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Influence by Robert Cialdini and Opening Skinner’s Box by Lauren Slater

In his book Cialdini studies influence as a separate science. He believes that there are different ways to influence people and studies these ways in his book. People to great extend depend of social proof. They are ready to try their best to get social validation or social acceptation. This desire can have both, positive and negative consequences. As Cialdini states: “Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do …the problem comes when we begin responding to social proof in such a mindless and reflexive fashion that we can be fooled by partial or fake evidence” (Cialdini, 140).

Cialdini states that joining the sitcom laugh track is a perfect example of the way people are manipulated by social validation. Hearing the laughter during the comic movies or shows people autmatically join it.

An example of end-of-the-world cult is a very vivid example that when there is lack of real evidence, people turn to social proof as a mean to support their beliefs. In the exmpale descibed in the book the members of doomsday cult could not get evidence about the end of the world and only after that they decided to make their sect public and let other people know about them. Caildini explains this change by the necesstiy to get social proof if there is no other kind of proof. “The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct. The group’s assignment was clear; since the physical evidence could not be changed, the social evidence had to be. Convince and ye shall be convinced!” (Caildini 149).

People desperately need social proof in the situation of uncertainty. Mass suicide of 910 members of the Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978 is an example of human reaction in the situation of uncertainty. Researches state that this situation would not be possible somewhere in the populated region. People, who found themselves isolated in Jonestown, in Guyana, looked for social proofs when the head of the church, Jim Jones, proposed them to drink poison and commit a suicide. Since people around them followed his instructions, other people also followed them and this resulted in terrible tragedy.

 Social proof may have negative effect on individual’s behaviour. The murder of Catheirne Genoveese became a great shock for the society.  As states Cialdini: “for more than half an hour, thirty eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks.” (Cialdini). Mass media blamed these people in lack of sympathy. Social psychologists turn to the phenomenon of social proof in order to explain this behavior. All 38 people were aware about the people around them and each of them hoped that somebody else has done something. In addition, seeing the calm behavior of other people they persuaded themselves that situation was not dangerous and extraordinary. Two these factors taken together explained the people’ behavior and social proof is an explanations, which stands behind these two factors.

Very often in the emergency cases people feel uncertain. In this case they prefer not to do anything and wait till the reactions of others. In this case we meet the phenomenon of “pluralistic ignorance”. Cialdini defines it as a “failure of entire groups of bystanders to aid victims in agonizing need of help”(Cialdini, 149). Uncertainty is a key feature, which describes pluralistic ignorance. Inaction of people during emergency situation is explained by inaction of others.

Great importance of social proof is also demonstrated on the example of so called Werther effect. This effect was discovered and described by David Phillips. He found out that after loudly-advertised suicides the number of suicides increases. What is notable, “this tendency for suicides to beget suicides occurred principally in those parts of the country where the first suicide was highly publicized and that the wider the publicity given the first suicide, the greater the number of later suicides” (Caildini, 146). Big airplane and auto crashes is also regarded in this case as an attempt to repeat suicide. The pilots and drivers, who become guilty in the crashes, act in the basis of social proof. They turn to an accident instead of committing a suicide.

Appearance is another way to influence people. So called “halo effect” is created by physical attractiveness and influences the way we perceive other people. Subconsciously people believe that beautiful people possess such qualities as intelligence, kindness, talent and honesty. “During the Canadian federal elections research proved that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates” (Caildini, 171)

We like people, who compliment us. We also like people, who resemble us. As states Caildini: “We like people who are similar to us” and “we are more likely to help those who dress like us”(173). During any kind of elections people tend to choose candidates, who resemble themselves. This way they give their will and opportunity to decide to those, who remind them of themselves. Unfortunately, our schools create an atmosphere of competition. This gives little opportunities for different children to make friends and cooperate. During the experiment, performed by Muzafer Sherif in summer camp showed that splitting boys into competing groups increased hostility, and giving them common tasks increased cooperation.

