How To Get People To Do Stuff #6: Hot drinks, soft pillows & heavy objects

Do you think you’d make different decisions if you were holding something heavy in your hand than holding nothing? Or if you were holding a cup of hot coffee instead of a cold drink? Sounds unlikely, but it’s true: Here’s a video about “haptic sensations.” Or, if you prefer, you can read the summary text after the video.

Joshua Ackerman and John Bargh (2010) conducted research where they had candidates for job interviews hand in their resume one of three ways. One candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper. Another candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper, but had it clipped to a light clipboard. A third candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper, but had it clipped to a heavy clipboard. Then they had interviewers rate which candidates were the best for the job. The interviewers gave higher ratings to candidates whose resume they were reading while the interviewer was holding a heavy clipboard.

Holding a heavy object while looking at a resume makes a job candidate appear more important. In fact, any idea you’re considering while holding something heavy (for instance, a book) you will deem to be more important. The metaphor of an idea being “weighty” has a physical corollary.

There are two terms that are used for this. Sometimes it’s called “haptic sensation” and sometimes you will find it referred to as “embodied cognition.”  We are very influenced by the meaning that our sense of touch perceives.

You may be surprised to find out all the ways that these haptic sensations affect our perceptions and judgments. Besides the effect for a heavy object, people also react to these other haptic sensations:

•      When people touch a rough object during a social interaction, for instance, if they’re sitting on a chair with coarse wool upholstery, they rate the interaction more difficult than if they touch a soft object.

•      When people touch a hard object, they rate a negotiation as more rigid than if they touch a soft object.

•      When people hold a warm cup (for example, a warm cup of coffee), they judge the person they’re interacting with to have a warmer personality than if they’re holding a cup of cold liquid.

You can use these haptic sensations to get people to do stuff. If you want people to have easier interactions with others, then you might want to have soft furniture, not hard chairs, in your conference room, and use a soft fabric covering for them rather than a scratchy tweed. If you have an important client coming to your office, and you want her to feel warmly about you, get her a cup of hot coffee or tea in a mug that will transmit the heat before you start.

Ackerman, Joshua M., Christopher Nocera, and John Bargh. 2010. “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments and decisions.” Science. 328 (5986): 1712-1715. DOI: 10.1126/science.1189993

How To Get People To Do Stuff Book Tour


To celebrate my new book, I’m going on a book tour! I will be touring the US and Europe and speaking on the new book How to Get People to Do Stuff.

If you’d like me to come speak/lead a discussion or have a Q&A in your city or for your group, let me know. These sessions are FREE. You need to provide the location and room. I do a one-hour session. Before and after the session books are available for purchase and I am available to sign them.

I’m putting together the schedule of locations now, so if you are interested you should let me know. Preference is given to groups who can publicize the event,can accommodate a large audience (i.e., 300 people), and fit into my travel schedule and map!

If you are interested contact me at


How To Get People To Do Stuff

bookcoverAre you good with people? Do you know how to get them to do stuff? Are you using tips and techniques you picked up from others or experimented with? If so, I bet that sometimes your strategies work and other times they don’t.

There are 7 basic drivers of human motivation. And if you understand what motivates people you’ll be better able to figure out how to get people to do stuff. That’s the premise of my new book that just hit the shelves. Some of my previous video posts are topics from the new book, and I’ll be posting more video blogs as time goes on. In the meantime, here’s a summary of the 7 drivers of motivation:

The Need to Belong

Have you ever felt left out? Not part of a group you wanted to be part of? It probably made you feel sad, depressed or angry, or all of the above. We are ultimately social animals, and our desire to connect with others is a strong, innate drive. We’re not meant to live alone, and we’ll work hard to be socially accepted. We need to feel that we have a place in the world where we belong.

You can use the need to belong, and the longing for connectedness, to get people to do stuff.

For example:

  • If you use nouns when making a request, rather than verbs – for example: “Be a donor” versus “Donate now” –  it results in more people taking action. That’s because nouns invoke group identity.
  • People are more likely to comply with a request if they trust you.
  • The best way to get others to trust you is to first show that you trust them.


It might surprise you to learn how much of everything we do in a typical day we do out of habit without even thinking about it. We don’t even remember how those habits got formed.

