The main work of a trial attorney is to make a jury like his client.
FEW PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO LEARN THAT, AS A RULE, we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. What might be startling to note, however, is that this simple rule is used in hundreds of ways by total strangers to get us to comply with their requests.
The clearest illustration I know of the professional exploitation of the liking rule is the Tupperware party, which I consider the quintessential American compliance setting. Anybody familiar with the workings of a Tupperware party will recognize the use of the various weapons of influence we have examined so far: reciprocity (to start, games are played and prizes won by the partygoers; anyone who doesn’t win a prize gets to reach into a grab bag for hers so that everyone has received a gift before the buying begins), commitment (each participant is urged to describe publicly the uses and benefits she has found in the Tupperware she already owns), and social proof (once the buying begins, each purchase builds the idea that other, similar people want the product; therefore, it must be good).
All the major weapons of influence are present to help things along, but the real power of the Tupperware party comes from a particular arrangement that trades on the liking rule. Despite the entertaining and persuasive salesmanship of the Tupperware demonstrator, the true request to purchase the product does not come from this stranger; it comes from a friend to every woman in the room. Oh, the Tupperware representative may physically ask for each partygoer’s order, all right, but the more psychologically compelling requester is a housewife sitting off to the side, smiling, chatting, and serving refreshments. She is the party hostess, who has called her friends together for the demonstration in her home and who, everyone knows, makes a profit from each piece sold at her party.
Simple. By providing the hostess with a percentage of the take, the Tupperware Home Parties Corporation arranges for its customers to buy from and for a friend rather than an unknown salesperson. In this way, the attraction, the warmth, the security, and the obligation of friendship are brought to bear on the sales setting. Consumer researchers Frenzer and Davis, who have examined the social ties between the hostess and the partygoers in home-party sales settings, have affirmed the power of the company’s approach: The strength of that social bond is twice as likely to determine product purchase as is preference for the product itself. The results have been remarkable. It was recently estimated that Tupperware sales exceed $2.5 million a day!
What is interesting is that the customers appear to be fully aware of the liking and friendship pressures embodied in the Tupperware party. Some don’t seem to mind; others do, but don’t seem to know how to avoid them. One woman I spoke with described her reactions with more than a bit of frustration in her voice:
It’s gotten to the point now where I hate to be invited to Tupperware parties. I’ve got all the containers I need; and if I wanted any more, I could buy another brand cheaper in the store. But when a friend calls up, I feel like I have to go. And when I get there, I feel like I have to buy something. What can I do? It’s for one of my friends.
With so irresistible an ally as the friendship principle operating, it is little wonder that the company has abandoned retail sales outlets and has pushed the home party concept until a Tupperware party now starts somewhere every 2.7 seconds. But, of course, all sorts of other compliance professionals recognize the pressure to say yes to someone we know and like. Take, for instance, the growing number of charity organizations that recruit volunteers to canvass for donations close to their own homes. They understand perfectly how much more difficult it is for us to turn down a charity request when it comes from a friend or a neighbor.
Other compliance professionals have found that the friend doesn’t even have to be present to be effective; often, just the mention of the friend’s name is enough. The Shaklee Corporation, which specializes in door-to-door sales of various home-related products, advises its salespeople to use the “endless chain” method for finding new customers. Once a customer admits to liking a product, he or she can be pressed for the names of friends who would also appreciate learning about it. The individuals on that list can then be approached for sales and a list of their friends, who can serve as sources for still other potential customers, and so on in an endless chain.
The key to the success of this method is that each new prospect is visited by a salesperson armed with the name of a friend “who suggested I call on you.” Turning the salesperson away under those circumstances is difficult; it’s almost like rejecting the friend. The Shaklee sales manual insists that employees use this system without fail: “It would be impossible to overestimate its value. Phoning or calling on a prospect and being able to say that Mr. So-and-so, a friend of his, felt he would benefit by giving you a few moments of his time is virtually as good as a sale 50 percent made before you enter.”
The widespread use by compliance practitioners of the liking bond between friends tells us much about the power of the liking rule to produce assent. In fact, we find that such professionals seek to benefit from the rule even when already formed friendships are not present for them to employ. Under these circumstances, the professionals’ compliance strategy is quite direct: They first get us to like them.
There is a man in Detroit, Joe Girard, who specialized in using the liking rule to sell Chevrolets. He became wealthy in the process, making more than two hundred thousand dollars a year. With such a salary, we might guess that he was a high-level GM executive or perhaps the owner of a Chevrolet dealership. But no. He made his money as a salesman on the showroom floor. At what he did, he was phenomenal. For twelve years straight, he won the title as the “number one car salesman”; he averaged more than five cars and trucks sold every day he worked; and he has been called the world’s “greatest car salesman” by the Guinness Book of World Records.
For all his success, the formula he employed was surprisingly simple. It consisted of offering people just two things: a fair price and someone they liked to buy from. “And that’s it,” he claimed in an interview. “Finding the salesman they like, plus the price; put them both together, and you get a deal.”
Fine. The Joe Girard formula tells us how vital the liking rule is to his business, but it doesn’t tell us nearly enough. For one thing, it doesn’t tell us why customers liked him more than some other salesperson who offered a fair price. There is a crucial—and fascinating—general question that Joe’s formula leaves unanswered: What are the factors that cause one person to like another person? If we knew that answer, we would be a long way toward understanding how people such as Joe can so successfully arrange to have us like them and, conversely, how we might successfully arrange to have others like us. Fortunately, social scientists have been asking the question for decades. Their accumulated evidence has allowed them to identify a number of factors that reliably cause liking. And, as we will see, each is cleverly used by compliance professionals to urge us along the road to “yes.”
Although it is generally acknowledged that good-looking people have an advantage in social interaction, recent findings indicate that we may have sorely underestimated the size and reach of that advantage. There seems to be a click, whirr response to attractive people. Like all click, whirr reactions, it happens automatically, without forethought. The response itself falls into a category that social scientists call “halo effects.” A halo effect occurs when one positive characteristic of a person dominates the way that person is viewed by others. And the evidence is now clear that physical attractiveness is often such a characteristic.
Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence. Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. Certain of the consequences of this unconscious assumption that “good-looking equals good” scare me. For example, a study of the Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates.63 Despite such evidence of favoritism toward handsome politicians, follow-up research demonstrated that voters do not realize their bias. In fact, 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance; only 14 percent even allowed for the possibility of such influence. A similar effect has been found in hiring situations. In one study, good grooming of applicants in a simulated employment interview accounted for more favorable hiring decisions than did job qualifications—this, even though the interviewers claimed that appearance played a small role in their choices.64
Equally unsettling research indicates that our judicial process is similarly susceptible to the influences of body dimensions and bone structure. Good-looking people are likely to receive highly favorable treatment in the legal system. For example, in a Pennsylvania study, researchers rated the physical attractiveness of seventy-four separate male defendants at the start of their criminal trials. When, much later, the researchers checked court records for the results of these cases, they found that the handsome men had received significantly lighter sentences. In fact, the attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid jail as the unattractive ones.65 In another study—this one on the damages awarded in a staged negligence trial—a defendant who was better-looking than his victim was assessed an average amount of $5,623; but when the victim was the more attractive of the two, the average compensation was $10,051. What’s more, both male and female jurors exhibited the attractiveness-based favoritism.
