The pique persuasion technique plays on our curiosity and it’s surprisingly effective

501125424By Alex Fradera

Sorry to bother you – I’m just after three pounds sixty-five for a bus ticket to Bromley.

Living in an urban area you frequently hear this kind of request, which showcases a persuasion approach called the “pique technique”, whereby people are more likely to comply with requests for an unusually specific quantity, because it piques their interest. But do people really give more readily, or in higher amounts, when exposed to the technique? A meta-analysis in the journal Social Influence puts pique through its paces.


The technique was first investigated in the nineties by a trio of researchers – Michael Santos, Craig Leve and Anthony Pratkanis – with experimental assistants posing as panhandlers on Santa Cruz wharf and asking passers-by for either 17 cents or a quarter. They found the unusual sum led to more compliance from the passers-by, and so to more coinage in the cup.

The researchers hypothesised that the unusual sum is effective as it disrupts the “refusal script” that people have primed in response to generic requests, and instead generates curiosity that encourages the person to engage. The paper spawned further work exploring the technique, including its effectiveness when asking for someone’s time, but some studies found no effects or even negative effects.

To make sense of this muddied picture, Seyoung Lee and Thomas Feeley from the University of Buffalo looked across the available research, six studies in all, to verify whether there is a reliable case for the technique and what might be driving it.

Does piquing pay? Across the studies, there were 16 tests of whether successful requests led to more generous donations when the request was for an unusual sum, and the meta-analysis showed that this was not the case: donations, when given, were similar for both typical and unusual request amounts.

However, piquers earned more overall, because the technique enhanced the chances of getting a donation in the first place. The size of the effect was larger than for other tricks for gaining compliance like the foot in door technique (.27 vs. .11 in terms of statistical effect sizes). The effect size varied across different studies and conditions, so Lee and Feeley investigated what might moderate it, finding the technique more successful in studies conducted in France compared to the US, and working better for smaller requests than for those involving more than a dollar.

The analysis also showed that when the technique was used, people were more likely to respond by asking what the money was for. This is consistent with the idea that the technique disrupts automatic processes and encourages conscious engagement with the request. It’s as if the unusual detail shakes the person out of a slumber to see the moment as the beginning of an interaction, rather than as environmental noise to tune out. Unfortunately the paper doesn’t provide data on whether these curious people were more likely to donate; we do know, however, that when the piquer preemptively explained what the request was for (as per my opening example), participants were more likely to comply.

Many persuasion techniques are overtly exploitative, trying to win compliance by wearing away the target’s defences. Piquing in some way fits this mould, by dodging underneath the normal means of parrying an unsolicited request. But its basic mechanism seems legitimate: to wake us up to what’s happening right now, and then leave it to our conscience how to react. After all, even if you have a principled objection to giving to charity street reps or to the homeless, it’s no bad thing to sometimes be prompted to consciously reflect on your decision.

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Contributing Writer at BPS Research Digest

A meta-analysis of the pique technique of compliance

from BPS Research Digest

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We know what will make us happy, why do we watch TV instead?

Couch Potato Watching TVBy Christian Jarrett

The luxury microwave meal was delicious, the house is warm, work’s going OK, but you’re just not feeling very happy. Some positive psychologists believe this is because many of us in rich, Western countries spend too much of our free time on passive activities, like bingeing on Netflix and browsing Twitter, rather than on active, psychologically demanding activities, like cooking, sports or playing music, that allow the opportunity to experience “flow” – that magic juncture where your abilities only just meet the demands of the challenge. A new paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology examines this dilemma. Do we realise that pursuing more active, challenging activities will make us happier in the long-run? If so, why then do we opt to spend so much more time lazing around engaged in activities that are pleasant in the moment, but unlikely to bring any lasting fulfilment?

Across two studies, L. Parker Schiffer and Tomi-Ann Roberts at the Claremont Graduate University and Colorado College, surveyed nearly 300 people (presumably US citizens, average age 33/34 years) via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website about what they thought of dozens of different activities: some passive like listening to music or watching movies, others more active and potentially flow-inducing, such as making art or meditating. Specifically, the participants rated how enjoyable, effortful, and daunting they considered the activities to be, as well as how often they engaged in each of them in a typical week. The participants also identified which activities they considered the most and least conducive to lasting happiness.

