Not long ago I was on vacation in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Walking with a friend around the cathedral, a young woman, apparently mute, approached us.and invited us to read and sign what appeared to be some kind of manifesto calling for the enactment of a law in favor of the rights of people with speech disabilities.
My friend, taken by surprise, and unaware of what was coming, quickly took the manifesto in his hands, read it, and immediately signed his agreement at the bottom of the page. While he did so, I took a couple of steps back to distance myself and be able to contemplate the imminent spectacle from a place of privilege.
Once my friend agreed to that initial harmless request, the girl quickly handed him a second piece of paper asking him how many euros he was willing to donate to the cause. My friend was baffled and I was elated. Having accepted that he was in favor of the rights of mute people, the way had been paved so that he could not refuse a second request, totally consistent with the first, but somewhat more onerous.
In any case, my fun was not free. Without having a penny in his pocket, and unarmed of the cunning necessary to escape the trap, my friend asked me to borrow five euros to give to the girl.
Other people with different disabilities approached us later, in other cities in Spain, and even on London Bridge when we went to England, using essentially the same strategy. In each case, my friend refused to agree to read anything they tried to put in his hands, claiming that he “didn’t speak the language.”
The power of commitment and positive self-image
We are more likely to accept a proposal that we would naturally refuse if we have previously been induced to accept a smaller commitment. When we say “yes” to a request of apparently little value, we are well predisposed to say “yes” to a second request.much more important, and which often constitutes the true interest of the individual who is secretly manipulating us.
Why is it so difficult to say “no” in cases like this? Why don’t we find a way to escape even knowing, or suspecting, that we are being victims of a small but sophisticated manipulation? In order to answer this, let me ask you a question: do you consider yourself a caring person?
If your answer is affirmative, then I ask you a second question: do you consider yourself supportive and therefore regularly donate to charitable institutions or give alms to poor people on the street? Or is it because he gives alms to the poor on the street that he considers himself supportive?
Whether we accept it or not, most of the time we believe we are owners of the truth, especially in matters that have to do with our personality or that in some way concern us. If there is something in which we consider ourselves experts, it is ourselves; and it seems quite obvious that no one is in a position to assure otherwise.
However, and against all odds, studies say that we do not know ourselves as well as we think..
A significant amount of research suggests that the label we give ourselves (for example: “supportive”) results from the observation we make of our own behavior. That is, we first look at how we behave in a certain situation, and based on that, we draw conclusions about ourselves and apply the corresponding label to ourselves.
While my friend was signing the initial petition, he was simultaneously monitoring his own behavior, which contributed to forging a self-image as a person who was well-disposed or cooperative with others. Immediately afterwards, confronted with a request in line with the first but of greater cost, my friend felt compelled to respond in a manner consistent with the idea he had already formed of himself. By then it was too late. Acting contradictorily in a very short period of time generates certain psychological discomfort which is very difficult to get rid of.
The poster experiment
In a fascinating experiment, two people went from house to house in a residential neighborhood to ask homeowners to collaborate in a traffic accident prevention campaign.
They asked for permission, nothing more and nothing less, than to install a gigantic sign in the garden of their homes, several meters long, that said “drive with caution.” To exemplify how it was going to look once it was installed, they showed them a photo showing a house hidden behind the bulky and unaesthetic sign.
As it was expected, practically none of the neighbors consulted accepted such an absurd and disproportionate request.. But, in parallel, another pair of psychologists did the same work a few streets away, asking for permission to place a small decal with the same message on the windows of houses. In this second case, of course, almost everyone agreed.
But the curious thing is what happened two weeks later, when the researchers returned to visit those people who had agreed to the placement of the decal to ask them if they would let them install the unglamorous sign in the center of the garden. This time, As irrational and stupid as it may seem, about 50% of owners agreed.
What had happened? The small request they had accepted on the first occasion had paved the way for a second, much larger request, but oriented in the same direction. But why? What was the mechanism of brain action that was behind such absurd behavior?
Maintaining a consistent self-image
When neighbors accepted the sticker, they began to perceive themselves as citizens committed to the common good. Then, it was the need to maintain that image of people who cooperate with noble causes, which pushed them to accept the second request.
The unconscious desire to behave in accordance with our own image seems to be a very powerful instrument once we have accepted a certain degree of commitment.
Just as we look at the things others do to draw conclusions, we also pay attention to our own actions. We obtain information about ourselves by observing what we do and the decisions we make.
The danger lies in many scammers take advantage of this human need for internal consistency to induce us to accept and expressly express a certain degree of commitment to some cause. They know that, once we adopt a position, it will be difficult to get out of the trap, we will naturally tend to accept any subsequent proposal that is made to us in order to preserve our own image.