I’m always excited when science finally catches up with marketing.
A man walks into a sociologist’s office, and is asked to write a short essay highlighting his healthy life habits. He does so. Afterwards, he’s offered a choice of two small rewards for his work: an apple, or a pack of M&M’s. He makes his choice and leaves.
After that, another man walks into the sociologist’s office, and is asked to write a short essay highlighting his healthy life habits. As he’s about to begin, the sociologist asks him to write it with his non-dominant hand. After he does so, he is offered a choice between an apple or a pack of M&M’s.
This second man, who wrote with his non-dominant hand, is significantly more likely than the first to choose the apple. Why would that be?
A lot of excellent research is starting to emerge dealing with the relationship between “state” self-confidence (short term mental states) and purchasing habits. The study I’ve just referenced came out of Stanford last year. It was published in Advances in Consumer Research by Leilei Gao, S. Christian Wheeler, and Baba Shiv, and talks about the concept of the “shaken self.” Read more…
Previously, I have remarked on an area of interpersonal dynamics called the Status Transaction. This concept comes from one of the fathers of improv theatre. It says that humans, just like other pack animals, communicate in subtle behaviors that convey where they stand with regard to each other. We establish an unconscious structure of deference and social value in order to keep our relations mostly harmonious. As Johnstone remarks, “In the park we’ll notice the ducks squabbling, but not how carefully they keep their distances when they are not.”
This principal is the key link between acting performance, marketing, and social psychology. It is the subtext of human life. It represents the unvarnished, true meaning of people’s communication. It is, either consciously or unconsciously, a crucial factor in honest and authentic acting portrayals, because it factors into a character’s key attitudes. It also factors into how we feel attraction to one another. Also, it has repercussions in group psychology, and therefore also in marketing messaging. People arrange their little worlds in ways that cultivate and communicate status. Status, recognition and validation play a central role in most people’s secret dreams and ideals.
We tend to associate high status with certain favorable traits, like wealth or physical attractiveness. People speculate that correlation came from evolution; in order to survive, we will tend to associate ourselves with those who have means, and signs of healthy DNA. Our conspicuous consumption is an example of a status-driven tendency.
What people may not know is that most status communications are conveyed through ordinary, everyday behavior. Johnstone discovered this through improv exercises. He started with large-gap status differences, like king and butler. He then reversed behaviors so that the butler behaved in a high-status manner, and the king deferring to the butler. And, improv comedy was born.
In real life, most status-communicating behaviors are hard to fake. That’s why we get the creeps when someone who has the appearance of status (e.g. wealth) behaves in a way that seems incongruent. Most people who try and put on a short-term game persona usually fail at it. Their insecurities “peek out” through the cracks.
Based on the search keywords that lead into People-triggers, there are a lot of people searching for a discussion on which behaviors communicate high status, and which communicate low status. Johnstone talks at length about this in his book, Impro, and there are many other status discussions around the blogosphere. One blog that shows a lot of insight into this subject is appropriately named, The Statustician, and I would recommend checking it out for a more in-depth discussion.
So, for your experiments in interaction on stage and in life, here is my list of the top five behaviors that communicate interpersonal status. Read more…
Historians have finally identified the inventor of “cool.” Back, way back before the Fonz, before James Dean or Brando, before Clark Gable, almost before Columbus even landed, there was the originator of cool: Baldassare Castiglione.
How can you not be cool with a name that rolls off the tongue like that?
Back in the days of the Italian courts of the early Renaissance, writers and artists were rediscovering the Aristotelian notion of the ideal form. When you set about creating something, you aspired to make it as close to the theoretical ideal form as you possibly could. In this way, you could approach perfection.
Right about the same time Machiavelli published his work on the ideal form of a ruler, our friend Baldassare published The Book of the Courtier. In it, he laid out the ideal for the new Renaissance Man – the man who could master many diverse talents and areas of expertise. We get the modern idea of the Renaissance Man from Castiglione’s work, just as much as we do from examples of the famous polymaths of the day: Leonardo da Vinci, Leone Battista Alberti, Matteo Ricci and others.
Castiglione thought that it was improper for gentlemen to refine all these talents only to show off at court, and become immodest scene-stealers. In the time of Machiavelli and palace intrigue, influence itself became the coin of the realm. If you were a gentleman of the court, and you wanted to do the most good, you had to influence the royalty to act in virtuous ways. Talent and refinement were useless if they kept you from holding sway over the actions of the court.
So Castiglione coined the term sprezzatura. There is no direct translation, but now we would call it “coolness,” “smoothness,” “intrigue,” or “nonchalance.” The idea behind sprezzatura is that when you exercise your talent in any way – in their case things like poetry, recitation, classical mastery, sports, intellectual gaming, etc. – you do it without any affectation or pretense. You don’t call attention to the effort you put into it and don’t come across as showing off. Read more…
I’ve wanted to write this article for a long time, but it took me finding a brilliant essay called “The Rise of the Caring Industry,” by Ronald W. Dworkin, to fill in the last piece of the puzzle.