We hear so much about how it takes months to create a new habit. How could that be, when we seem to have created hundreds of them easily without even realizing it? It turns out that it’s actually very easy to create a new habit or even change an existing one, if you understand the science behind habit formation. You can use the science of habits to help other people create or change habits, so you can get them to do stuff. Here’s a little bit of information about the science of habits:

  • The easiest way to create a new habit is to anchor it to an existing habit.
  • If you use anchoring you can get people to create a new habit in less than a week.
  • An important part of getting someone to create a new habit is to break things into really small steps.

The Power of Stories

What kind of person are you? Are you someone who helps those in need? Do you keep up on the latest trends and fashions? Are you a family person who spends time and energy to nurture family relationships?

We all have self-personas. We tell ourselves, and other people, stories about who we are and why we do what we do. Some of our self-personas and our stories are conscious, but others are largely unconscious.

If you understand these self-personas, then you can communicate in a way that matches those self-stories and thereby get people to do stuff. For example:

  • If you can get people to take one small action that is in conflict with one of their self-personas, that one small step can eventually lead to big behavior change.
  • You can prompt someone to change their own story by having other people share their stories. If someone hears the right story you can get people to change their own self-stories in as little as 30 minutes and that one change can alter their behavior for a lifetime.
  • Writing something down (in longhand, not typing) activates certain parts of the brain and makes it more likely that people will commit to what they wrote.

Carrots and Sticks

Have you ever been to a casino? Think about this: You spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to do stuff; you may even offer rewards or pay people to do stuff. And yet a casino gets people to pay them!

Casinos understand the science of reward and reinforcement. Here are just a few things the science of reward and reinforcement tells us about how to get people to do stuff:

  • If you want consistent behavior don’t reward people every time they do something, just some of the time.
  • People are more motivated to reach a goal the closer they get to it.
  • Let’s say you own a coffee shop and give people a stamp for each cup of coffee they buy. After 10 stamps they get a free coffee. Did you know that as soon as they get that free coffee their coffee buying and drinking behavior will slow down for a while?
  • When you punish someone it only works for a little while. Giving rewards is more effective than punishment.


Imagine you’re driving down the road and there’s an accident ahead. You tell yourself not to slow down and look, and yet you feel the irresistible urge to do exactly that.

Being fascinated by danger is one of our basic instincts. Instincts are strong and largely unconscious. They affect our behavior. Sometimes you can get people to do stuff just by tapping into these instincts. For example:

  • People are more motivated by fear of losing than the possibility of gaining something.
  • We are basically all “control freaks”. The desire to control starts as young as 4 months old.
  • When people are sad or scared they will want is familiar. If they’re happy and comfortable they’ll crave something new.

The Desire for Mastery

Even stronger than giving an external reward is the desire for mastery. People are very motivated to learn and master skills and knowledge.

Certain situations encourage a desire for mastery, and others dampen the desire for mastery. You can use what we know from the research on mastery to set up conditions that will encourage and stimulate the desire for mastery, and, by doing so, get people to do stuff. For example:

  • Giving people autonomy over what they are doing will stimulate them to master a skill and will motivate them to work harder.
  • If people feel that something is difficult they will be more motivated to do it.
  • Don’t mix praise with feedback if you want to stimulate the desire for mastery. Just give objective feedback.

Tricks of the Mind

You’ve probably seen visual illusions—where your eye and brain think they’re seeing something different than they really are. What you may not realize is that there are cognitive illusions, too. There are several biases in how we think. Our brains are wired to jump to quick conclusions. This is useful in reacting quickly to our environment, but sometimes these fast conclusions and decisions lead to cognitive illusions. You can use these tricks of the mind to get people to do stuff. For example:

  • If you mention money then people become more independent and less willing to help others.
  • People filter out information they don’t agree with, but you can get past those filters by first agreeing with them.
  • People are more likely to do something if you can get them to phrase it as a question to themselves (Will I exercise each week?) than if you get them to say a declarative statement (I will exercise each week.)

If you understand what motivates people, then you can change and modify what you do, what you offer, and how and what you ask of people. You can change your strategies and tactics to get people to do stuff.

I hope you’ll consider buying the book! If you are interested, my publisher, Peachpit, is offering a 35% coupon code to purchase the book in print or as a PDF. The code is DOSTUFF and you can use it at the book website.