Other experiments have demonstrated that attractive people are more likely to obtain help when in need and are more persuasive in changing the opinions of an audience. Here, too, both sexes respond in the same way. In the helping study, for instance, the better-looking men and women received aid more often, even from members of their own sex.66 A major exception to this rule might be expected to occur, of course, if the attractive person is viewed as a direct competitor, especially a romantic rival. Short of this qualification, though, it is apparent that good-looking people enjoy an enormous social advantage in our culture. They are better liked, more persuasive, more frequently helped, and seen as possessing better personality traits and intellectual capacities. And it appears that the social benefits of good looks begin to accumulate quite early. Research on elementary-school children shows that adults view aggressive acts as less naughty when performed by an attractive child and that teachers presume good-looking children to be more intelligent than their less-attractive classmates.67
It is hardly any wonder, then, that the halo of physical attractiveness is regularly exploited by compliance professionals. Because we like attractive people and because we tend to comply with those we like, it makes sense that sales training programs include grooming hints, that fashionable clothiers select their floor staffs from among the good-looking candidates, and that con men are handsome and con women pretty.
But what if physical appearance is not much at issue? After all, most people possess average looks. Are there other factors that can be used to produce liking? As both researchers and compliance professionals know, there are several, and one of the most influential is similarity.
We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or life-style. Consequently, those who wish to be liked in order to increase our compliance can accomplish that purpose by appearing similar to us in any of a wide variety of ways.
Dress is a good example. Several studies have demonstrated that we are more likely to help those who dress like us. In one study, done in the early 1970s when young people tended to dress either in “hippie” or “straight” fashion, experimenters donned hippie or straight attire and asked college students on campus for a dime to make a phone call. When the experimenter was dressed in the same way as the student, the request was granted in more than two thirds of the instances; but when the student and requester were dissimilarly dressed, the dime was provided less than half the time. Another experiment shows how automatic our positive response to similar others can be. Marchers in an antiwar demonstration were found to be not only more likely to sign the petition of a similarly dressed requester, but also to do so without bothering to read it first. Click, whirr.68
Another way requesters can manipulate similarity to increase liking and compliance is to claim that they have backgrounds and interests similar to ours. Car salesmen, for example, are trained to look for evidence of such things while examining the customer’s trade-in. If there is camping gear in the trunk, the salesman might mention, later on, how he loves to get away from the city whenever he can; if there are golf balls on the back seat, he might remark that he hopes the rain will hold off until he can play the eighteen holes he has scheduled for later in the day; if he notices that the car was purchased out of state, he might ask where the customer is from and report—with surprise—that he (or his wife) was born there, too.
As trivial as these similarities may seem, they appear to work. One researcher who examined the sales records of insurance companies found that customers were more likely to buy insurance when the salesperson was like them in such areas as age, religion, politics, and cigarette-smoking habits. Because even small similarities can be effective in producing a positive response to another and because a veneer of similarity can be so easily manufactured, I would advise special caution in the presence of requesters who claim to be “just like you.” Indeed, it would be wise these days to be careful around salespeople who just seem to be just like you. Many sales training programs now urge trainees to “mirror and match” the customer’s body posture, mood, and verbal style, as similarities along each of these dimensions have been shown to lead to positive results.69
Actor McLean Stevenson once described how his wife tricked him into marriage: “She said she liked me.” Although designed for a laugh, the remark is as much instructive as humorous. The information that someone fancies us can be a bewitchingly effective device for producing return liking and willing compliance. So, often in terms of flattery or simple claims of affinity, we hear positive estimation from people who want something from us.
Remember Joe Girard, the world’s “greatest car salesman,” who says the secret of his success was getting customers to like him? He did something that, on the face of it, seems foolish and costly. Each month he sent every one of his more than thirteen thousand former customers a holiday greeting card containing a personal message. The holiday greeting changed from month to month (Happy New Year or Happy Thanksgiving, etc.), but the message printed on the face of the card never varied. It read, “I like you.” As Joe explained it, “There’s nothing else on the card. Nothin’ but my name. I’m just telling ’em that I like ’em.”
“I like you.” It came in the mail every year, twelve times a year, like clockwork. “I like you,” on a printed card that went off to thirteen thousand other people, too. Could a statement of liking so impersonal, so obviously designed to sell cars, really work? Joe Girard thinks so; and a man as successful as he was at what he did deserves our attention. Joe understands an important fact about human nature: We are phenomenal suckers for flattery. Although there are limits to our gullibility—especially when we can be sure that the flatterer is trying to manipulate us—we tend, as a rule, to believe praise and to like those who provide it, oftentimes when it is clearly false.
An experiment done on men in North Carolina shows how helpless we can be in the face of praise. The men in the study received comments about themselves from another person who needed a favor from them. Some of the men got only positive comments, some got only negative comments, and some got a mixture of good and bad. There were three interesting findings. First, the evaluator who provided only praise was liked best by the men. Second, this was the case even though the men fully realized that the flatterer stood to gain from their liking him. Finally, unlike the other types of comments, pure praise did not have to be accurate to work. Positive comments produced just as much liking for the flatterer when they were untrue as when they were true.70
Apparently we have such an automatically positive reaction to compliments that we can fall victim to someone who uses them in an obvious attempt to win our favor. Click, whirr. When seen in this light, the expense of printing and mailing well over 150,000 “I like you” cards each year seems neither as foolish nor as costly as before.
Contact and Cooperation
For the most part, we like things that are familiar to us.71 To prove the point to yourself, try a little experiment. Get the negative of an old photograph that shows a front view of your face and have it developed into a pair of pictures—one that shows you as you actually look and one that shows a reverse image (so that the right and left sides of your face are interchanged). Now decide which version of your face you like better and ask a good friend to make the choice, too. If you are at all like a group of Milwaukee women on whom this procedure was tried, you should notice something odd: Your friend will prefer the true print, but you will prefer the reverse image. Why? Because you both will be responding favorably to the more familiar face—your friend to the one the world sees, and you to the transposed one you find in the mirror every day.72
Because of its effect on liking, familiarity plays a role in decisions about all sorts of things, including the politicians we elect. It appears that in an election booth voters often choose a candidate merely because the name seems familiar. In one controversial Ohio election a few years ago, a man given little chance of winning the state attorney-general race swept to victory when, shortly before the election, he changed his name to Brown—a family name of much Ohio political tradition.73
How could such a thing happen? The answer lies partially in the unconscious way that familiarity affects liking. Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past. For example, in one experiment, the faces of several individuals were flashed on a screen so quickly that later on, the subjects who were exposed to the faces in this manner couldn’t recall having seen any of them before. Yet, the more frequently a person’s face was flashed on the screen, the more these subjects came to like that person when they met in a subsequent interaction. And because greater liking leads to greater social influence, these subjects were also more persuaded by the opinion statements of the individuals whose faces had appeared on the screen most frequently.74
On the basis of evidence that we are more favorable toward the things we have had contact with, some people have recommended a “contact” approach to improving race relations. They argue that simply by providing individuals of different ethnic background with more exposure to one another as equals, those individuals will naturally come to like each other better. However, when scientists have examined school integration—the area offering the single best test of the contact approach—they have discovered quite the opposite pattern. School desegregation is more likely to increase prejudice between blacks and whites than to decrease it.75
Let’s stay with the issue of school desegregation for a while. However well intentioned the proponents of interracial harmony through simple contact, their approach is unlikely to bear fruit because the argument on which it is based is terribly misinformed. First of all, the school setting is no melting pot where children interact as readily with members of other ethnic groups as they do with their own. Years after formal school integration, there is little social integration. The students clot together ethnically, separating themselves for the most part from other groups. Second, even if there were much more interethnic interaction, research shows that becoming familiar with something through repeated contact doesn’t necessarily cause greater liking. In fact, continued exposure to a person or object under unpleasant conditions such as frustration, conflict, or competition leads to less liking.76 And the typical American classroom fosters precisely these unpleasant conditions.
