The science of persuasion

One week after a surprisingly decisive re-election by President Obama and the redux on how his campaign did it continues. Big Data or the process of collecting, distilling and making sense of mountains of information has taken center stage, as it’s become clear the Obama team elevated research in a way that’s never been done before in a presidential campaign.

One of the revelations I found most intriguing is the Obama camp’s investment in a so-called “dream team” of behavioral scientists. It’s a clue that the president and his aides understood that identifying would-be supporters was only half the battle— mobilizing them to act was the greater and far more difficult task.

Any school district that has attempted to a pass a construction bond, recruit more volunteers or engage more parents in their child’s education, understands the truth to this claim. So what does the research say about motivating people to take action?

  • Past habits are a powerful predictor of future behaviors. “People want to be congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that commitment is public,” Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist and academician who conferred with the Obama campaign, told the New York Times.
  • Ask for small commitments and build from there. Cialdini, who wrote the national bestseller “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” points to a classic study by two Stanford researchers to illustrate this point. The pair of psychologists found that once people agreed to place a sign in their window about the importance of safe driving, they were more willing to put a huge sign in their front yard urging passersby to “Drive Safely.”
  •  Developing a plan to do something increases the likelihood that it will actually get done. This one is a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many people leave things to chance. Don’t let them. Ask for details. Offer help. And most importantly, show them the plans you’ve developed. — Naomi Dillon

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