There was a clear pattern in the participants’ answers: they identified more effortful activities as being more associated with lasting happiness, yet they said they spent much more time on passive, relaxation-based activities, like watching TV. Looking at their other judgments, the key factor that seemed to deter participants from engaging in more active, flow-inducing activities is that they tended to be seen as particularly daunting and less enjoyable, even while being associated with lasting happiness. The more daunting an activity was deemed to be, the less frequently it was undertaken (by contrast, and to the researchers’ surprise, the perceived effort involved in the activity did not seem to be a deterrent).

Schiffer and Roberts consider this to be a paradox of happiness: we know which kind of activities will bring us lasting happiness, but because we see them as daunting and less enjoyable in the moment, we choose to spend much more of our time doing passive, more immediately pleasant things with our free time. Their advice is to plan ahead “to try to ease the physical transition into flow activities” to make them feel less daunting. For example, they suggest getting your gym clothes and bag ready the night before, and choosing a gym that’s close and convenient; or getting your journal and pen, or easel and paintbrushes, ready in advance.

The other thing they suggest is using mindfulness, meditation or some other “controlled consciousness” technique to help yourself to disregard the initial “transition costs” of a flow activity, such as the early pain of a run, and to focus instead on its pleasurable aspects and the long-term rewards.

“Future research is needed in order to empirically back our proposal that preplanning, prearranging, and, and controlled consciousness may aid overcoming the activation energy and transition costs that stand in the way of our true happiness,” the researchers said.

The paradox of happiness: Why are we not doing what we know makes us happy?

from BPS Research Digest 

DISCLOSURE: I posted this right before I went to watch murder mysteries on BBC America.

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How to tell if someone is lying

It may be easier to tell if someone is lying when you cannot see their face, new research finds.

 Contrary to most people’s expectations, being able to see someone’s full face does not help lie detection.

In fact, it actually hurts it.

Dr Amy-May Leach, the study’s first author, explained that the reason may be because it helps people focus on important cues:

“The presence of a veil may compel observers to pay attention to more ‘diagnostic’ cues, such as listening for verbal indicators of deception.”

The finding emerges from a study of the wearing of veils in court.

Witnesses appearing in US, UK and Canadian courts are not allowed to wear a niqab (covering the whole body except for the eyes) or hijab (covering the head and neck).

This is partly because judges believe it is necessary to see the face to tell if someone is lying.

Dr Leach, though, explained that they thought this was wrong:

“We hypothesized that lie detection accuracy would be higher in the niqab condition than in the hijab or no-veil conditions because it would minimize the availability of misleading cues to deception.

It was only when witnesses wore veils (i.e., hijabs or niqabs) that observers performed above chance levels.

Thus, veiling actually improved lie detection.”

The researchers conducted two experiments with a total of 523 participants.

They compared people’s ability to detect lies when witnesses were wearing a hijab or a niqab or neither.

The researchers explained the results:

“Contrary to the assumptions underlying the court decisions cited earlier, lie detection was not hampered by veiling across two studies.

In fact, observers were more accurate at detecting deception in witnesses who wore niqabs or hijabs than those who did not veil.

Discrimination between lie- and truth-tellers was no better than guessing in the latter group, replicating previous findings.”

The study was published in the journal Law and Human Behavior(Leach et al., 2016).

from PsyBlog


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What activities make us happiest? (I’m impressed that people stopped to answer the survey…)

A survey of tens of thousands of people conducted over five years has revealed the 33 activities that make people the happiest.At the top was making love, followed by concerts and the theatre, sport and gardening.

To study everyday happiness, researchers created a smartphone app which ‘dinged’ at random points during the day to ask how they were feeling and what they were doing.

Dr George MacKerron, who created the app, which is called ‘Mappiness’, said:

“Mappiness is interesting because it quizzes people in the moment, before they get a chance to reach for their rose-tinted glasses.

For example, it is common to hear people say that they enjoy their work, but the Mappiness data show that people are happier doing almost anything other than working.

Although we may be positive about our jobs when reflecting on the meaning and purpose they give us, and the money they provide, actually engaging in paid work comes at a significant psychological cost.

It appears that work is highly negatively associated with momentary wellbeing: work really is disutility, as economists have traditionally assumed. At any given moment, we would rather be doing almost anything else.”

