How Do You Get People To Change? Knowing there's an energy crisis is one thing. Persuading people to make changes to their behavior is another, especially in a consumer society. The first step may be finding new ways to ask for that change.
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How Do You Get People To Change?

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How Do You Get People To Change?

How Do You Get People To Change?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. And we are now going to persuade you to listen closely to this next story.

CHADWICK: OK, here it goes. Here's one highly persuasive argument that other people listening to the show are going to be paying attention.

BRAND: And you're persuaded because this is a behavior of other people like you, or at least you share something with them, even if it's just, well - even if it's just listening to us.

CHADWICK: We know because this tip is included in a new book, "Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive." Ted Robbins spoke with one of the authors.

(Soundbite of a bathroom shower)

TED ROBBINS: You're taking a shower in your hotel room. You reach for a towel to dry off. Then you see that little card hanging from the rack, the one about the towels.

Dr. BOB CIALDINI (Department of Psychology, Arizona State University): Every day, tons of detergents, millions of gallons of water are used to wash the towels. Here's how you can help.

ROBBINS: The towel on the rack means I'll use it again. The towel on the floor means, please exchange.

Dr. CIALDINI: That's right.

ROBBINS: Bob Cialdini is an author and psychology professor at Arizona State University in Tempe . We're in a room at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel a few blocks from campus. But Cialdini has brought a stack of those cards with him from hotels all over the world, part of an experiment he and his graduate students conducted to find out what message works best to reduce laundry costs and save water.

Dr. CIALDINI: Here's one from London. We all enjoy the luxury of crisp, clean towels so much so that the lure of an endless supply inspires many of us to consume more than necessary. You see what they've done here? They've told the client, all your fellow guests do this, and it's the exact wrong sub-text message.

ROBBINS: The sub-text, the subliminal message, is, everyone does it, so go ahead and take another fluffy towel. In this hotel, the card says, we won't give you new towels unless you ask for them. That's better, but here's the optimal message, one that Cialdini says increases participation from about a third of guests to more than half.

Dr. CIALDINI: Simply say, the majority of guests who stay in our hotel do reuse their towels.

ROBBINS: Tell guests that conserving, not consuming is the norm. Here's why it works.

Dr. CIALDINI: Evolutionarily, we are most successful following the lead of people whose circumstances are just like ours.

ROBBINS: In other words, everyone you know is doing it. It is a powerful concept psychologists like Bob Cialdini call social proof.

Unidentified woman: Hello.

Dr. CIALDINI: Hey. Hi.

ROBBINS: Here's another behavior changing example. It's called the Mint Presentation Experiment. Now, we're at a Greek restaurant in Tempe, where Cialdini and I went for lunch. A basket of mints sits by the door. You've seen it a million times. It's the restaurant's way of saying, thanks for your business; here's a little gift. Social scientists call that reciprocity, really a variation on the golden rule.

(Soundbite of music)

Dr. CIALDINI: After I have received, I have to give back to those who have given to me. That's the rule that we were trained in from childhood.

ROBBINS: But if you're a business trying to maximize profits or a waiter or waitress trying to maximize tips, try this. Take the mints from the door and give them to customers with the check. Or do something really unexpected. Deliver two mints per person with the check.

Dr. CIALDINI: The service tip goes up 14 percent over the ordinary regular tip.

ROBBINS: Because the gift, the mints, have been given first, before the customer pays instead of after. So, some customers seem to feel obligated to reciprocate with a higher tip - interesting, not earth shattering. But what would happen if these persuasion techniques were used on big issues, like America's energy independence.

There's widespread consensus that the country needs to use less imported oil. Higher gas prices cause people to consume less, of course. But the cutback is often made grudgingly. Bob Cialdini says that's because Americans have been convinced that they deserve to consume. Few people actually need a Hummer, for instance. Yet, if they can afford them, they buy gas guzzlers anyway.

Dr. CIALDINI: You've realized some financial goals. You can buy one of those, and people seem to feel that, therefore, they're entitled to the resources that go along with the level of achievement that they've had.

ROBBINS: What would happen if the message were reversed? If opinion makers and the government tried selling the idea that Americans have already gotten their gift? Here's what Cialdini says he'd tell Americans if he were, as he puts it, secretary of energy messaging.

Dr. CIALDINI: You have been given an array of natural resources like nowhere else on the planet. You are obligated to be a steward of what you have been given.

ROBBINS: In other words, make it patriotic to conserve rather than consume. No one has done the research to test that hypothesis, but Bob Cialdini says it fits in with experience during earlier times of hardship. Using effective persuasion techniques, he says, may lessen the pain of change and get better results. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

BRAND: Hey, you can read more from the book at our website, and, you know, everyone's doing it. Everyone's going there. You should, too.

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