Or, if you prefer Amazon, here’s a link to the Amazon page:

How To Get People To Do Stuff: #2 — Break Through A Confirmation Bias

A confirmation bias is a form of “cognitive illusion”. People tend to pay attention to what they already believe and filter out information that doesn’t fit with their opinions and beliefs. You can breakthrough these biases, however. Watch the video to find out how:

For more information check out:

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast And Slow

and my new book (when it comes out in March 2013 — available for pre-order now at Amazon) How To Get People To Do Stuff

In order to get through a confirmation bias, start first with something you know the person or your audience already believes. That way they will let the information/communication in through their attention gate. Once you’ve made it past the confirmation filters you can then slip in a new idea.

What do you think? Have you tried this to break through a confirmation bias?

How To Get People To Do Stuff: #1 — Use Nouns Instead Of Verbs

"I am a voter"This blog post is the first of a new series called “How To Get People To Do Stuff”. It features nuggets from the book I am writing by the same name due out in March of 2013.

I’m also starting a new format of doing video blogs. So first is the video, and then below it is the text that I talk about in the video.

Let me know what you think about the new topic series and whether you like the video format!

Here’s the research:

Walton, Gregory and Banaji, Mahzarin, Being what you say: the effect of essentialist linguistic labels on preferences, Social Cognition, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2004, pp. 193-213.

In a survey about voting, Gregory Walton at Stanford sometimes asked  “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” versus  “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?”

The first sentence was phrased so that the emphasis was on the noun, “voter”. The second sentence emphasized “to vote”. Did the wording make a difference?

11% more voted — When the the noun (be a voter) was used instead of the verb (to vote), 11% more people actually voted the following day.  Why would nouns affect behavior more than verbs?

Needing to belong — I had always learned that using direct verbs resulted in more action. But if using a noun invokes group identity, that will trump a direct verb. People have a strong need to feel that they belong. People identify themselves in terms of the groups they belong to and this sense of group can deeply affect their behavior. You can stimulate group identity just by the way you have people talk about themselves or the way you phrase a question. For example, research shows that if people say “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot” it will affect how strong their preference is for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb.

When you are trying to get people to do stuff try using nouns rather than verbs. Invoke a sense of belonging to a group and it is much more likely that people will comply with your request.

What do you think? Have you tried nouns instead of verbs?

Need Your Help With My New Book: How To Get People To Do Stuff

If you could get people to do stuff, what is the stuff that you would get people to do?

I’m working on my next book (due out on February 2013), How To Get People To Do Stuff. I have a long list of “stuff” that I think my readers would like to know how to get people to do, but I’d like to hear from my readers about what stuff you would be interested in getting people to do.

Here are a few things I have on my list:

  • Buy a product
  • Sign up online
  • Donate money
  • Donate time
  • Take initiative
  • Pay attention
  • Meet deadlines
  • Do a task more carefully

But I’d like to know what YOUR list would look like. Write your ideas in the comments of this blog, or send me an email at:

Thanks in advance for your help!

The Top 10 Psychology Books You Should Read

NOTE: I’ve updated this list. Go to this blog post for the newest list of Best Psychology Books.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about my favorite psychology and usability books. Since then there have been more great psychology books to hit the bookstores, so I thought it was time to update the list.I’ve also decided to split the list, so this one is just psychology books. I’ll do another post on UX and Design books.

I do have an Amazon affiliate account, so I’ve included a link to each book after the description if you are interested in purchasing or just getting more info.

1. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, 2011 – If you want to understand how people think and how and why they react, then this is a must read. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize winner in Economics, but this book is all about how people think and react. It’s very well written, but I will warn you, it’s not an easy read. Plan to spend time reading this one. But it will be worth it for the understanding you get into why we do the things we do.


2. Redirect, by Timothy Wilson, 2011 – This is the second book of Timothy Wilson’s on my list. If you want to know how to make permanent and lasting change in your behavior, or the behavior of someone you know, then this is the book to read. Wilson covers the recent and often very surprising research on interventions and therapies that result in people actually changing. Permanent behavior change is hard to come by. This book tells you what does and doesn’t work based on research.


3. Drive, by Daniel Pink, 2011 – What really motivates people? This book covers the research on human motivation in the last few years. It’s well written, and an easy read, and will explode some long-standing beliefs.


