Changing Another Person LO20085

John Gunkler (
Fri, 4 Dec 1998 09:17:16 -0600

Replying to LO20059 --

Bill Braun asks:

> John, if "people 'get changed' by other people without permission (and,
> often, without knowing it) all the time" explains how crowds turn into
> mobs, what explains crowds that don't turn into mobs? I would argue that
> everyone always acts in self interest (not equal to selfish) and will
> respond, or not, to "getting changed" based on their assessment of the
> benefits of doing so.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify, Bill. I would just suggest that
perhaps you believe a little too much in rational choice as the (only?)
basis for people's actions. Maybe I'm more cynical than you are, but my
experience and the research of other psychologists has shown me that many
(perhaps most) of our "decisions" are not made through a process of
rational assessment of self interest. If people always acted in their own
self interest we would not need insurance salespeople -- we'd just have to
install kiosks in high traffic areas and everyone would insert their
credit cards and purchase the amounts and kinds they needed.

With respect to being influenced by a mob, I wasn't trying to say that
everyone who is in a crowd of people always does what that crowd does. I
was only trying to say that it sometimes (and all too often) happens. The
fact that it can happen at all -- and the fact that, when it does, there
is the power in mob psychology to completely override all of the ethical,
moral, habitual, and rationally derived beliefs of an individual -- that's
what is more than a little scary. For it implies that we, who pride
ourselves on being rational creatures, may not be. Finally, the empirical
studies of human decision making over the past 20-25 years have painted a
portrait of our limited abilities that is not very flattering, I'm afraid.
We have what has been termed "bounded rationality" and very severe limits
to what we can do. But, and this was part of my point, when the situation
becomes too complex for us to respond completely rationally do we stop
dead in our tracks and refuse to move? No, of course not -- we forge
ahead, "choosing" our behavior from intuition or the fleeting forces that
surround us at the moment.

> If I derive a benefit from generosity of spirit and the "change agent" is
> advocating a harsh position, I won't be changed. How I respond has more
> to do with the congruence of the change agent with my current mental model
> than anything else.

It's merely repeating my original message but, gee, I wish what you wrote
were true! I wish we were able to be so much in control of our responses.
We simply are not. If you have trouble believing this, please consider
that most of the influences on our behavior are NOT verbal. As I read
many postings to this mailing list, I sometimes get the impression (and,
Bill, I apologize if I'm misreading this same thing in your post) that
people restrict their conceptualizations about the influences on human
behavior to language. It's not language that "teaches" me not to touch a
pan that has just come off a hot stove; it's not language that influences
me to put on a warm coat before venturing forth in a typical Minnesota
winter; and it's not someone's language that influences a large portion of
my day-to-day behavior.

> You make a good argument respect to advertising though for its incremental
> effects on mental models. Nevertheless, for so long as Advertiser X
> promotes its products on Talk Show Z, I'll never buy its products
> regardless. Conversely, I'll respond readily to merchants located in my
> town, will go to great lengths to support those merchants and will
> steadfastly refuse to patronize any other merchant (unless the goods or
> services I seek are unavailable locally).

Well, good for you, Bill. I try to do the same -- but, I must admit, not
always with complete success. I have bought many a brand name product for
no reason other than that I thoughtlessly reached for it on the shelf. I
may have rationalized the act by pretending that I "know this product" or
that I was sure it was "better quality for the money" (or some such
nonsense), but the truth was I was responding (nearly) unconsciously to
the influence of advertising. And studies of consumer behavior confirm
that well-meaning people resolve to do all kinds of "right" things, and
other things being almost equal they will follow their resolutions, but as
soon as another kind of factor raises its head (like, "my children just
won't eat that healthy breakfast cereal" or "you know, I think I had some
more problems with my teeth when I switched to that other toothpaste and I
don't want to mess up my teeth" or "[you fill in an excuse]") they forget
all of their good intentions and buy a product advertised on Talk Show Z.


"John Gunkler" <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>