Consider the illuminating report of a psychologist, Elliot Aronson, called in to consult with school authorities on problems in the Austin, Texas, schools. His description of how he found education proceeding in the standard classroom could apply to nearly any public school in the United States:
In general, here is how it works: The teacher stands in front of the class and asks a question. Six to ten children strain in their seats and wave their hands in the teacher’s face, eager to be called on and show how smart they are. Several others sit quietly with eyes averted, trying to become invisible, When the teacher calls on one child, you see looks of disappointment and dismay on the faces of the eager students, who missed a chance to get the teacher’s approval; and you will see relief on the faces of the others who didn’t know the answer…. This game is fiercely competitive and the stakes are high, because the kids are competing for the love and approval of one of the two or three most important people in their world.
Further, this teaching process guarantees that the children will not learn to like and understand each other. Conjure up your own experience. If you knew the right answer and the teacher called on someone else, you probably hoped that he or she would make a mistake so that you would have a chance to display your knowledge. If you were called on and failed, or if you didn’t even raise your hand to compete, you probably envied and resented your classmates who knew the answer. Children who fail in this system become jealous and resentful of the successes, putting them down as teacher’s pets or even resorting to violence against them in the school yard. The successful students, for their part, often hold the unsuccessful children in contempt, calling them “dumb” or “stupid.”
This competitive process does not encourage anyone to look benevolently and happily upon his fellow students.77
Should we wonder, then, why raw school desegregation—whether by enforced busing, district rezoning, or school closures—so frequently produces increased rather than decreased prejudice? When our own children find their pleasant social and friendship contacts within their own ethnic boundaries and get repeated exposure to other groups only in the competitive cauldron of the classroom, we might expect as much.
Are there available solutions to this problem? One possibility might be to end our attempts at school integration. But that hardly seems workable. Even were we to ignore the inevitable legal and constitutional challenges and the disruptive societal wrangle such a retreat would provoke, there are solid reasons for pursuing classroom integration. For instance, although white students’ achievement levels remain steady, it is ten times more likely that the academic performance of minority students will significantly increase rather than significantly decline after desegregation. We must be cautious in our approach to school desegregation not to throw out the baby because it is sitting in some dirty bath water.
The idea, of course, is to jettison just the water, leaving the baby shining from the bath. Right now, though, our baby is soaking in the schmutzwasser of increased racial hostility. Fortunately, real hope for draining away that hostility is emerging from the research of education specialists into the concept of “cooperative learning.” Because much of the heightened prejudice from classroom desegregation seems to stem from increased exposure to outside group members as rivals, these educators have experimented with forms of learning in which cooperation rather than competition with classmates is central.
Off to camp. To understand the logic of the cooperative approach, it helps to reexamine the fascinating, three-decades-old research program of Turkish-born social scientist Muzafer Sherif. Intrigued with the issue of intergroup conflict, Sherif decided to investigate the process as it developed in boys’ summer camps. Although the boys never realized that they were participants in an experiment, Sherif and his associates consistently engaged in artful manipulations of the camp’s social environment to observe the effects on group relations.
It didn’t take much to bring on certain kinds of ill will. Simply separating the boys into two residence cabins was enough to stimulate a “we vs. they” feeling between the groups; and assigning names to the two groups (the Eagles and the Rattlers) accelerated the sense of rivalry. The boys soon began to demean the qualities and accomplishments of the other group. But these forms of hostility were minor compared to what occurred when the experimenters purposely introduced competitive activities into the factions’ meetings with one another. Cabin against cabin treasure hunts, tugs-of-war, and athletic contests produced name-calling and physical friction. During the competitions, members of the opposing team were labeled “cheaters,” “sneaks,” and “stinkers.” Afterward, cabins were raided, rival banners were stolen and burned, threatening signs were posted, and lunchroom scuffles were commonplace.
At this point, it was evident to Sherif that the recipe for disharmony was quick and easy: Just separate the participants into groups and let sit for a while in their own juices. Then mix together over the flame of continued competition. And there you have it: Cross-group hatred at a rolling boil.
A more challenging issue then faced the experimenters: how to remove the entrenched hostility they had created. They first tried the contact approach of bringing the bands together more often. But even when the joint activities were pleasant ones, such as movies and social events, the results were disastrous. Picnics produced food fights, entertainment programs gave way to shouting contests, dining-hall lines degenerated into shoving matches. Sherif and his research team began to worry that in Dr. Frankenstein fashion, they might have created a monster they could no longer control. Then, at the height of the strife, they hit on a resolution that was at once simple and effective.
They constructed a series of situations in which competition between the groups would have harmed everyone’s interests, in which cooperation was necessary for mutual benefit. On a daylong outing, the single truck available to go into town for food was “found” to be stuck. The boys were assembled and all pulled and pushed together until the vehicle was on its way. In another instance, the researchers arranged for an interruption of the camp’s water supply, which came through pipes from a distant tank. Presented with the common crisis and realizing the need for unified action, the boys organized themselves harmoniously to find and fix the problem before day’s end. In yet another circumstance requiring cooperation, the campers were informed that a desirable movie was available for rental but that the camp could not afford it. Aware that the only solution was to combine resources, the boys rented the film with pooled money and spent an unusually congenial evening enjoying it together.
The consequences, though not instantaneous, were nonetheless striking. Conjoint efforts toward common goals steadily bridged the rancorous rift between the groups. Before long, the verbal baiting had died, the jostling in lines had ended, and the boys had begun to intermix at the meal tables. Further, when asked to list their best friends, significant numbers changed from an earlier exclusive naming of in-group chums to a listing that included boys in the other group. Some even thanked the researchers for the opportunity to rate their friends again because they realized they had changed their minds since the old days. In one revealing episode, the boys were returning from a campfire on a single bus—something that would have produced bedlam before but was now specifically requested by the boys. When the bus stopped at a refreshment stand, the boys of one group, with five dollars left in its treasury, decided to treat their former bitter adversaries to milkshakes!
We can trace the roots of this surprising turnabout to those times when the boys had to view one another as allies instead of opponents. The crucial procedure was the experimenters’ imposition of common goals on the groups. It was the cooperation required to achieve these goals that finally allowed the rival group members to experience one another as reasonable fellows, valued helpers, and friends. And when success resulted from the mutual efforts, it became especially difficult to maintain feelings of hostility toward those who had been teammates in the triumph.78
Back to school. In the welter of racial tensions that followed school desegregation, certain educational psychologists began to see the relevance to the classroom in Sherif’s findings. If only the learning experience there could be modified to include at least occasional interethnic cooperation toward mutual successes, perhaps cross-group friendships would have a place to grow. Although similar projects have been under way in various states, an especially interesting approach in this direction—termed the “jigsaw classroom”—was developed by Elliot Aronson and his colleagues in Texas and California.
The essence of the jigsaw route to learning is to require that students work together to master the material scheduled for an upcoming examination. This is accomplished by forming students into cooperating teams and giving each student only one part of the information—one piece of the puzzle—necessary to pass the test. Under this system the students must take turns teaching and helping one another. Everyone needs everyone else to do well. Like Sherif’s campers working on tasks that could be successfully accomplished only conjointly, the students became allies rather than enemies.
When tried in recently desegregated classrooms, the jigsaw approach has generated impressive results. Studies have shown that, compared to other classrooms in the same school using the traditional competitive method, jigsaw learning stimulated significantly more friendship and less prejudice between ethnic groups. Besides this vital reduction in hostility, there were other advantages: Self-esteem, liking for school, and test scores improved for minority students. And the white students benefited, too. Their self-esteem and liking for school went up, and their test performance was at least as high as that of whites in the traditional classes.