4, The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simon, 2011 – Chabris and Simon explain their research that shows how what we think we are seeing and experiencing is not really what’s out there. A fun book about how we deceive ourselves.


5. Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson, 2004 – This is the book that actually got me started seriously on the topic of the unconscious. I had read Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and although that was an interesting book, I wanted more depth and detail. Gladwell referenced Wilson’s book so I started reading it and light bulbs went off for me. This one is a bit more academic and psychological, especially the first few chapters, but all in all, a great book with lots of interesting insights and strong research.


6. Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, 2007 – This is a fun read. I don’t think it’s really about Happiness, so I don’t totally understand the title. To me it’s mainly about memory of the past, and anticipation about the future, and the research on how accurate or inaccurate we are about both past and future. It’s full of fascinating research, but is written in a very readable way.


7. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini, 2006 – This is a newer version of the original book that came out several years ago. This book is the “granddaddy” of all the other books on the topic of persuasion. A very worthwhile read. Interesting too, because at the time he originally wrote this book each chapter had a section on how to RESIST the persuasive techniques. He wasn’t a proponent of using them; he wanted you to know about them so you wouldn’t fall prey. He did a turn-around on that mindset for his later work and writing.


8. Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by John Medina, 2009 – This is a somewhat misleading book. From the way it’s described you would think it’s a very practical book, for everyone, not academic or research oriented. But actually it’s quite a treasure trove of research, which I think is a good thing. He has this weird section at the end of each chapter where he tells you how to apply the principles in that chapter to your everyday life. I think those sections are the weakest, actually. But the material in the body of each chapter is solid, well referenced and well written. If you want a basic book that explains some basic brain functioning I would definitely read this book.


9. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, 2008. There is some great content in this book, but I have a basic disagreement with the premise. If you have read my blog posts or books you know that I believe that it is not that our decision-making or mental processing is “irrational”.  It’s unconscious, but that doesn’t mean irrational or bad. Our unconscious mental processing works most of the time. Ariely’s view is that we are irrational and irrational means bad, and that we should learn how to counteract our mental processing. I don’t agree. But the research in the book is still good (it’s his interpretations and recommendations I take issue with).


10. And please forgive me if I put one of my books on the list! — my latest: How To Get People To Do Stuff

Do you agree with my list? Do you have some favorites that I’ve failed to mention?

If you like psychology check out the YouTube channel Brain Signals. It’s a collaboration between the Brain Lady and animator Truscribe.


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: #89 — You Can Tell If A Smile Is Real Or Fake More Accurately With Video

Picture of woman smiling
Photo Credit: Katie Ricard

Research on smiling started as far back as the mid-1800’s. A French doctor named Duchenne used electrical currents with research subjects. He would stimulate certain facial muscles and then take pictures of the expressions that people made.   This was painful and many of the pictures look like the people are in pain.

Real or fake? — Duchenne identified two different types of smiles. Some smiles involve contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and makes your eyes crinkle). Smiles that contract both of these muscle groups are called “Duchenne” smiles. In a “non-Duchenne” smile only the zygomatic major muscle contracts, in other words your mouth turns up, but your eyes don’t crinkle.

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #89 — You Can Tell If A Smile Is Real Or Fake More Accurately With Video”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #87 — Speaker and Listener Brains Sync

picture of people listening to a speaker at a conferenceWhen you listen to someone talking your brain starts working in sync with the speaker. Greg Stephens (2010) put participants in his research study in an fMRI machine and had them record or listen to recordings of other people talking. What he found is that as someone is listening to someone else talk, the brains patterns of the two people start to couple, or mirror each other. There is a slight delay, which corresponds to the time it takes for the communication to occur. Several different brain areas were synced. He compared this with having people listen to someone talk in a language they did not understand. In that case the brains do not sync up.

Syncing + anticipation = understanding — In Stephen’s study, the more the brains were synced up the more the listener understood the ideas and message from the speaker. And by watching what parts of the brain were lighting up, Stephens could see that the parts of the brain that have to do with prediction and anticipation were active. The more active they were, the more successful was the communication.

Social parts light up too — Stephens noted that the parts of the brain that have to do with social interaction were also synced, including areas are known to be involved in processing social information crucial for successful  communication, including the capacity to discern the beliefs, desires, and goals of others.

What do you think? Have you been synced with any speakers lately?

Stephens, Greg, Silbert, L., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 27, 2010.