Below is the full list of activities that made people happy.

The percentages indicated the average increase in happiness levels from engaging in that activity:

  1. Intimacy, making love 14.20%
  2. Theatre, dance, concert 9.29%
  3. Exhibition, museum, library 8.77%
  4. Sports, running, exercise 8.12%
  5. Gardening, allotment 7.83%
  6. Singing, performing 6.95%
  7. Talking, chatting, socialising 6.38%
  8. Birdwatching, nature watching 6.28%
  9. Walking, hiking 6.18%
  10. Hunting, fishing 5.82%
  11. Drinking alcohol 5.73%
  12. Hobbies, arts, crafts 5.53%
  13. Meditating, religious activities 4.95%
  14. Match, sporting event 4.39%
  15. Childcare, playing with children 4.10%
  16. Pet care, playing with pets 3.63%
  17. Listening to music 3.56%
  18. Other games, puzzles 3.07%
  19. Shopping, errands 2.74%
  20. Gambling, betting 2.62%
  21. Watching TV, film 2.55%
  22. Computer games, iPhone games 2.39%
  23. Eating, snacking 2.38%
  24. Cooking, preparing food 2.14%
  25. Drinking tea/coffee 1.83%
  26. Reading 1.47%
  27. Listening to speech/podcast 1.41%
  28. Washing, dressing, grooming 1.18%
  29. Sleeping, resting, relaxing 1.08%
  30. Smoking 0.69%
  31. Browsing the Internet 0.59%
  32. Texting, email, social media 0.56%
  33. Housework, chores, DIY 0.65%

Down at the bottom of the list were the seven activities that made people the least happy:

  1. Travelling, commuting -1.47%
  2. In a meeting, seminar, class -1.50%
  3. Admin, finances, organising -2.45%
  4. Waiting, queueing -3.51%
  5. Care or help for adults -4.30%
  6. Working, studying -5.43%
  7. Sick in bed -20.4%

The study was published in The Economic Journal (Bryson & MacKerron, 2015).

from PsyBlog


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How To Feel Good About Making Mistakes

Reviewing and revising helps you feel better about mistakes. This might be a good approach to revising writing.

Sometimes we need to make mistakes in order to learn and grow.

The reward areas of the brain activate when people learn from their mistakes, a new study finds.

People normally feel bad about mistakes and try to avoid them in future.

But sometimes we need to make mistakes in order to learn and improve.

Now neuroscientists have found that if people are given the opportunity to reflect, they could feel good about their mistakes.

Dr Giorgio Coricelli, one of the study’s authors, said:

“We show that, in certain circumstances, when we get enough information to contextualize the choices, then our brain essentially reaches towards the reinforcement mechanism, instead of turning toward avoidance.”

So, after reflecting positively on mistakes, people may not be so averse to trying something new.

In the research, people answered questions which they either got right or wrong.

Naturally, people felt bad when they got them wrong and the areas of the brain related to avoidance activated.

Subsequently, though, people were given a chance to review their mistakes.

Scientists found that people’s brain responded positively when reflecting.

Brain scans revealed the ‘reward circuit’ activating during the review.

This suggested that even mistakes can feel rewarding, given time for reflection.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications (Palminteri et al., 2015).

– See more at:

How To Feel Good About Making Mistakes:



THE MUSUBI MURDER  Amazon / B&N /Powell’s /Audible / iTunes

By Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog

One Minute Personality Tests – PsyBlog

The Big Five personality framework is well-validated across cultures and popular with researchers, although it’s not as well known at the Myers Briggs. The five factors of personality that emerge with some consistency are

Openness to experience

Looking over this list, you can see why the Big Five hasn’t caught on with HR departments. The terms don’t look value-neutral. If you administer the Myers Briggs and report that someone came out as an INTJ or an ESFP, great! Neither one sounds better or worse than the other. But who wants to tell someone they tested as  neurotic and disagreeable?

One dimension that the Big Five has in common with the more popular Myers Briggs is introversion vs. extroversion.

Psychologist Jeremy Dean has posted one-minute measures of introversion and neuroticism, with more to come.

Try it out!

Are You An Introvert, Extrovert or….? 

How Neurotic Are You? One-Minute Personality Test



THE MUSUBI MURDER August 2015 Amazon / B&N /Powell’s /Audible / iTunes