Gains such as these cry out for more detailed explanation. What exactly goes on in the jigsaw classroom to account for effects we had long ago lost hope of attaining in the public schools? A case study provided by Aronson helps us to understand better. It relates the experience of Carlos, a young Mexican-American boy, who found himself in a jigsaw group for the first time. Carlos’s job was to learn and then convey to his team information on the middle years of Joseph Pulitzer. A test on the famous newspaperman’s life would soon face each group member. Aronson tells what happened:
Carlos was not very articulate in English, his second language, and because he was often ridiculed when he had spoken up in the past, he had learned over the years to keep quiet in class. We might even say that Carlos and the teacher had entered into a conspiracy of silence. He would become anonymous, buried in the bustle of classroom activity, and not be embarrassed by having to stumble over answers; she, in turn, would not call on him. Her decision probably came from the purest of motives; she didn’t want to humiliate him, or watch the other kids make fun of him. But by ignoring Carlos, the teacher had, in effect, written him off. She was implying that he was not worth bothering with; at least that was the message the other kids got. If the teacher wasn’t calling on Carlos, it must be because Carlos is stupid. It is likely that Carlos himself came to the same conclusion.
Naturally, Carlos was quite uncomfortable with the new system, which required him to talk to his groupmates; he had a great deal of trouble communicating his paragraph. He stammered, hesitated, and fidgeted. The other kids were not helpful at all; they reacted out of their old, overlearned habit. When a kid stumbles, especially one they think is stupid, they resort to ridicule and teasing. “Aw, you don’t know it,” accused Mary. “You’re dumb; you’re stupid. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
One of us, assigned to observe the group process, would intervene with a bit of advice when she overheard such comments: “Okay, you can tease him if you want to,” she said, “and that might be fun for you, but it’s not going to help you learn about Joseph Pulitzer’s middle years. The exam will take place in about an hour.” Notice how she changed the reinforcement contingencies. Now Mary doesn’t gain much from putting Carlos down, and she stands to lose a great deal. After a few days and several such experiences, it began to dawn on these kids that the only chance they had to learn about Carlos’s segment was by paying attention to what Carlos had to say.
And with that realization, the kids began to develop into pretty good interviewers, sort of junior Dick Cavetts. Instead of teasing Carlos or ignoring him, they learned to draw him out, to ask the questions that made it easier for him to explain out loud what was in his head. Carlos, in turn, relaxed more, and this improved his ability to communicate. After a couple of weeks, the children concluded that Carlos wasn’t nearly as dumb as they thought he was. They saw things in him they hadn’t seen before. They began to like him more, and Carlos began to enjoy school more and think of his Anglo classmates not as tormentors but as friends.79
There is a tendency when faced with positive results like those from the jigsaw classroom to become overly enthusiastic about a single, simple solution to a tenacious problem. Experience should tell us that such problems rarely yield to a simple remedy. That is no doubt true in this case, as well. Even within the boundaries of cooperative learning procedures, the issues are complex. Before we can feel truly comfortable with the jigsaw, or any similar approach to learning and liking, much more research is needed to determine how frequently, in what size doses, at which ages, and in which sorts of groups cooperative strategies will work. We also need to know the best way for teachers to institute new methods—provided they will institute them at all. After all, not only are cooperative learning techniques a radical departure from the traditional, familiar routine of most teachers, they may also threaten the teacher’s sense of importance in the classroom by turning over much of the instruction to the students. Finally, we must realize that competition has its place, too. It can serve as a valuable motivator of desirable action and an important builder of self-concept. The task, then, is not to eliminate academic competition but to break its monopoly in the classroom by introducing regular cooperative successes that include members of all ethnic groups.80
Despite these qualifications, I cannot help but be encouraged by the evidence to date. When I talk to my students, or even my neighbors and friends, about the prospects for cooperative learning approaches, I can feel optimism rise in me. The public schools have for so long been the source of discouraging news—sinking test scores, teacher burnout, increasing crime, and, of course, racial conflict. Now there is at least one crack in the gloom, and I find myself genuinely excited about it.
What’s the point of this digression into the effects of school desegregation on race relations? The point is to make two points. First, although the familiarity produced by contact usually leads to greater liking, the opposite occurs if the contact carries distasteful experiences with it. Therefore, when children of different racial groups are thrown into the incessant, harsh competition of the standard American classroom, we ought to see—and we do see—the worsening of hostilities. Second, the evidence that team-oriented learning is an antidote to this disorder may tell us about the heavy impact of cooperation on the liking process.
But before we assume that cooperation is a powerful cause of liking, we should first pass it through what, to my mind, is the acid test: Do compliance practitioners systematically use cooperation to get us to like them so we will say yes to their requests? Do they point it out when it exists naturally in a situation? Do they try to amplify it when it exists only weakly? And, most instructive of all, do they manufacture it when it is absent?
As it turns out, cooperation passes the test with colors flying. Compliance professionals are forever attempting to establish that we and they are working for the same goals, that we must “pull together” for mutual benefit, that they are, in essence, our teammates. A host of examples is possible. Most are familiar, like the new-car salesman who takes our side and “does battle” with his boss to secure us a good deal.81 But one rather spectacular illustration occurs in a setting few of us would recognize firsthand, because the professionals are police interrogators whose job is to induce suspects to confess to crime.
In recent years, the courts have imposed a variety of restrictions on the way police must behave in handling suspected criminals, especially in seeking confessions. Many procedures that in the past led to admissions of guilt can no longer be employed for fear that they will result in a judge’s dismissal of the case. As yet, however, the courts have found nothing illegal in the use by the police of subtle psychology. For this reason, criminal interrogations have taken increasingly to the use of such ploys as the one they call Good Cop/Bad Cop.
Good Cop/Bad Cop works as follows: A young robbery suspect, let’s say, who has been advised of his rights and is maintaining his innocence, is brought to a room to be questioned by a pair of officers. One of the officers, either because the part suits him or because it is merely his turn, plays the role of Bad Cop. Before the suspect even sits down, Bad Cop curses “the son of a bitch” for the robbery. For the rest of the session his words come only with snarls and growls. He kicks the prisoner’s chair to emphasize his points. When he looks at the man, he seems to see a mound of garbage. If the suspect challenges Bad Cop’s accusations or just refuses to answer them, Bad Cop becomes livid. His rage soars. He swears he will do everything possible to assure a maximum sentence. He says he has friends in the district attorney’s office who will hear from him of the suspect’s noncooperative attitude and who will prosecute the case hard.
At the outset of Bad Cop’s performance, his partner, Good Cop, sits in the background. Then, slowly, he starts to chip in. First he speaks only to Bad Cop, trying to temper the burgeoning anger. “Calm down, Frank, calm down.” But Bad Cop shouts back, “Don’t tell me to calm down when he’s lying right to my face! I hate these lying bastards!” A bit later, Good Cop actually says something in the suspect’s behalf. “Take it easy, Frank, he’s only a kid.” Not much in the way of support, but compared to the rantings of Bad Cop, the words fall like music on the prisoner’s ears. Still, Bad Cop is unconvinced. “Kid? He’s no kid. He’s a punk. That’s what he is, a punk. And I’ll tell you something else. He’s over eighteen, and that’s all I need to get his ass sent so far behind bars they’ll need a flashlight to find him.”
