Experiences vs. Possessions: You Are What You've Done, Not What You Own

Picture of the beach
A walk on the beach is an experience you will use to define who you are.
In the last few years psychology research (e.g. Carter & Gilovich, 2010) has proven what many of us have long suspected: that experiences (vacations, events with friends, etc) make people happier than buying and owning stuff (computers, clothes, etc). But more recent research by the same duo (Carter & Gilovich, 2012) shows that the experience vs. possession difference goes further than they thought.
Why are experiences more important? — In their newest reserach Carter and Gilovich wanted to find out why we value experiences over possessions. Their theory was that people use experiences to define their sense of self more than they use possessions. This proved to be true. People in their study talked about their experiences more than possessions when they told their “life stories”. When talking about purchases and possessions they were more likely to feel that a purchase was an indicator of who they were if they described it in terms of their experience with the possession rather than the physical quality of the item itself.
Experiences give more info — The value of experiences to understand went beyond themselves. Participants in the study  felt that knowing what another person had experienced would give them more information and insight into who they really are than knowing what they bought.
Experience = more satisfaction — And lastly, the researchers conclude that it is because people cling to the memory of important experiences that makes them more satisfied with experiences compared to possessions.
Thinking about the results of this research the following ideas come to mind:
  • If you are marketing a product, put emphasis on what experiences you will have with it rather than what it will look like/feel like/ be like to own it.
  • If you are collecting purchasing info about target clients (as has been in the news lately with questions about privacy) you’d be better off to know what people’s purchases imply about the experiences they are having rather than just inferring from the data what they own.
  • The user experience of a product is more important than we think. It’s not just the idea that the product should be easy to use/ interesting. The EXPERIENCE part of user experience is not just a fancy word to use. People remember and evaluate, and even cherish experiences, even with technology.
  • Customers may resonate more with a brand if they can get a sense of what the organization has DONE, not just what products or services they sell.
What do you think? What are the implications that we define sense of self through experience more than possessions?
And if you like to read the research:
Carter, Travis J.;Gilovich, Thomas
I Am What I Do, Not What I Have: The Differential Centrality of Experiential and Material Purchases to the Self.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Feb 27 , 2012,  doi: 10.1037/a0027407
Carter, Travis J.; Gilovich, Thomas. The relative relativity of material and experiential purchases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010; 98 (1): 146 DOI:10.1037/a0017145

7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #4

The word becauseThis is the 4th in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations. Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”. Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report. Now for Tip #4. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #4: Use the word “Because”, and give a reason. Have you heard of the “Because” study? In 1978 three researchers (see reference below), conducted a research study. Ellen Langer, Arthur Blank and Benzion Chanowitz used a busy copy machine at on a college campus (remember that this is in the 1970’s — there weren’t computers and printers. People did a lot more copying back then). The researchers tried out three different, carefully worded requests to break in line:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?”
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Here are the results:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?” [60% compliance]
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”[93% compliance]
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” [94% compliance]

Using the word “because” and giving a reason resulted in significantly more compliance. This was true even when the reason was not very compelling (“because I have to make copies). The researchers hypothesize that people go on “automatic” behavior or “mindlessness” as a form of a heuristic, or short-cut. And hearing the word “because” followed by a reason (no matter how lame the reason is), causes us to comply.

(Two interesting side notes here — if the request was large (copying 20 pages rather than 5), then only the real reason, “I’m in a rush” resulted in compliance. And Elizabeth Langer, who was one of the researchers in this study as a grad student, later went on to study mindlessness and mindfulness in her career, becoming famous for her research on reversing the effects of aging with mindfulness — See the book Counterclockwise).

What this all boils down to is this: When the stakes are low people will engage in automatic behavior.  If you want a team to implement your recommendations, then a) make as small a request/recommendation as you can, and b) use the word because and give a reason as to why you want the change to be implemented.

What do you think? Have you tried this technique?

And if you want to read the original research:

Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.

