Sunday, September 23, 2007


Roger has a goal to read 24 books this year. His kind of books - mostly real estate, finance, tax strategies - are not usually what I would consider real page-turners; HOWEVER, this one was seriously fascinating. It's a study of the 'tricks' people - particularly sales people and advertisers - use to get you to follow their lead and do what they want you to do, often against your own better judgment.

For example: Have you ever wondered why restaurants hit you with little mints when they bring you your bill? Is it because you had the garlic bread appetizer? Has your breath been sending patrons out the door before they've even been seated? Perhaps. (My breath has certainly warranted mintification at times.) But studies have shown that the giving of this 'gift' increases the amount of tip a patron will leave. More moolah, simply because of a cheap peppermint presented on the little brown check tray!

I know I have poo-pooed the 'soft science' of psychology for many years. In recent years, however, I have been coming around. There are actually many studies done with reasonably-sized groups which don't reach completely outlandish conclusions. (One of my favorite psych studies from the undergrad years was on the effects of sugar and learning. 4 students drank a glass of lemonade before being tested, 4 drank water. The lemonade students performed better on some memory test than the control group that drank water, therefore sugar makes people smarter. HELLO!) Now that I have a small group of test subjects under my own supposed control (n=2 so far), I have become more interested in the field.

This entire book is great. Pertaining to children, I found two studies of particular interest. Do these hold true for REAL children, or more importantly, how do they work in practice?

1. We accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressure. Basically, if you want your child to believe in the correctness of an act, threats and bribes aren't going to cut it. They need to continue the desired behavior when we aren't there. Somehow they need to accept inner responsibility for the actions we want them to take.

Briefly, 2nd-4th-grade boys were forbidden to play with a fancy, expensive robot (1 out of 5 toys in an array). One group was threatened with stiff punishment, while the second group was simply told 'it is wrong to play with the robot.' In both samples, 1 out of 22 boys played with the forbidden toy initially. The interesting result comes next. 6 weeks later an assistant was sent to check up on the affects of the different instructions. Out of the 'punishment' group, 77% chose to play with the robot, while only 33% of the second group chose that toy. The author suggests that the children didn't play with the toy because they decided that they somehow decided they didn't want to play with it.

2) People fight against restrictions of their freedom. If something is scarce, we tend to want it more.

24-month old boys were brought into a room with two equally-attractive toys, separated by a plexi-glass wall. In one case, the barrier was 1 foot high; i.e., it presented no obstacle to them, as they could easily reach over it. In the second group, the barrier was 2 feet high; i.e., the boys had to walk around to access the second toy. With unrestricted access, they boys showed no preference to either toy. In the presence of an obstacle, however, the boys went directly to the obstructed toy, contacting it 3x faster than the unobstructed toy.

The author describes this behavior as the need for the 2-year old to determine 'vital questions of choice, rights, and control.' They are testing where in their worlds they can expect to be controlled and where they can be IN control. Naturally, consistency will help everyone. This would suggest that the more times you can provide choices - so that the child is making their own decision, even while YOU are controlling (at least some of the time) the choices they are choosing from - the better off everyone will be.

Just how naive am I?


Mia said...

I tested the theory of choices today. "Zoey do you want you hair in one pony tail or two?" "Neither Mom, I want my hair cut." Her hair did in fact need to be cut so I still felt like I was in "control". We will try the choices again later.

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