Now Good Cop begins to speak directly to the young man, calling him by his first name and pointing out any positive details of the case. “I’ll tell you, Kenny, you’re lucky that nobody was hurt and you weren’t armed. When you come up for sentencing, that’ll look good.” If the suspect persists in claiming innocence, Bad Cop launches into another tirade of curses and threats. But this time Good Cop stops him, “Okay, Frank,” handing Bad Cop some money, “I think we could all use some coffee. How about getting us three cups?” When Bad Cop is gone, it’s time for Good Cop’s big scene: “Look, man, I don’t know why, but my partner doesn’t like you, and he’s gonna try to get you. And he’s gonna be able to do it because we’ve got enough evidence right now. And he’s right about the D.A.’s office going hard on guys who don’t cooperate. You’re looking at five years, man, five years! Now, I don’t want to see that happen to you. So if you admit you robbed that place right now, before he gets back, I’ll take charge of your case and put in a good word for you to the D.A. If we work together on this, we can cut that five years down to two, maybe one. Do us both a favor, Kenny. Just tell me how you did it, and then let’s start working on getting you through this.” A full confession frequently follows.
Good Cop/Bad Cop works as well as it does for several reasons: The fear of long incarceration is quickly instilled by Bad Cop’s threats; the perceptual contrast principle ensures that compared to the raving, venomous Bad Cop, the interrogator playing Good Cop will seem like an especially reasonable and kind man; and because Good Cop has intervened repeatedly on the suspect’s behalf—has even spent his own money for a cup of coffee—the reciprocity rule pressures for a return favor. The big reason that the technique is effective, though, is that it gives the suspect the idea that there is someone on his side, someone with his welfare in mind, someone working together with him, for him. In most situations, such a person would be viewed very favorably, but in the deep trouble our robbery suspect finds himself, that person takes on the character of a savior. And from savior, it is but a short step to trusted father confessor.
Conditioning and Association
“Why do they blame me, Doc?” It was the shaky telephone voice of a local TV weatherman. He had been given my number when he called the psychology department at my university to find someone who could answer his question—a question that had always puzzled him but had recently begun to bother and depress him.
“I mean, it’s crazy, isn’t it? Everybody knows that I just report the weather, that I don’t order it, right? So how come I get so much flak when the weather’s bad? During the floods last year, I got hate mail! One guy threatened to shoot me if it didn’t stop raining. Christ, I’m still looking over my shoulder from that one. And the people I work with at the station do it, too! Sometimes, right on the air, they’ll zing me about a heat wave or something. They have to know that I’m not responsible, but that doesn’t seem to stop them. Can you help me understand this, Doc? It’s really getting me down.”
We made an appointment to talk in my office, where I tried to explain that he was the victim of an age-old click, whirr response that people have to things they perceive as merely connected to one another. Instances of this response abound in modern life. But I felt that the example most likely to help the distressed weatherman would require a bit of ancient history. I asked him to consider the precarious fate of the imperial messengers of old Persia. Any such messenger assigned the role of military courier had special cause to hope mightily for Persian battlefield successes. With news of victory in his pouch, he would be treated as a hero upon his arrival at the palace. The food, drink, and women of his choice were provided gladly and sumptuously. Should his message tell of military disaster, though, the reception would be quite different: He was summarily slain.
I hoped that the point of this story would not be lost on the weatherman. I wanted him to be aware of a fact that is as true today as it was in the time of ancient Persia, or, for that matter, in the time of Shakespeare, who captured the essence of it with one vivid line. “The nature of bad news,” he said, “infects the teller.” There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news. The simple association with it is enough to stimulate our dislike.82
But there was something else I hoped the weatherman would get from the historical examples. Not only was he joined in his predicament by centuries of other “tellers,” but also, compared to some, such as the Persian messengers, he was very well-off. At the end of our session, he said something to convince me that he appreciated this point quite clearly. “Doc,” he said on his way out, “I feel a lot better about my job now. I mean, I’m in Phoenix where the sun shines three hundred days a year, right? Thank God I don’t do the weather in Buffalo.”
The weatherman’s parting comment reveals that he understood more than I had told him about the principle that was influencing his viewers’ liking for him. Being connected with bad weather does have a negative effect. But on the other side of the coin, being connected with sunshine should do wonders for his popularity. And he was right. The principle of association is a general one, governing both negative and positive connections. An innocent association with either bad things or good things will influence how people feel about us.83
Weathermen pay price
for nature’s curve balls
By David L. Langford
Television weather forecasters make a good living talking about the weather, but when Mother Nature throws a curve ball, they duck for cover.
Conversations with several veteran prognosticators across the country this week turned up stories of them being whacked by old ladies with umbrellas, accosted by drunks in bars, pelted with snowballs and galoshes, threatened with death, and accused of trying to play God.
“I had one guy call and tell me that if it snowed over Christmas, I wouldn’t live to see New Year’s,” said Bob Gregory, who has been the forecaster at WTHR-TV in Indianapolis for nine years.
Most of the forecasters claimed they are accurate 80 percent to 90 percent of the time on one-day forecasts, but longer-range predictions get tricky. And most conceded they are simply reporting information supplied by computers and anonymous meteorologists from the National Weather Service or a private agency.
But it’s the face on the television screen that people go after.
Tom Bonner, 35, who has been with KARK-TV in Little Rock, Ark., for 11 years, remembers the time a burly farmer from Lonoke, with too much to drink, walked up to him in a bar, poked a finger in his chest and said: “You’re the one that sent that tornado and tore my house up…I’m going to take your head off.”
Bonner said he looked for the bouncer, couldn’t spot him, and replied, “That’s right about the tornado, and I’ll tell you something else, I’ll send another one if you don’t back off.”
Several years ago, when a major flood left water 10 feet deep in San Diego’s Mission Valley, Mike Ambrose of KGTV recalls that a woman walked up to his car, whacked the windshield with an umbrella and said, “This rain is your fault.”
Chuck Whitaker of WSBT-TV in South Bend, Ind., says, “One little old lady called the police department and wanted the weatherman arrested for bringing all the snow.”
A woman upset that it had rained for her daughter’s wedding called Tom Jolls of WKBW-TV in Buffalo, N.Y., to give him a piece of her mind. “She held me responsible and said if she ever met me she would probably hit me,” he said.
Sonny Eliot of WJBK-TV, a forecaster in the Detroit area for 30 years, recalls predicting 2 to 4 inches of snow in the city several years ago and more than 8 came down. To retaliate, his colleagues at the station set up a contraption that rained about 200 galoshes on him while he was giving the forecast the next day.
“I’ve still got the lumps to prove it,” he says.
Note the similarities between the account of the weatherman who came to my office and those of other TV weather reporters.
(DAVID L. LANGFORD, ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Our instruction in how the negative association works seems to have been primarily undertaken by the mothers of our society. Remember how they were always warning us against playing with the bad kids down the street? Remember how they said it didn’t matter if we did nothing bad ourselves because, in the eyes of the neighborhood, we would be “known by the company we kept.” Our mothers were teaching us about guilt by association. They were giving us a lesson in the negative side of the principle of association. And they were right. People do assume that we have the same personality traits as our friends.84
As for the positive associations, it is the compliance professionals who teach the lesson. They are incessantly trying to connect themselves or their products with the things we like. Did you ever wonder what all those good-looking models are doing standing around in the automobile ads? What the advertiser hopes they are doing is lending their positive traits—beauty and desirability—to the cars. The advertiser is betting that we will respond to the product in the same ways we respond to the attractive models merely associated with it.
And they are right. In one study, men who saw a new-car ad that included a seductive young woman model rated the car as faster, more appealing, more expensive-looking, and better designed than did men who viewed the same ad without the model. Yet when asked later, the men refused to believe that the presence of the young woman had influenced their judgments.85
Because the association principle works so well—and so unconsciously—manufacturers regularly rush to connect their products with the current cultural rage. During the days of the first American moon shot, everything from breakfast drink to deodorant was sold with allusions to the U.S. space program. In Olympiad years, we are told precisely which is the “official” hair spray and facial tissue of our Olympic teams.86 During the 1970s, when the magic cultural concept appeared to be “naturalness,” the “natural” bandwagon was crowded to capacity. Sometimes the connections to naturalness didn’t even make sense: “Change your hair color naturally,” urged one popular TV commercial.