 

 

 


100 Things You Should Know About People: #64 — Groups Are Swayed By A Dominant Personality

Picture of Meeting In the last blog post I talked about how groups end up making faulty decisions. How many times have you been part of a group discussion and decision-making process and there is one person who is dominating the conversation and the decision. Just because decisions are made in a group setting doesn’t mean that the entire group really made the decision. Many people give up in the presence of one or more dominant group members, and may not speak up at all.

Why does the leader become the leader? — Anderson and Kilduff (2009) researched group decision-making. They formed groups of four students each and had them solve math problems from the GMAT (a standardized test for admission to graduate business school programs).

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #63 — Group Decision-Making Is Faulty

Picture of People At a MeetingIf your work life is anything like mine, your day is filled with groups meeting by phone or in person and making decisions. Unfortunately research shows that group decision-making has some serious flaws.

The Danger of Group-Think — Andreas Mojzisch and Stefan Schulz-Hardt (2010) presented people with information on prospective job candidates. People who received information on the group’s preferences before reviewing the candidate information, did not review the candidate information fully, and therefore did not make the best decisions. In a memory test they did not remember the most relevant information. The researchers concluded that when a group of people starts a discussion by sharing their initial preferences, they spend less time and less attention on the information that is available outside of the group’s preferences. And they therefore make a less than optimal decision.

The majority start with group discussions — The estimate is that 90% of group discussions start with group members talking about their initial impressions. According to the research this is a poor idea.

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #40 — "You're Easily Influenced, but I'm not"

Woman looking skeptical
Photo by Katie Ricard

I have been doing a lot of public speaking about my book and the ideas of persuasion. Early in my talks I often discuss John Bargh’s research on how much we are influenced by factors that we are not aware of. Bargh had people unscramble sets of words to make sentences, for example, he would ask people to choose 4 out of 5 words and make a sentence out of them:

he florida today lives now in

would become: “He now lives in Florida”.

Some people would get sets of words that had a theme of old: such as Florida, retired, old, elderly. Other people would get sets of words that had a young theme: such as youth, energy, lively.  A third group would get neutral words that were neither old nor young. After unscrambling the words and making sentences he would then have them walk down the hall to find him. Bargh measured how long it took each person to walk down the hall. People who had been using the “old” words, took much longer to walk down the hall. They had been unconsciously affected by the words. But when asked if they thought the words had influenced them they said no, and when I talk about this study I get the impression that most people in the audience believe that others would walk slowly, but that these words wouldn’t have affected them.

“I’m not that influenced” — In another example, I share in my talks about the power of social validation: how ratings and reviews at websites have a huge influence over what people decide to do (it’s because when we are uncertain we look to others to decide what to do). And everyone in the room nods and talks about how this is true, that other people are very influenced by ratings and reviews, but most people I am speaking to think that they themselves are not very affected. I talk about study after study on persuasion and how much we are affected by pictures, images, words, and that we don’t realize we are being influenced. And the reaction is always similar: “Yes, other people are affected by these things, but I am not.”

The third person effect — In fact, this belief that “others are affected but not me”, is so common that there is research on it, and it has its own name: the “third person effect”.  The research shows that most people think other people are influenced by persuasive messages, but that they themselves are not, and that this perception is false. The “third person effect” seems to be especially true if you think you aren’t interested in the topic. For example, if you are not in the market to buy a new TV, then you will tend to think that advertising about new TVs won’t affect you, but the research says that it will.

Why do we deceive ourselves this way? — So why the self-deception? It’s partly because all this influence is happening unconsciously. We literally aren’t aware that we are being influenced. And it’s also partly because we don’t like to think of ourselves as so easily swayed, or so “gullible”. To be gullible is to not be in control, and our old brain, the part of our brain that is concerned with survival, always wants us to be in control.

What do you think? Why do we believe that others are so easily influenced but not ourselves?

For those of you who like to read research:

Bargh, John A., Mark Chen, Lara Burrows. 1996. Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 71(2), 230-244.

Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.