I’m a great fan of the show Mad Men, in part because they portray the seismic societal shifts in the late fifties and early sixties – the rise of the aggressive individualism that ushered in our modern culture. The protagonist of the show, Don Draper, is a very flawed individual but has an excellent sense of where 60′s society is trending, and what people will want as a result.
So I wonder, what conclusions would someone of his excellent understanding of people and culture draw about the self-concept of the 21st century man or woman? How can we lesser observers cultivate a clear vision of society’s dreams and desires, so as to better inform our literature, plays, and messaging?
After reading the essay I mentioned above, I got a handle on a concept that had been eluding me for a while:
Dr. Mark Leary of Duke University has established that our concept of self-esteem is actually a self-perception system, feeding us back an idea of our own value to others. I believe this is one of the chief psychological insights of our time, because it pinpoints the true source of our waxing mass insecurity. We cannot feel secure about our own identity without receiving feedback from others acknowledging our social value.
Enter Dr. Ronald W. Dworkin, an M.D. and Ph.D. who writes on the dangers of society’s over-reliance on psychological care, and psychoactive drugs. He sees the uncontrolled rise in professional psychological care-taking as a result of the “mass loneliness and mass unhappiness” resulting from the societal changes in the Mad Men era. Read more…
We instinctively know that our society affords the benefit of the doubt to the best looking among us. Newsweek just ran an article to help us quantify exactly how much.
In her recent article, “The Beauty Advantage,” columnist Jessica Bennett cites the following facts:
- Handsome men earn, on average, five percent more than do less attractive men (four percent more for women).
- Over his career, an attractive man will make $250,000 more on average than a less attractive man (from economist Daniel Hamermesh).
- Thirteen percent of women say they’d consider plastic surgery if it made them more competitive (American Society of Plastic Surgeons).
- Sixty percent of overweight women and forty percent of overweight men say they’ve experienced employment discrimination.
- Fifty-seven percent of surveyed hiring managers told Newsweek that qualified but less attractive candidates will have a harder time landing a job.
- Sixty-one percent of managers (majority men) surveyed said that women gain an advantage by wearing work attire that shows their figure.
- Ranked in order of importance, looks came in 3rd behind experience (1st), confidence (2nd), but ahead of the candidate’s school (4th).
The article goes on to talk about “The Halo Effect,” saying, “like a pack of untrained puppies, we are mesmerized by beauty, blindly ascribing intelligent traits to go along with it.” I wouldn’t stop at intelligence. I’d add virtue, charisma, energy, wisdom, and sexual ability.
It is intellectually dubious to assume qualities like intelligence and virtue based solely on appearance, and it is morally dubious to grant jobs and benefits based on that assumption. And you know what? None. Of. That. Matters.
As I’ve written in earlier entries, society grants attention and benefit to those of high status. Status drives our attraction instincts. This is a biological pack-animal imperative, hard-wired into the collective unconscious. And one attribute of the high-status pack animal is that they are physically attractive. We all unknowingly contribute to this silent social contract, even if it does not benefit us as much as others. We may judge it, or condemn it, or wish it away, but it is fact. Read more…
Most of the writing in this forum has to do with social and marketing psychology, but I want to make sure and devote time to acting and directing technique as well. I consider them relevant to “People-triggers” in two ways:
- Broader knowledge of how people push each other’s buttons can make for better script analysis and more subtle acting, and
- Any storyteller needs to know what will make their audience respond in the desired way.
This weekend, I went to see a regional Shakespeare company do a new adaptation of The Three Musketeers. I’m not going to name them, because I need to knock them a little.
I will say that my wife and I are contributing members to this theatre company, and that they do good work, by and large. This was the first of their shows I’ve seen that I would call downright bad.
This company made a lot of mistakes with a story that is generally considered a crowd-pleaser. They fell into almost all of the common acting traps. But sometimes it’s good to see this happen to paid professionals. First, it makes you feel better about your own skill (always a plus for insecure actors), and second, you can see clear illustrations of what to avoid.
Based on the production I saw, here are five very common acting and directing mistakes that people should avoid: Read more…
This book is about projecting charm, and covers material similar to Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and other famous books on the topic. The authors cover techniques to come across as attentive and appreciative, so as to charm others by giving them a feeling of importance.
This book proposes improving yourself from the outside, in. That is to say, if you adopt the physical characteristics of an attentive listener, with appropriate head tilts and eye contact, you will eventually become an attentive listener on the inside. One of the co-authors is an actor, and he compares this way of working to the British system of character development (As opposed to Americans, who tend to work on inner motivations first).
Tracy (an internationally-known self-help guru) and Arden emphasize what they call the “5 A’s”: Acceptance, Appreciation, Approval, Admiration, and Attention. The book covers physical techniques in attentive listening, speaking slowly and precisely, lavishing smiles and praise, 2nd Person-orientation, etc.
These are wise traits to focus on. Everyone could become a more attentive, focused listener, and improving that trait will almost universally make one seem more likable. Likewise, we could all find more ways to give honest praise.
Here’s my thing: there’s another element to this type of material that is always missed by self-help authors. And it’s every bit as important as the five A’s. Read more…
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