The linking of celebrities to products is another way advertisers cash in on the association principle. Professional athletes are paid to connect themselves to things that can be directly relevant to their roles (sport shoes, tennis rackets, golf balls) or wholly irrelevant (soft drinks, popcorn poppers, panty hose). The important thing for the advertiser is to establish the connection; it doesn’t have to be a logical one, just a positive one.
Of course, popular entertainers provide another form of desirability that manufacturers have always paid dearly to tie to their goods. But recently, politicians have caught on to the ability of a celebrity linkage to sway voters. Presidential candidates assemble stables of well-known nonpolitical figures who either actively participate in the campaign or merely lend their names to it. Even at the state and local level, a similar game is played. Take as evidence the comment of a Los Angeles woman I overheard expressing her conflicting feelings about a California referendum to limit smoking in public places. “It’s a real tough decision. They’ve got big stars speaking for it, and big stars speaking against it. You don’t know how to vote.”
If politicians are relative newcomers to the use of celebrity endorsements, they are old hands at exploiting the association principle in other ways. For example, congressional representatives traditionally announce to the press the start of federal projects that will bring new jobs or benefits to their home states; this is true even when a representative has had nothing to do with advancing the project or has, in some cases, voted against it.
While politicians have long strained to associate themselves with the values of motherhood, country, and apple pie, it may be in the last of these connections—to food—that they have been most clever. For instance, it is White House tradition to try to sway the votes of balking legislators over a meal. It can be a picnic lunch, a sumptuous breakfast, or an elegant dinner; but when an important bill is up for grabs, out comes the silverware. And political fund-raising these days regularly involves the presentation of food. Notice, too, that at the typical fund-raising dinner the speeches, the appeals for further contributions and heightened effort never come before the meal is served, only during or after. The advantages to this pairing of the affairs of the table with those of the state are several: For example, time is saved and the reciprocity rule is engaged. The least recognized benefit, however, may be the one uncovered in research conducted in the 1930s by the distinguished psychologist Gregory Razran.
Using what he termed the “luncheon technique,” he found that his subjects became fonder of the people and things they experienced while they were eating. In the example most relevant for our purposes, Razran’s subjects were presented with some political statements they had rated once before. At the end of the experiment, after all the political statements had been presented, Razran found that only certain of them had gained in approval—those that had been shown while food was being eaten. And these changes in liking seem to have occurred unconsciously, since the subjects could not remember which of the statements they had seen during the food service.
How did Razran come up with the luncheon technique? What made him think it would work? The answer may lie in the dual scholarly roles he played during his career. Not only was he a respected independent researcher, he was also one of the earliest translators into English of the pioneering psychological literature of Russia. It was a literature dedicated to the study of the association principle and dominated by the thinking of a brilliant man, Ivan Pavlov.
Although a scientist of varied and elaborated talent—he had, for instance, won a Nobel Prize years earlier for his work on the digestive system—Pavlov’s most important experimental demonstration was simplicity itself. He showed that he could get an animal’s typical response to food (salivation) to be directed toward something irrelevant to food (a bell) merely by connecting the two things in the animal’s mind. If the presentation of food to a dog was always accompanied by the sound of a bell, soon the dog would salivate to the bell alone, even when there was no food to be had.
It is not a long step from Pavlov’s classic demonstration to Razran’s luncheon technique. Obviously, a normal reaction to food can be transferred to some other thing through the process of raw association. Razran’s insight was that there are many normal responses to food besides salivation, one of them being a good and favorable feeling. Therefore, it is possible to attach this pleasant feeling, this positive attitude, to anything (political statements being only an example) that is closely associated with good food.
Nor is there a long step from the luncheon technique to the compliance professionals’ realization that all kinds of desirable things can substitute for food in lending their likable qualities to the ideas, products, and people artificially linked to them. In the final analysis, then, that is why those good-looking models are standing around in the magazine ads. And that is why radio programmers are instructed to insert the station’s call-letters jingle immediately before a big hit song is played. And that is even why the women playing Barnyard Bingo at a Tupperware party must yell the word “Tupperware” rather than “Bingo” before they can rush to the center of the floor for a prize. It may be “Tupperware” for the women, but it’s “Bingo” for the company.
Just because we are often the unaware victims of compliance practitioners’ use of the association principle doesn’t mean that we don’t understand how it works or don’t use it ourselves. There is ample evidence, for instance, that we understand fully the predicament of a Persian imperial messenger or modern-day weatherman announcing bad news. In fact, we can be counted on to take steps to avoid putting ourselves in any similar positions. Research done at the University of Georgia shows just how we operate when faced with the task of communicating good or bad news. Students waiting for an experiment to begin were given the job of informing a fellow student that an important phone call had come in for him. Half the time the call was supposed to bring good news and half the time, bad news. The researchers found that the students conveyed the information very differently, depending on its quality. When the news was positive, the tellers were sure to mention that feature: “You just got a phone call with great news. Better see the experimenter for the details.” But when the news was unfavorable, they kept themselves apart from it: “You just got a phone call. Better see the experimenter for the details.” Obviously, the students had previously learned that, to be liked, they should connect themselves to good news but not bad news.87
A lot of strange behavior can be explained by the fact that people understand the association principle well enough to strive to link themselves to positive events and separate themselves from negative events—even when they have not caused the events. Some of the strangest of such behavior takes place in the great arena of sports. The actions of the athletes are not the issue here, though. After all, in the heated contact of the game, they are entitled to an occasional eccentric outburst. Instead, it is the often raging, irrational, boundless fervor of the sports fan that seems, on its face, so puzzling. How can we account for wild sports riots in Europe, or the murder of players and referees by South American soccer crowds gone berserk, or the unnecessary lavishness of the gifts provided by local fans to already wealthy American ballplayers on the special “day” set aside to honor them? Rationally, none of this makes sense. It’s just a game! Isn’t it?
Hardly. The relationship between sport and the earnest fan is anything but gamelike. It is serious, intense, and highly personal. An apt illustration comes from one of my favorite anecdotes. It concerns a World War II soldier who returned to his home in the Balkans after the war and shortly thereafter stopped speaking. Medical examinations could find no physical cause for the problem. There was no wound, no brain damage, no vocal impairment. He could read, write, understand a conversation, and follow orders. Yet he would not talk—not for his doctors, not for his friends, not even for his pleading family.
Perplexed and exasperated, his doctors moved him to another city and placed him in a veterans’ hospital where he remained for thirty years, never breaking his self-imposed silence and sinking into a life of social isolation. Then one day, a radio in his ward happened to be tuned to a soccer match between his hometown team and a traditional rival. When at a crucial point of play the referee called a foul against a player from the man’s home team, the mute veteran jumped from his chair, glared at the radio, and spoke his first words in more than three decades: “You dumb ass!” he cried. “Are you trying to give them the match?” With that, he returned to his chair and to a silence he never again violated.
There are two important lessons to be derived from this true story. The first concerns the sheer power of the phenomenon. The veteran’s desire to have his hometown team succeed was so strong that it alone produced a deviation from his solidly entrenched way of life. Similar effects of sports events on the long-standing habits of fans are far from unique to the back wards of veterans’ hospitals. During the 1980 Winter Olympics, after the U.S. hockey team had upset the vastly favored Soviet team, the teetotaling father of the American goaltender, Jim Craig, was offered a flask. “I’ve never had a drink in my life,” he reported later, “but someone behind me handed me cognac. I drank it. Yes, I did.” Nor was such unusual behavior unique to parents of the players. Fans outside the hockey arena were described in news accounts as delirious: “They hugged, sang, and turned somersaults in the snow.” Even those fans not present at Lake Placid exulted in the victory and displayed their pride with bizarre behavior. In Raleigh, North Carolina, a swim meet had to be halted when, after the hockey score was announced, the competitors and audience alike chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” until they were hoarse. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a quiet supermarket erupted at the news into a riot of flying toilet tissue and paper towel streamers. The customers were joined in their spree—and soon led—by the market employees and manager.