Bryant Paul; Michael B. Salwen; Michel Dupagne, The Third-Person Effect: A Meta-analysis of the perceptual hypothesis. Mass Communication and Society, 1532-7825, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2000, Pages 57 – 85

Perloff  Third-Person Effect Research 1983–1992: A Review and Synthesis.
Int J Public Opin Res.1993; 5: 167-184

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #32 — Synchronous activity bonds the group

Photo of sports fan doing a cheerWhat do members of a marching band, fans at a college football game, and people at Sunday church have in common? They are all engaging in “synchronous” activity.

What is synchronous activity? — It is when you take action with others, where everyone is moving, singing, chanting, in time together.

What happens when we engage in “timed” behavior together? — Anthropologists have long been interested in rituals among certain cultures. Many rituals in a culture involve singing, chanting, drumming, dancing, or moving together. A recent study (see below for full reference) shows that when people take part in synchronous activities they then are more cooperative with each other when participating later in different activities.

You’ll make more personal sacrifices — In the research the people who were involved in synchronous behavior with other people were then more cooperative in subsequent activities, and ended up making more personal sacrifices in their decisions.

Not just about feeling good — The research also shows that you don’t have to feel good about the group or the group activity in order to be more cooperative. Just the act of doing the synchronous activity seems to strengthen social attachment among the group members.

Here’s my list of synchronous activities I can think of:

  • Singing together
  • Cheers at sporting events
  • Drumming or dancing together
  • Pledge of allegiance
  • Shouting slogans at rallies or marches
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

Can you think of other examples?

The reference — Scott S. Wiltermuth  and Chip Heath,  Synchrony and Cooperation, Psychological Science, Volume 20 Issue 1, Pages 1 – 5

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Who is The Most Romantic?: The Brain Science of Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's DayIt’s almost Valentine’s Day and you go online to look for a gift to buy that special someone in your life. What will you buy? I posed that question to both men and women in a small research study I conducted recently. And the answers I got surprised me.

When research answers a different question than the one you meant to ask — Actually, the question I thought I was studying was about how much money people would be spending online. I had a theory that if people stated up front what their Valentine’s gift budget was, then they would be more likely to stick with that budget. So I ran two groups: people who were asked how much money they planned to spend before the shopping started, and people who weren’t. And I split both of those groups into men and women to see if there were any gender differences to the budget question.

The budget question was a bust — It turns out that when you ask people what their budget is, it doesn’t affect how much they buy at all, not men, not women. I saw the lack of a trend right away as I started analyzing the data, but then the data told me something totally different.

The gifts that men and women were buying were VERY different. Watch the video first, and then read on:

A disclaimer — This is not a formal research study with statistical analysis. It’s an exploratory study. Having said that, though, I was careful to present everyone with the same instructions, and I had people responding from all over the USA.

So here are the findings — Men picked traditionally romantic Valentine’s gifts, such as flowers, chocolate, and jewelry. Just about all the men picked these traditional gifts. The only slight deviation was one man who said he was buying tickets to dinner and a show. None of the women picked what would be considered a traditional Valentine’s gift. None. The women were purchasing: books, cell phones, pajamas, keychains, TVs….

Does this mean the men are more romantic? — Well, I guess it depends on what you call romantic. The men definitely mentioned love more than the women. The men would say things like:

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #25 — Trust Your Gut or Be Logical? It Depends On Your Mood

Picture of Woman Looking In Mirror
Photo Credit: Katie Ricard

In a previous post on how mood affects your reaction to brands you know (see You Are Most Affected By Brands And Logos When You Are Sad And Scared), I talked about the research from Marieke de Vries of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. De Vries also did research on two types of decision making: a trusting -your- gut intuitive method vs. following a logical, deliberative decision-making process of weighing alternatives and thinking through pros and cons. De Vries was interested in whether one method of decision-making was better than another, and also whether your mood affected the outcome of the decision.

When to use deliberative decision-making — Research by Dijksterhuis shows that when you have simple decision to make you make better decisions when you use a logical deliberative method.

When to use intuitive decision-making — Research by Shiv shows that when you have a complicated decision to make, you make better decisions when you use an intuitive or “gut” method.

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