Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Lessons from Psychology: Persuasion and Behavior Modification

Before i start, let me wish all of you a very happy and prosperous new year (VS 2070). I also hope this world, starting from immediate surroundings will become a more enjoyable place to live.

The third set of lessons, which in my views are the most important learnings, I have received in the course, relate to changing unwanted and unacceptable behavior.

I was wondering how I should write about this topic. The first question any one can ask is “what is unacceptable behavior?” and then “who are you to decide what unacceptable behavior is?”

I will play safe. I do not intend to sermonize. Neither do I claim to be virtues personified. And therefore I will not use either first or second person. I believe anyone who tries to bring about a change in behavior of another person does it with an objective to benefit the other person. As such I will use terms Beneficiary (one whose behavior is to be modified) & Benefactor (one who is helping beneficiary modify his/ her behavior) while explaining what I have understood from the course.

The process of Persuasion encompasses three components. The Benefactor, the Beneficiary and the Message.


The effectiveness of the Benefactor as a persuader is found to be based on a number of factors, including expertness, trustworthiness, credibility and liking/ attractiveness.

Expertness:   It is essential that the beneficiary perceives the benefactor to be an expert in a particular area of concern. This will help establish his/ her credibility.  This is the reason we find commercials for aspirin presented by doctors, or people pretending to be doctors.

Trustworthiness:   The benefactor needs to be perceived as someone who is honest. Several things can influence that perception.  For example, if beneficiary detects signs that there are ulterior motives, if it seems that the Benefactor has something to gain by convincing beneficiary, he/ she loses trust in the former. If the Benefactor does not appear to be intentionally influencing, he/she is trusted more. 

Liking:   Attractiveness, can be equally effective as expertness and trustworthiness.  It is, in my view, not just the physical attractiveness, but also emotional attractiveness which can be useful. Attractiveness is also a function of similarity of values, beliefs, camaraderie etc. One is more likely to listen to some one who shares  former's views, values, principles and even preferences.

Credibility: Benefactor has to have credibility when he/ she tries to persuade. The benefactor should not be seen to be demonstrating the same behavior he/ she is trying to appeal for change. I was reminded of the story of Sant Gnaneshwar relating to advising the child to stop eating sweets. How true these stories are. Even proverbs like “ડાહી સાસરે જાય અને ગાંડીને શિખામણ દે” or “सौ चूहे मारके बिल्ली हज को चली” are at the base of this concept. Benefactor has to be credible only then his/ her advice will be acceptable.

It is essential that these factors must appear to be natural and not falsified or concocted. Sooner or later beneficiary will find out fakes and will lose faith in all the efforts for persuasion.

Beneficiary and Message come next…

Till then comments are welcome.