Without question, the force is deep and sweeping. But if we return to the account of the silent veteran, we can see that something else is revealed about the nature of the union of sports and sports fan, something crucial to its basic character: It is a personal thing. Whatever fragment of an identity that ravaged, mute man still possessed was engaged by soccer play. No matter how weakened his ego may have become after thirty years of wordless stagnation in a hospital ward, it was involved in the outcome of the match. Why? Because he, personally, would be diminished by a hometown defeat. How? Through the principle of association. The mere connection of birthplace hooked him, wrapped him, tied him to the approaching triumph or failure. As distinguished author Isaac Asimov put it in describing our reactions to the contests we view, “All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality…and what you want to prove is that you are better than the other person. Whomever you root for represents you; and when he wins, you win.”88
When viewed in this light, the passion of the sports fan begins to make sense. The game is no light diversion to be enjoyed for its inherent form and artistry. The self is at stake. That is why hometown crowds are so adoring and, more tellingly, so grateful toward those regularly responsible for home-team victories. That is also why the same crowds are often ferocious in their treatment of players, coaches, and officials implicated in athletic failures.
Fans’ intolerance of defeat can shorten the careers of even successful players and coaches. Take the case of Frank Layden, who abruptly quit as coach of the NBA’s Utah Jazz while the team was leading the league’s Midwest Division. Layden’s relative success, warm humor, and widely known charitable activities in the Salt Lake City area were not enough to shield him from the ire of some Jazz supporters after team losses. Citing a brace of incidents with abusive fans, including one in which people waited around for an hour to curse at him following a defeat, Layden explained his decision: “Sometimes in the NBA, you feel like a dog. I’ve had people spit on me. I had a guy come up to me and say, ‘I’m a lawyer. Hit me, hit me, so I can sue you.’ I think America takes all sports too seriously.”
So we want our affiliated sports teams to win to prove our own superiority. But to whom are we trying to prove it? Ourselves, certainly; but to everyone else, too. According to the association principle, if we can surround ourselves with success that we are connected with in even a superficial way (for example, place of residence), our public prestige will rise.
Are sports fans right to think that without ever throwing a block, catching a ball, scoring a goal, or perhaps even attending a game, they will receive some of the glory from a hometown championship? I believe so. The evidence is in their favor. Recall that Persia’s messengers did not have to cause the news, my weatherman did not have to cause the weather, and Pavlov’s bell did not have to cause the food for powerful effects to occur. The association was enough.
It is for this reason that, were the University of Southern California to win the Rose Bowl, we could expect people with a Southern Cal connection to try to increase the visibility of that connection in any of a variety of ways. In one experiment showing how wearing apparel can serve to proclaim such an association, researchers counted the number of school sweatshirts worn on Monday mornings by students on the campuses of seven prominent football universities: Arizona State, Louisiana State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Southern California. The results showed that many more home-school shirts were worn if the football team had won its game on the prior Saturday. What’s more, the larger the margin of victory, the more such shirts appeared. It wasn’t a close, hard-fought game that caused the students to dress themselves, literally, in success; instead, it was a clear, crushing conquest smacking of indisputable superiority.
This tendency to try to bask in reflected glory by publicly trumpeting our connections to successful others has its mirror image in our attempt to avoid being darkened by the shadow of others’ defeat. In an amazing display during the luckless 1980 season, season-ticket-holding fans of the New Orleans Saints football team began to appear at the stadium wearing paper bags to conceal their faces. As their team suffered loss after loss, more and more fans donned the bags until TV cameras were regularly able to record the extraordinary image of gathered masses of people shrouded in brown paper with nothing to identify them but the tips of their noses. I find it instructive that during a late-season contest, when it was clear that the Saints were at last going to win one, the fans discarded their bags and went public once more.
All this tells me that we purposefully manipulate the visibility of our connections with winners and losers in order to make ourselves look good to anyone who could view these connections. By showcasing the positive associations and burying the negative ones, we are trying to get observers to think more highly of us and to like us more. There are many ways we go about this, but one of the simplest and most pervasive is in the pronouns we use. Have you noticed, for example, how often after a home-team victory fans crowd into the range of a TV camera, thrust their index fingers high, and shout, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” Note that the call is not “They’re number one” or even “Our team is number one.” The pronoun is “we,” designed to imply the closest possible identity with the team.
Note also that nothing similar occurs in the case of failure. No television viewer will ever hear the chant, “We’re in last place! We’re in last place!” Home-team defeats are the times for distancing oneself. Here “we” is not nearly as preferred as the insulating pronoun “they.” To prove the point, I once did a small experiment in which students at Arizona State University were phoned and asked to describe the outcome of a football game their school team had played a few weeks earlier. Some of the students were asked the outcome of a certain game their team had lost; the other students were asked the outcome of a different game—one their team had won. My fellow researcher, Avril Thorne, and I simply listened to what was said and recorded the percentage of students who used the word “we” in their descriptions. When the results were tabulated, it was obvious that the students had tried to connect themselves to success by using the pronoun “we” to describe their school-team victory—“We beat Houston, seventeen to fourteen,” or “We won.” In the case of the lost game, however, “we” was rarely used. Instead, the students used terms designed to keep themselves separate from their vanquished team—“They lost to Missouri, thirty to twenty,” or “I don’t know the score, but Arizona State got beat.” Perhaps the twin desires to connect ourselves to winners and to distance ourselves from losers were combined consummately in the remarks of one particular student. After dryly recounting the score of the home-team defeat—“Arizona State lost it, thirty to twenty”—he blurted in anguish, “They threw away our chance for a national championship!”89
If it is true that, to make ourselves look good, we try to bask in the reflected glory of the successes we are even remotely associated with, a provocative implication emerges: We will be most likely to use this approach when we feel that we don’t look so good. When ever our public image is damaged, we will experience an increased desire to restore that image by trumpeting our ties to successful others. At the same time, we will most scrupulously avoid publicizing our ties to failing others. Support for these ideas comes from the telephone study of Arizona State University students. Before being asked about the home-team victory or loss, they were given a test of their general knowledge. The test was rigged so that some of the students would fail badly while the others would do quite well.
So at the time they were asked to describe the football score, half of the students had experienced recent image damage from their failure of the test. These students later showed the greatest need to manipulate their connections with the football team to salvage their prestige. If they were asked to describe the team defeat, only 17 percent used the pronoun “we” in so doing. If, however, they were asked to describe the win, 41 percent said “we.”
The story was very different, though, for the students who had done well on the general knowledge test. They later used “we” about equally, whether they were describing a home-team victory (25 percent) or defeat (24 percent). These students had bolstered their images through their own achievement and didn’t need to do so through the achievement of others. This finding tells me that it is not when we have a strong feeling of recognized personal accomplishment that we will seek to bask in reflected glory. Instead, it will be when prestige (both public and private) is low that we will be intent upon using the successes of associated others to help restore image.
I think it revealing that the remarkable hubbub following the American hockey team victory in the 1980 Olympics came at a time of recently diminished American prestige. The U.S. government had been helpless to prevent both the holding of American hostages in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was a time when, as a citizenry, we needed the triumph of that hockey team and we needed to display or even manufacture our connections to it. We should not be surprised to learn, for instance, that outside the hockey arena, in the aftermath of the win over the Soviet team, scalpers were getting a hundred dollars a pair for ticket stubs.
