Tag Archives: Damon Centola

Is Logic for Losers? Persuasion, Influence, and Biased Assimilation Effect

When engaging in a heated debate, how do you convince your opponent to abandon their stance and jump onboard yours? Most of us try to prove our point with a barrage of graphs, charts, statistics, and research studies. We cite last week’s 60 Minutes interview and regurgitate the numerous articles we’ve read. And then we wonder why we were unsuccessful in changing anyone’s minds. As a result, it would behoove us to consider whether logic-based arguments are effective.

There is plenty of research illustrating the ineffectiveness of logic as a persuasion tool. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when participants were presented with a counter-argument for the death penalty, not only did individuals not change their minds, rather they ended up with more extreme views than before the experiment began—those for the death penalty became more for it, those against it became more against it. Classic biased assimilation.

The idea of biased assimilation effect, where we tend to believe ideas that synchronize with what we already believe, is not new—research like the one previously mentioned has been replicated with everything from climate change to health. It turns out that biased assimilation effect is the very barrier we are trying to overcome when engaging in a debate.

Getting back to my original question about the effectiveness of logic-based arguments, there is plenty of research showing that utilizing emotion is more persuasive than logic. One study concluded that up to 90% of decisions are based on emotion. But what if this is not accurate? What if biased assimilation effect supersedes both emotion and logic?

In a classic study by Randall Reuchelle, students prepared speeches written from either a logical or an emotional standpoint. While we may argue about the use of emotion over logic, Reuchelle found that speeches displaying a message the evaluator agreed with were rated as more logical even if they were intended to be emotional, and those the evaluator did not agree with were considered to be more emotional even if they were intended to be logical. This means we can’t even distinguish between facts and opinions; biased assimilation effect is too powerful.

As leaders, we must be equipped to overcome biased assimilation effect. While there is a strong case for utilizing emotion over logic, you have a more powerful case when you use them together. Start by employing a healthy dose of storytelling and personal anecdotes. This will inject the emotions necessary to connect with the audience, lower defenses, and allow for a more open-minded conversation.

Once you’ve created a mutual understanding, sprinkle in the relevant facts. This use of logic creates a necessary foundation for emotion. It justifies actions and provides the evidence others can rely upon.

We are in a constant battle against biased assimilation effect. It shuts down the open flow of ideas and precludes us from reaching consensus. Instead of conceding with the weak acceptance that we can “agree to disagree,” develop your ability to articulate logical points that reverberate with your audience. Then use your emotional radar to trigger emotions that embody your case. It is not easy, but changing someone’s mind never is.

Is Your Motivational Style Reliant Upon Being Supportive? A Competition-Based Culture May Be More Impactful

Leaders are always searching for new ways to motivate their team. Incentives help, as do training, inspiration, and goals, but there’s one resource you are overlooking—the power of competition.

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.—Walt Disney

According to a new study, competition may be the key to increased performance. The research led by Jingwen Zhang compared the results of three groups: 1) competition-driven teams, 2) social support teams, and 3) a combination of support and competition. Overwhelming, the competition teams outperformed the support team by rates greater than 90%.

As much as society emphasizes the need for social support, you would think it would materialize into tangible outcomes but no, social support group had no significant bearing on progress. In fact, it may have caused participants to feel less motivated.

As part of the study, the researchers also measured the impact of social media and how it changes behaviors. To do so, all teams had access to online leaderboards. The competition teams could compare their performance to other teams and were rewarded based on the number of classes attended. The support teams did not know how well other teams performed but could chat online and encourage their teammates. According to Zhang,

Most people think that when it comes to social media more is better. This study shows that isn’t true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to [a program] can backfire… However, when done right, we found that social media can increase [performance] dramatically.

To “backfire” Damon Centola, another researcher on the project, states that supportive groups can fail…

…because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation… Competitive groups, [on the other hand], frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance.

For leaders, this means we need to frame social interactions as competitions. It should be healthy without a bloodthirsty mindset, and the policies, ethics, and positive culture of the workplace should be strictly enforced. However, a more competitive setting will help raise the bar for all. Zhang calls this a social ratcheting-up process where one person’s win inspires others to “ratchet-up” their performance. This is in contrast to social support teams who experience ratcheting-down—a low performer sets a precedent in which others now have permission to falter.

I think there’s something wrong with me – I like to win in everything I do, regardless of what it is. You want to race down the street, I want to beat you. If we’re playing checkers, I want to win. You beat me, it’s going to bother me. I just enjoy competition.—Derek Jeter

If your organization needs a competitive advantage, bolster competition. Encourage winning. Promote reliance. Incentivize victories. You can still be supportive, but don’t allow it to be used as an excuse or to condone underachievement. Utilize support to re-energize; let it provoke a champion attitude. And if you do it right, you’ll “ratchet” right past the opposition.