aronson et al. University of California. Psychonomic Science, 4, pages 227-8 (1966)

7: Timings of Self-Disclosure and it Effects on Personal Attraction  E. Jones & E. Gordon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 24, p 358-65

8: Kock, S.C. (2011). ‘Basic Body Rhythms and embodied intercorporality: From individual to interpersonal movement feedback’. In W. Tschacher, & C. Bergomi (eds.), ‘The implications of embodiment: Cognition and communication’ (pp. 151-71). Exeter: Imprint Academic.

9: http://www.inc.com/news/articles/2010/06/best-time-for-meetings.htm

10: Side biases in humans (Homo sapiens): three ecological studies on hemispheric asymmetries. Prof Daniele D Marzoli and Luca L Tommasi, University G. d’Annunzio. Italy. Naturwissenschaften 96(9):1099-106 (2009).

11: A Bad Taste in the Mouth: Gustatory Disgust Influences Moral Judgment. Kendall J. Eskine, Natalie A. Kacinik, Jesse J. Prinz. Department of Psychology, Brooklyn College, City University of New York. Psychological Science March 2011 vol. 22 no. 3 pg. 295-299

12: Location in negotiation: Is there a home field advantage? (2011) Graham Brown (University of British Columbia) & Markus Baer (Washington University in St. Louis) Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 114, 190–200

13: Looking and loving: The Effects of Mutual Gaze on Feelings of Romantic Love. J.D  Laird et al. Journal of Research in Personality, 23, pages 145-61. 1989