People associate the type of information they perceive with the carrier of this information. They like people, who bring them good news and they will dislike a TV reporter, who warns them about a coming storm. This way they also try to associate themselves with successful people. Sport fans are perfect example of people, who associate themselves with positive achievements and success.

Milgram in his provocative experiments, which aimed to study the correlation between personal will and authority came to unexpected conclusions. Obedience is a basic notion in the social structure. Any living creature has to deal with the terms of obedience and authority if it lives in the society.  Respond to authority can be a defiance or a submission but anyway authority provokes a response. Milgram states that for many people obedience is a deeply internalized pattern of behaviour and it can dominate ethic, moral and sympathy. But it doesn’t mean that moral is totally suppressed by the obedience it just changes focus. The person feels moral satisfaction or dissatisfaction depending on the adequacy of the actions performed called by the authority. As Milgram himself states: “It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of the study” (Caildini, 215). Many participants of the experiment experienced a great stress and tried to protest against the orders but finally obeyed.

Milgram states that our society is designed in such a way that it constantly persuades people that they should obey the authorities. Different social practices are designed is a way to make people believe that obedience to legitimate authorities is a normal conduct. In addition, people have an ability to adapt to situation. That is the reason very often people instinctively believe that obedience the authority is their own choice and the best type of behavior. Very often the act of obedience is hidden under the mask of decision making.

Caildini defines symbols of authority, which are titles, clothes and trappings. Titles, such as doctor or professor have mesmerizing effect on people. Uniform in any cases serves as a mean to distinguish one group from another. Trappings include jewellery, expansive cars and other distinguishing features, can give information about the high position of their owner.

Slater book called Opening Skinner’s box describes a number of controversial and provocative experiments.

Greatly shocked by the murder of Kitty Genovese at the presence of 38 neighbors, Latane and Darley decided to set a series of experiments, which would examine the reactions of bystanders on the different type of emergency cases. Their main goal was to find out possible reactions of bystanders and different conditions, which influence it. An experiment brought interesting and unexpected results. In the most of experiments bystanders reacted more actively if they witnessed an emergency situation alone. The authors of the experiment wanted to doubt an idea of “apathetic bystander”. They found out that the probability of bystanders’ intervention depended on many variables. People were not apathetic bystanders. They made multiple choices before turning to actions. If the group of people witnessed an emergence situation, people reacted less actively or did not turn to reaction at all. The authors of the experiment explain such type of reaction by the fact that the presence of other people reduces responsibility. The presence other people reduces fear under the same degree of danger.

Five stages of helping behavior include: noticing, interpreting, assuming responsibility, knowing what to do, and decision to help. On the first stage the person just notices some event. On the next stage he understands that this event is an emergency. On the third stage understands that he can become responsible in this situation. On the forth stage bystander tries to find out if he or she is able to help. On the last stage bystander makes a decision to help.

Human and society are closely interconnected. People exist as a part of society and society consists of separate individuals. They can not exist without each other. Social psychologists turn to the conclusion that being a social creatures people can discover their personalities only in the society.

I was greatly surprised by the results of Milgrams’ experiments. Conclusions Milgram drops are overwhelming. Atrocities from the Holocaust to Vietnam’s My Lai massacre, from Bosnia to Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were not created by cruel sadists and heartless maniacs. They were done by the ordinary people who just obeyed the authority orders. And here the ethical dilemma arises. Who is guilty in the crimes committed – the people who gave the criminal orders or ones who executed them. Neither first nor second feel guilty as the first ones didn’t do anything themselves and others just followed the instruction and put the responsibility on the shoulders of the ones who gave them.

By the experiments described, Slater underlines that human beings are highly sociable creatures. Experiments described by the author prove that opinion of humans depend on the opinion of other people to great extend. Humans are sociable creatures and their behavior depends on the reaction of other people to great extend.

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