Although the desire to bask in reflected glory exists to a degree in all of us, there seems to be something special about people who would wait in the snow to spend fifty dollars apiece for the shreds of tickets to a game they had not attended, presumably to “prove” to friends back home that they had been present at the big victory. Just what kind of people are they? Unless I miss my guess, they are not merely great sports aficionados; they are individuals with a hidden personality flaw—a poor self-concept. Deep inside is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others of attainment. There are several varieties of this species that bloom throughout our culture. The persistent name-dropper is a classic example. So, too, is the rock-music groupie, who trades sexual favors for the right to tell girlfriends that she was “with” a famous musician for a time. No matter which form it takes, the behavior of such individuals shares a similar theme—the rather tragic view of accomplishment as deriving from outside the self.
Certain of these people work the association principle in a slightly different way. Instead of striving to inflate their visible connections to others of success, they strive to inflate the success of others they are visibly connected to. The clearest illustration is the notorious “stage mother,” obsessed with securing stardom for her child. Of course, women are not alone in this regard. In 1991 a Davenport, Iowa, obstetrician cut off service to the wives of three school officials, reportedly because his son had not been given enough playing time in school basketball games. One of the wives was eight months’ pregnant at the time.
Physicians’ wives often speak of the pressures to obtain personal prestige by association with their husband’s professional stature. John Pekkanen, who authored the book The Best Doctors in the U.S., reports that many enraged protests to his list came not from the physicians who were omitted but from their wives. In one instance that reveals the extent to which the principle of association dominates the thinking of some of these women, Pekkanen received a letter from a frantic wife along with her proof that her husband deserved to be on the list of best doctors. It was a photograph of the man with Merv Griffin.
HOW TO SAY NO
Because liking can be increased by many means, a proper consideration of defenses against compliance professionals who employ the liking rule must, oddly enough, be a short one. It would be pointless to construct a horde of specific countertactics to combat each of the myriad versions of the various ways to influence liking. There are simply too many routes to be blocked effectively with such a one-on-one strategy. Besides, several of the factors leading to liking—physical attractiveness, familiarity, association—have been shown to work unconsciously to produce their effects on us, making it unlikely that we could muster a timely protection against them.
Instead we need to consider a general approach, one that can be applied to any of the liking-related factors to neutralize their unwelcome influence on our compliance decisions. The secret to such an approach may lie in its timing. Rather than trying to recognize and prevent the action of liking factors before they have a chance to work on us, we might be well advised to let them work. Our vigilance should be directed not toward the things that may produce undue liking for a compliance practitioner, but toward the fact that undue liking has been produced. The time to react protectively is when we feel ourselves liking the practitioner more than we should under the circumstances.
By concentrating our attention on the effect rather than the causes, we can avoid the laborious, nearly impossible task of trying to detect and deflect the many psychological influences on liking. Instead, we have to be sensitive to only one thing related to liking in our contacts with compliance practitioners: the feeling that we have come to like the practitioner more quickly or more deeply than we would have expected. Once we notice this feeling, we will have been tipped off that there is probably some tactic being used, and we can start taking the necessary countermeasures. Note that the strategy I am suggesting borrows much from the jujitsu style favored by the compliance professionals themselves. We don’t attempt to restrain the influence of the factors that cause liking. Quite the contrary. We allow these factors to exert their force, and then we use that force in our campaign against them. The stronger the force, the more conspicuous it becomes and, consequently, the more subject to our alerted defenses.
Suppose, for example, we find ourselves bargaining on the price of a new car with Dealin’ Dan, a candidate for Joe Girard’s vacated “greatest car salesman” title. After talking a while and negotiating a bit, Dan wants to close the deal; he wants us to decide to buy the car. Before any such decision is made, it would be important to ask ourselves a crucial question: “In the twenty-five minutes I’ve known this guy, have I come to like him more than I would have expected?” If the answer is yes, we might want to reflect upon whether Dan behaved during those few minutes in ways that we know affect liking. We might recall that he had fed us (coffee and doughnuts) before launching into his pitch, that he had complimented us on our choice of options and color combinations, that he had made us laugh, that he had cooperated with us against the sales manager to get us a better deal.
Although such a review of events might be informative, it is not a necessary step in protecting ourselves from the liking rule. Once we discover that we have come to like Dan more than we would have expected to, we don’t have to know why. The simple recognition of unwarranted liking should be enough to get us to react against it. One possible reaction would be to reverse the process and actively dislike Dan. But that might be unfair to him and contrary to our own interests. After all, some individuals are naturally likable, and Dan might just be one of them. It wouldn’t be right to turn automatically against those compliance professionals who happen to be most likable. Besides, for our own sakes, we wouldn’t want to shut ourselves off from business interactions with such nice people, especially when they may be offering us the best available deal.
I would recommend a different reaction. If our answer to the crucial question is “Yes, under the circumstances, I like this guy peculiarly well,” this should be the signal that the time has come for a quick countermaneuver: Mentally separate Dan from that Chevy or Toyota he’s trying to sell. It is vital to remember at this point that, should we decide for Dan’s car, we will be driving it, not him, off the dealership lot. It is irrelevant to a wise automobile purchase that we find Dan likable because he is good-looking, claims an interest in our favorite hobby, is funny, or has relatives back where we grew up.
Our proper response, then, is a conscious effort to concentrate exclusively on the merits of the deal and car Dan has for us. Of course, in making a compliance decision, it is always a good idea to keep separate our feelings about the requester and the request. But once immersed in even a brief personal and sociable contact with a requester, that distinction is easy to forget. In those instances when we don’t care one way or the other about a requester, forgetting to make the distinction won’t steer us very far wrong. The big mistakes are likely to come when we are fond of the person making a request.
That’s why it is so important to be alert to a sense of undue liking for a compliance practitioner. The recognition of that feeling can serve as our reminder to separate the dealer from the merits of the deal and to make our decision based on considerations related only to the latter. Were we all to follow this procedure, I am certain we would be much more pleased with the results of our exchanges with compliance professionals—though I suspect that Dealin’ Dan would not.
From a Chicago Man
“Although I’ve never been to a Tupperware party, I recognized the same kind of friendship pressures recently when I got a call from a long-distance-phone-company saleswoman. She told me that one of my buddies had placed my name on something called the MCI Friends and Family Calling Circle.
“This friend of mine, Brad, is a guy I grew up with but who moved to New Jersey last year for a job. He still calls me pretty regularly to get the news on the guys we used to hang out with from the neighborhood. The saleswoman told me that he can save twenty percent on all the calls he makes to the people on his Calling Circle list, provided that they are MCI-phone-company subscribers. Then she asked me if I wanted to switch to MCI to get all the blah, blah, blah benefits of MCI service, and so that Brad could save twenty percent on his calls to me.
“Well, I couldn’t have cared less about the benefits of MCI service; I was perfectly happy with the long-distance company I had. But the part about wanting to save Brad money on our calls really got to me. For me to say that I didn’t want to be in his Calling Circle and didn’t care about saving him money would have sounded like a real affront to our friendship when he learned of it. So, to avoid insulting him, I told her to switch me to MCI.
“I used to wonder why women would go to a Tupperware party just because a friend was holding it, and then buy stuff they didn’t want once they were there. I don’t wonder anymore.”
This reader is not alone in being able to testify to the power of the pressures embodied in MCI’s Calling Circle idea. When Consumer Reports magazine inquired into the practice, the MCI salesperson they interviewed was quite succinct: “It works nine out of ten times,” he said.